What is the difference between "You can have an apple or an orange" and "You can have either an apple or an orange". Why do we need the word either?

To set the content - this is for a technical manual. American English. A more representative sentence is:

"The menu allows you to choose a large font or a small font" vs "The menu allows you to choose either a large font or a small font"

  • 3
    either .. or is more on the exclusive side. You can't have both!
    – yunzen
    Jun 5, 2019 at 9:11
  • 3
    What @yunzen said. You'd include either to help steer people away from asking Can I have both? Jun 5, 2019 at 11:22
  • so in the font menu example (as in the computer menu as opposed to fruit menu....) it's inherent to a font choice and probably inherent to the term menu (as otherwise, I would use a qualifier such as the choice menu or toggle menu) Jun 5, 2019 at 12:19
  • You can also use choose between a large font or a small font if you want to emphasize that you can't choose both and you simply don't like how either sounds. Jun 6, 2019 at 15:02

2 Answers 2


The second version sounds like a final suggestion (choice of two), excluding other possibilities (prevents from understanding 'or maybe some other fruit').

P.S. I think you don't need 'either' for your menu, it wouldn't add useful information.

  • As a newbie, I can't vote for this answer, but this reflects my gut feeling that in this case, I can leave out the either - I just didn't know how to explain why. Perhaps when you say either, its because you want to stress the choice limitation, but if that is not the main point, and the limitation is inherent (as in a menu) then it's noise which is best left out. Thanks Jun 5, 2019 at 12:15

In a phrase either P or Q, where P is long and complicated, it is helpful to put either in there to clue the hearer in as to where it starts.

It is similar in both P and Q. We do not need both if P is short and simple, but it is useful when P is complex.

Thirdly, in neither P nor Q I recommend always using neither.

  • Yes, I agree that 'either' is a pragmatic marker (focusing attention/aiding ordering, or a 'cluer-inner' as you imply). As other answers say, it has another role, that of strongly suggesting 'and no other choice'. Jul 5, 2019 at 12:13

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