9

The error message for a computer dialogue box reads as follows:

  1. Either latitude or longitude need to be provided!
    (mistakenly using the incorrect need in the plural for singular needs)

Does this insinuate that only one of the two fields latitude and longitude should be provided?

After reading Use of "Or", inclusive or exclusive? I conclude the text is ambiguous. However it is a error message which should be brief, but still reasonable precise.

So, if the message insinuates that only one of the fields is allowed to be provided, then that's not what I want to say! The long form of what I want to say is

  1. Either the latitude or the longitude, or both, must be provided!

But this feels unnecessarily long. So I am looking for wording in this case of a brief error message which conveys this meaning.


Clarification

This error message is used in a situation where a search for some proprietary locations names is initiated. And this works the following way:

  • If latitude and longitude are provided, a search for a specific location name is initiated.
  • If latitude alone is provided, a search for all locations with that latitude (and any longitude) is initiated.
  • For longitude only, it's vice versa: a specific longitude but any latitude.
1

9 Answers 9

30

The OP does not wish to prevent the users of the software from entering both latitude and longitude, and is hesitant whether the error message that includes either conveys that, in view of the fact that either is sometimes used to force the exclusive reading upon or (which is otherwise notoriously ambiguous between the exclusive and inclusive reading).

The error message is OK as it is. The OP's confusion is due to the fact that either/or is combined here with needs. In other words, the sentence is about what is required: it tells the user that it is required to provide at least one of the two items of information. If the user enters either of the two, the user will have satisfied the requirement. Entering both is not required. The or in the sentence is indeed exclusive. The exclusivity of or, however, entails only that entering both is not required; it does not entail that entering both is prohibited.

4
  • Except as @DrakeP pointed out it's combined with need instead of needs, which suggests multiple values are required.
    – Mohirl
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 20:06
  • 1
    It seems strange to me to refer to OP in the third person. You are answering OP's question so all references to OP should be "you" I would think.
    – Ivo
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 7:07
  • @Ivo I assume "you" would be either the OP or the reader, but would that be an inclusive or exclusive 'or'?
    – Stef
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 15:48
  • 1
    @Ivo, referring to an OP in a third person is not that strange if one thinks of the postings on this site as primarily aimed at the open-ended audience of future visitors to the page, rather than as one-on-one dialogues.
    – jsw29
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 20:54
20

I would definitely interpret it as exclusive (corresponding with the accepted answer in the question you linked). I think this would be clear from the context, in any case, as the user either did not fill in one of the two values or neither.

It would also be strange to use the "either .. or" construction in the latter case: if both values are indeed required, a much clearer error message ought to have been written (e.g. "please provide both longitude and latitude").

To incorporate your suggestion of adding the seemingly superfluous "or both", you could try this altogether different approach:

At least one of the values should be provided.

0
9

As far as the English goes, I would also agree with Joachim that it would be exclusive.

But I don't think it is uncommon for software to use the same error message for multiple different errors and it wouldn't surprise me if the same message appeared in the following three situations:

・Longitude has not been provided

・Latitude has not been provided

・Longitude and Latitude have not been provided

Also I'm struggling to understand the problem. You don't want to say:

Either latitude or longitude

Instead you want to say:

Either latitude or longitude or both

But as a minimum requirement, isn't it only one of them that needs to be provided?

Still, I suppose you could say something like:

Latitude and/or longitude need to be provided!

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  • 11
    Or "At least one of Latitude or Longitude must be provided". It's a more direct instruction.
    – Flydog57
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 23:12
  • I believe 'either' may only be used with two options, though.
    – Joachim
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 20:16
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    @Joachim No, in actual practice the correlative conjunction pair either..or really does (at least occasionally) get used to coördinate more than two items. Sentences like Either 𝓧, 𝓨, or 𝓩 is required are easy enough to find examples of, and this is mentioned in the OED.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 17:19
6

The error for a computer dialog box reads:

Either latitude or longitude need to be provided!

Does this insinuates only one of the fields latitude and longitude should be provided? After reading Use of "Or", inclusive or exclusive? I conclude the error message is ambiguous.

I agree that it is ambiguous, without any additional context.

The long form of what I want to say is

Either latitude or longitude or both need to be provided!

But this feels unnecessarily long. Which other, shorter ways are there to say this?

