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I have the following sentence, but I'm not sure if the verb should be conjugated as do or does:

... this means moving away from a convoluted collection of Excel spreadsheets or a cumbersome software that do/does not truly lend...

Excel spreadsheets and convoluted software both refer to outdated ways of doing things, so they share the same semantic purpose in the sentence; they should be grouped. A company could be using either a collection of Excel spreadsheets or a cumbersome software package to solve this problem. They wouldn't use both at the same time, so or is appropriate. The software would solve the problem, but it does the job poorly. Excel spreadsheets also solve the problem, but poorly. Therefore, the two are related but are not packaged together.

My gut feeling is does because each subject is singular, but when combined with or, they become plural, so do makes more sense.

Which is correct?

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    Could you please edit your question to explain more clearly what you are asking for? Any answer would depend on how the two clauses disjoined by ‘or’ are related. Are they two different ways of expressing the same feature, or are they two different features altogether? In other words, does the “cumbersome system” consist of dealing with a “convoluted pile of spreadsheets”, or is it something else besides this? – Tuffy Feb 23 at 9:23
  • Try this rule: do is a helping verb. For present tense of the verb form - For: I/You/We/They - use do. For he/she/it (..and the "convoluted...cumbersome system" both are an "it") use does. Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) Web. – Steve B053 Feb 23 at 10:19
  • @Tuffy I edited the question to clarify. They share the same semantic purpose of “these are two outdated ways of doing things”. But the convoluted system is separate from the spreadsheets in that the system is not actually the spreadsheets; it’s a separate software altogether. – Chris Cirefice Feb 23 at 10:54
  • @ChrisCirefice Now that you have done this, my question changes to another question. Why are you using the disjunction (‘or’) rather than the conjunction (‘and’), when there are these two separate parts of the problem? – Tuffy Feb 23 at 12:23
  • @Tuffy Because a company could be using either a collection of Excel spreadsheets or a cumbersome software package to solve this problem. They wouldn't use both at the same time, so it's quite specific. The software would solve the problem, but it does the job poorly. Excel spreadsheets also solve the problem, but poorly. Therefore, the two are related but are not packaged together. I should have just used software from the start instead of system which is much more ambiguous. Sorry about that! – Chris Cirefice Feb 23 at 12:26
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This answer follows on from a discussion between us in comment and reply.

We have established that you are offering a better alternative to the two unsatisfactory alternatives you have mentioned (excel spreadsheets and a particular software system.

First of all, both ’do’ and ’does’ will sound awkward because ’or’ is actually used in two logically different ways:

Do you take milk or sugar in your coffee?

This is an inclusive disjunction. You can have one or the other or both.

Would you like coffee or tea?

You can have either one or the other but not both.

But, from our exchange, that you are dismissing both alternatives in favour of a third.

The way to avoid ambiguity between inclusive and exclusive or is to use either before the first.

...either a pile of excel spreadsheets or a cumbersome system....

But then you compound the problem by adding the negative not. The sense of possible ambiguity creeps back in here. The essence of the problem is that you want to move away from A and B. There are various ways to do this. First, you need explicitly to say that they should be

..moving away from a choice between A and B...

Now what you want want to say about A and B is that neither of them lends ....(whatever). You are now clearly talking of discarding both of two alternatives because each one is unsatisfactory in some way. Neither has to be followed by a singular verb. So

... moving away from a choice between A and B neither of which lends ...

  • I knew that I was phrasing this wrong to begin with... and you've cleared that up quite nicely! Getting rid of the awkward negative not is also useful in conveying the more direct message of "trust me, what I'm offering is better than the stuff you're currently dealing with". You may have just helped get me a grant, thanks a bunch! – Chris Cirefice Feb 23 at 14:38

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