# Can I use “both” when referring to more than two?

In order to succeed in this position, you should be able to engage both the rich, the educated and the pious, as well as the poor, the ignorant and the immoral.

• No. both refers to exactly two things. – Jim Jul 17 '16 at 1:06
• No one's stopping you. Your readers might find it a bit confusing, though. (Note that one mistake you make is to use "the" too much for your two sublists to be recognized as such, vs appearing to be a single 6-element list.) – Hot Licks Jul 17 '16 at 1:18
• @Hot Licks But if the OP says "....boh the rich, educated and pious as well as the poor, ignorant and immoral" will that not leave out the rich, ignorant and immoral and the poor and pious ? – ab2 Jul 17 '16 at 1:57
• @ab2 - It would require some additional restructuring to make the structure less ambiguous. But one would assume, in a non-mathematical, non-legal context, that the "and" used was the inclusive "and" vs the exclusive one. – Hot Licks Jul 17 '16 at 2:10
• @nohat Duplicate of english.stackexchange.com/questions/22357/… ? – SAH Feb 26 '17 at 18:10

In that syntax, you would use "both," not because it refers to more than two things but because it refers to exactly two things: one, the rich, the uneducated, and the pious and, two, the poor, the ignorant, and the immoral. "Both" refers to those two lists. The fact that they are each lists of three is immaterial because "both" isn't referring to their internal itemization but simply to their aggregation into two items, for example:

John, Bob, and Mary; Susan, Hank, and Gretchen; and Steven, Alice, and Tom make up the first, second, and third place teams, respectively.

Therefore, you can say:

Both John, Bob, and Mary and Susan, Hank, and Gretchen earned medals, coming in first and second place, respectively.

Where it gets confusing, albeit still grammatical, is when we say something like:

Both Romeo and Juliet and Jack and Jill are coming to our dinner party tonight.

Because we know that Romeo and Juliet are a couple and that Jack and Jill are another couple, we can infer that "both" is referring to "Romeo and Juliet" as an item and to "Jack and Jill" as an item, making two items. If you don't know that however, it becomes harder to infer.

What you wouldn't do is put a comma before "as well." What follows "as well" isn't incidental to the sentence. It's not parenthetical. By saying "both," you clearly intend to say two things: one, the rich, the uneducated, and the pious and, two, the poor, the ignorant, and the immoral. As the word "both" makes the second item integral to the sentence, you cannot separate it from the list of two items by a comma any more than you could say, "Jane, and Bob, are here," or, "Jane, and Bob are here."

• I agree with everything except: "As the word "both" makes the second item integral to the sentence, you cannot separate it from the list of two items by a comma." The comma is fine in the following: "You should be able to engage both the rich, the educated and the pious, and the poor, the ignorant and the immoral." The comma just marks a natural pause. – DyingIsFun Jul 18 '16 at 2:19
• I'd agree with you if "both" weren't there. You could say, "You should be able to engage the rich, the educated and the pious, and the poor, the ignorant and the immoral." However, the introduction of the word "both" beforehand—not afterwards because were it to appear afterwards the comma would be fine—means there is no break or pause because the second list item was always intended. It's not an afterthought. You'd only "pause," as it were, if the second item suddenly occurred to you after you had said the first item, which couldn't have happened since "both" appears ahead of time. – Benjamin Harman Jul 18 '16 at 2:24
• Here are some examples I've found which use the comma (you might not like them but they do exist): "pictures of people-as-things that both the subjects , and, later, publishers praised"; "The storm in both the movie , and in reality, highlighted the distance"; "That bulging tissue is a big concern to both the doctor , and Kay's mom." There are many more, but these should show that at least some use the comma. But I agree it is non-standard and unattractive. – DyingIsFun Jul 18 '16 at 2:32
• Those examples aren't the same. The first ones are parentheticals. They are providing information that isn't necessary to the operation of the sentence. They can be removed and the sentence will still make sense. The appearance of "both" beforehand means the second item isn't parenthetical. It's absolutely essential to the operation of the sentence. You can't say, "Both Mary arrived." I agree with you wholly on the latter examples--they are non-standard and unattractive. I hate differing with you @Silenus because I'm usually in full agreement with you. I don't know what else to say. – Benjamin Harman Jul 18 '16 at 2:39
• Hey, no sweat–you already have my upvote! – DyingIsFun Jul 18 '16 at 2:46