You might say

Latitude, longitude, or both must be provided!

That's even shorter than your original.

On the other hand, consider whether you need this message to be so precise. Evidently it is associated with some kind of data entry UI. The instructions accompanying the UI, not its diagnostic messages, ought to be the primary source for information about correct usage. If the instructions are clear, then the diagnostics don't necessarily need to be so precise.

Additionally, consider whether the particular situation you are diagnosing is one that you can avoid having to diagnose at all. Better than reporting an error message would be to avoid permitting the user to even issue the request when neither latitude nor longitude was specified.

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  • 2
    Wouldn't it be "Latitude, longitude, or both, must be provided!"? Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 9:32
  • 2
    No, @ToivoSäwén, it would not. It is not conventional, and certainly not required, to place a comma between a compound subject and its predicate. Perhaps you are thinking of this alternative: "Latitude or longitude, or both, must be provided!" That also would be grammatically correct, though it exhibits a small shift in emphasis. Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 13:30
6

It is understandable in context, but there are short unambiguous alternatives.

I prefer to instruct how to correct the issue.

You must provide a latitude and/or a longitude.

Please provide a latitude and/or a longitude.

For a longer list, you could use something like the following:

You must provide at least one of a, b and c.

"You must provide" is commonly used and well understood.

3
  • I quite like "You must provide a latitude and/or a longitude." -- Short and sweet!
    – halloleo
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 10:28
  • There's also the more polite "please provide ..."
    – ikegami
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 16:23
  • Cool! More polite and even shorter: "Please provide a latitude and/or a longitude." - That's my choice so far.
    – halloleo
    Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 3:18
1

I don't see much ambiguity between inclusivity and exclusivity. The fact that they are the subject, and the word "need" is included significantly reduces the ambiguity. Exclusive or is mainly with "may" and in the object: "You may have soup or salad". There's also the context: it doesn't make sense for it to fail if both are provided. Exclusivity is read into "or" when

There is a slight ambiguity as to how the "needs" distributes over the "or". The main reading is "need ((latitude provided) or (longitude provided))", but one could read it as "(need (latitude provided)) or (need (longitude provided))". I.e. "When I wrote this error message, I didn't know which one would need be provided, but I do know that at least one would have the property of being needed".

If you want to reduce the ambiguity, you could say "The number of coordinates of (latitude, longitude) provided must be at least one." or "The number of values from the set {latitude, longitude} provided must be at least one."

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  • 2
    It’s not at all clear whether you’re saying that OP’s or is inclusive or exclusive? Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 9:21
  • In strict logic, or is inclusive, so my cousins are Dawn or Paul. But at a restaurant it's almost never inclusive: as stated above, "You may have soup or salad".... So how it's used depends on context and the reader. Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 12:09
0

Even though the error message suggests that only one or the other is needed, it is apparent that both are ultimately required.

I would suggest the correct error message should indicate "and" and not "or" and leave it to the user to determine which is missing and therefore to be provided.

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  • 5
    What exactly makes it 'apparent that both are ultimately required'?
    – jsw29
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 20:57
  • 1
    It's not explicit in the OP's question, but as a practical matter it's hard to imagine longitude or latitude being useful in isolation.
    – user888379
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 12:29
  • As (I hope) the question now explains, latitude and longitude are not both required. Only at least one of them needs to be provided
    – halloleo
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 10:40
0

I'd suggest that the latitude and longitude are probably both required, as there is not much practical use for one without the other, and those few uses I can think of would specifically require one or the other, not user's choice. However, I'd hypothesize that the individual who wrote that message was focusing on what's missing.

From this standpoint, it would be clearer to say "either latitude or longitude is missing." However, if the original author was not a native english speaker, they may have patterned the statement on a similar one such as "username is required" or "zip code is required" which would indicate they are required fields.

If I'm interpreting the intent correctly, the clearest way may be to have separate warnings for latitude and longitude.

2
  • 1
    As (I hope) the question explains, latitude and longitude are not both required. Only at least one of them needs to be provided.
    – halloleo
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 10:31
  • Even without the edit, it was pretty clear that the error message was "wildly wrong" rather than "ambiguous" if both were required. Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 13:39
-1

Succinctly, either latitude or longitude is required with the other being optional.

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