Sometimes it is unclear to me whether "or" or "and" should be used in a list. For example I have seen the following lease agreement:

The dwelling may not be used for illegal activities: including drug manufacturing and distribution, prostitution or gang related activity.

Assuming the intent is to disallow drug manufacturing, drug distribution, prostitution and gang related activities; is it correct to have the word "and" between "drug manufacturing" and "distribution"?

What about in a grocery list intended for someone with soy allergies "do not buy soy products such as tofu, miso soup or pies containing soy beans like x and y". Assuming "x" and "y" are names of pies containing soy beans, would it be correct to have them separated by "and" instead of "or"?

  • This is all well and good, except I don't get it. Are there "dwellings" that may , or should, be used for illegal activities, including, but not limited to, and so forth?
    – Ricky
    Jan 7, 2016 at 3:00
  • 1
    If you insert a comma after the word prostitution, it all makes sense. The and joins two related activities: manufacturing and distribution of drugs. Using the or at the end of the list signifies that none of the items listed may be used, but without the comma after prostitution, it makes those last two seem like a grouping in the way the first pair of items was.
    – MAA
    Jul 21, 2017 at 17:33
  • 1
    @MAA The Oxford comma strikes again!
    – JeffC
    Aug 9, 2017 at 15:56
  • It seems odd to me that they would need to list specific illegal activities... or that it would even need to be stated, "don't do illegal stuff here." The semicolon seems unnecessary also.
    – JeffC
    Aug 9, 2017 at 15:57
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    @Ricky Yes, there are. It's a bit of a specialty market, but it can be very lucrative. Basically, you make sure your tenants get thrown in jail, then keep the rent, all deposits, abandoned property, and any equity in rent-to-own deals. You only rent to people who you are certain will default on the agreement.
    – Phil Sweet
    Aug 26, 2017 at 15:56

4 Answers 4


Logically you would use "or". As "and" would suggest them together, whereas an "inclusive or" would suggest each and any grouping.

I suppose for the sake of argument this is analytical knowledge which you are asking. Colloquially this would pass but also be easily misused. Logically using analytical knowledge this would the approach.


Please read this post, especially the third answer by StoneyB.

While or would be correct, it may still be misunderstood. If you tell me not to paint the wall blue or green, but I paint it blue and green, have I complied?

For clarity, I suggest something along the lines of:

...including (but not limited to) the following: A, B, C, D, or any combination thereof.

  • But if you say "you may not do A and B," I can choose to do just one. Then have I complied?
    – MAA
    Jul 21, 2017 at 17:34
  • I would say yes. But is your goal to be correct, or to be cooperative? One answer does not always satisfy both - especially when dealing with humans.
    – Davo
    Jul 21, 2017 at 18:36

The meaning is obvious in both cases, as the intention is clear and common sense. As pointed out, any unintended interpretation can be reduced by separating the rule from the incident and the condtions and to mention, whether all or only one of the conditions must be met, for the rule to apply.

From a logical, i.e mathematical view there might be space for interpretation. But as the production and the distribution may not happen simultaneously with respect to the entity in mind, the assumption of an AND relation between those two steps does not make sense. The only possible assumption is, that the process as a whole is meant, when the term 'manufacturing and distribution' is used.

The proposed way to point out the rules (i.e. by using a list) lets people better understand and is much easier to proof being unambiguous. But in the context you asked, the text is perfectly clear and far away from being misleading. When properly transscripted in a logical formula, one would have to set braces, where the speach allows us to use ellipses. In the case in question the result is then the same. Not to allow in general does necessarily also disallows every part it consists of.

It might have a different meaning when using AND instead of OR, but not necessarily. It is legal to plan a murder of ones own imaginary friend, as well as trying to let the plan come true. Whether to plan, nor to ask someone to do it nor to try it without any help is allowed, because the intention and the act itself is illegal, as soon as the target is real. In the case mentioned the AND reffers to the shared context (i.e. drug), meanwhile other independent conditions are separated by interpunction.

There are a lot of ambiguous or contradictive cases, but your text is not among them, and a perfect way does not exist. Even the equation x = x would find people, that are willing to convince others to be wrong when thinking the equation evaluates to true. The relevant measure should be, whether or not the text transmitts, what it was meant to share. Formal conformity is of little to zero value, when the content is evaluated by humans. Humans are smarter and much more flexible than machines, but not even close to more or less, when it comes to consistency.

(Usually everybody knows, what he or she should do and what not, not everone follows the rules, some of them can be convicted, most of them try to explain, that one might think, that one escapes the punishment due to formal gaps in normative texts. - humans are better humans, machines are more precise and consistent. If we address humans, we should care to be understood. If we address machines, we should look at the breakpoints along the borders of the rooms of different decisions. Asking a human, what a machine might decide, is as useful as the answer of a lawyer, when asked, what the jury or the judge will do. The jury and the judge will be influenced by their nature, while machines will discard all the facts, that have not yet been transscripted in machine language. When programming, you have no other choice as being precise. When addressing humans, you should try to let others understand. Omitting inconsistencies does not mean, that any third party understands, while formal contradictions may be resolved, when the reader may recognize the intention and if he is willing to confirm with the aim, when the wording does not allow to resolve a contradiction. Right and wrong are dimensions, that are as useful here not less and not more than colors in math, politics or economics. The only relevant target is to be understood. Any other measure is used by people, that are not able to explain things, while being unable to accept that particular deficit.)

In a case such as the one pointed out, it is most often easier to describe the situation, that is being tried to achieve or to maintain, rather than to mention all activities that are forbidden, because of their contradicting consequences. It's easy to say what the target is, but it is difficult to impossible to forbid everything, that works against the intention. Formal correct is the right answer to the wrong question, because it is always incomplete, contradicting over time and focused on punishment instead of the effect.

If the question is, what to do to let the intention be clear, don't change the wording. If you intend to win on court, add some rules, to prevent individuals from using whatever is not yet mentioned, but meant, when setting the rules. Ask people, what they think the meaning is. If they read, what you intended, then perfect. Otherwise change it, no matter of what an experts tells you. Besude courts and quiz arenas it does not matter to proof to be right, but to tell, what you want to say.


I would think this was a great place for NEITHER NOR The dwelling may not be used for illegal activities: neither drug manufacturing, drug distribution, prostitution, nor gang related activity is permitted.

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