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I have two questions related to the following sentence.

I have an apple or an orange and a banana

First I would like to confirm that the sentence is ambiguous because it could mean one of the following

  • I have (i) an apple or (ii) an orange and a banana.

  • I have (i) an apple and a banana or (ii) an orange and a banana.

Second, I would like to remove the ambiguity by making it mean the former. What are some ways to do this?

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  • Your way is fine. This has been covered here before; there is a trade-off between clarity and stylishness. Nov 2, 2016 at 20:54
  • @EdwinAshworth Thanks. Can you link to a question that's covered this.
    – user103828
    Nov 2, 2016 at 20:55
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    This calls for belt and suspenders - "I have either an apple or both an orange and banana." - Add either, add both and delete the a in front of banana.
    – Phil Sweet
    Nov 2, 2016 at 21:19
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    Precedence of 'and' and 'or' covers some of the relevant material. A problem is that examples either get involved or sound like logic grade 1 lessons. Here, a comma in the right place disambiguates, but doesn't stop the sentence sounding ridiculous in normal conversation / looking ridiculous outside a class looking at logic. Nov 2, 2016 at 21:19
  • Other threads (and these are proving hard to find) suggest shenanigans like 'You can have bacon & eggs or fish & chips, and peaches & cream.' If style is unimportant, brackets may be used as per the maths convention: (i) I have {an apple} or {an orange and a banana}. But in running text, workarounds are obviously better. I have either just an apple, or both an orange and a banana. Nov 2, 2016 at 21:27

1 Answer 1

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This is why English has either and both.

I have either an apple or both an orange and a banana.

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  • Just to wanted to also give credit to @PhilSweet who put ''I have either an apple or both an orange and banana'' as a possible solution in the comments above.
    – user103828
    Nov 4, 2016 at 6:39

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