In a user interface, we are offering the user to combine searches using either AND, OR or NOT


We have little graphics explaining the effect, but what would be good, laymen, human words to describe these operations in english as separate items in a menu list ? Short sentences like 'combine searches','intersect searches','exclude from previous search' spring to mind .. but I'm not a native speaker.

  • @jim, actually, AND and OR would not work well, as explained by DWin below. When using 'AND', people expect to get more.
    – commonpike
    Feb 11, 2016 at 16:50
  • @commonpike - it depends on how they are used. I think people would interpret. “Things that round and white” differently than “things that are round and things that are white.”
    – Jim
    Feb 13, 2016 at 1:26

5 Answers 5


It would depend to an extent on your target audience (Children?, Mathematicians?)

AND - Must also include

OR - May instead include

NOT - Must not include


Try this:

AND - "all"

OR - "at least one"

NOT - "opposite"

XOR - "odd number"

NAND - "not all"

NOR - "nothing"

XNOR - "all or nothing"

  • I'm only interested in in AND, OR and NOT. I like your AND and OR, but not your NOT :-) 'opposite' sounds like an inversion, but it's not - it's a NOT as in A NOT B (or B NOT A).
    – commonpike
    Feb 11, 2016 at 16:52
  • @commonpike a NOT gate is an inversion. If you're looking for something that replicates the pseudocode "if A: return NOT B, else: return B" then what you have is an XOR gate, not a NOT gate, as evidenced by XOR's truth table. This should be commutative as well. Mar 18, 2016 at 17:01

But .... I worry that sending us to that page is diverting us from your goal which appears to be getting people to understand a logical OR in a search will be more inclusive or "wider" ( the union of any sites or locations that have any of the terms is larger than either term alone).

Contrast this with the results from the same terms or phrases connected by an AND, delivers a smaller, more narrow set (the intersection of hits on both the individual terms). People often confuse the relative size of such results because they incorrectly expect "AND" will be a more inclusive connector. I doubt that very many people will know how to use NAND or XOR in constructing search phrases.

  • 2
    Oy. I'm a programmer and even my eyes glaze over at this. I thought the question was asking for layman's descriptions?
    – Marthaª
    Feb 10, 2016 at 23:46
  • @Marthaª You should see the technical docs. sigh
    – Mitch
    Feb 11, 2016 at 0:40
  • Initially I thought the questioner was asking us to explain ... in layman's terms ... the correspondence between logic gates and truth tables. I then realized that was not the request, so tried to explain what I though a layman might understand about using AND and OR in searching. Would it be better to just say AND gives you fewer (hopefully more specfic) hits, while OR give you more (casting a wider net) hits?
    – DWin
    Feb 11, 2016 at 0:48

According to this often replicated study:

... users have trouble with Boolean operators because they often confuse AND with OR and vice versa.

So you will likely want to avoid the simple words, and be fairly explicit. Maybe this will work:

OR: *or if it includes...*

AND:  *only if it also includes...*

NOT: *but not if it includes...*

Something like:

                  Search for: __________
       ... or if it includes: __________
... only if it also includes: __________
  ... but not if it includes: __________

I realize the final three wouldn't be listed in order, but the user could drop down to add one of those phrases, causing another to appear underneath (which the user can drop down to add one of those phrases...)


This was my question. I've not marked any answer final, but this thread was very usefull in thinking about it. Le me add what we've used for a while.

The confusion exists meanly in the AND operator. People expect the result of AND to be MORE, not less. So instead of describing the process to get to the new results, we described what the new results would look like, like this:

  • AND - refine results
  • OR - add to results
  • NOT - remove from results

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