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Alternatives to “and/or”?

This has bothered me for a long time. As a software developer, the or is inclusive (xor is exclusive and rarely used / not needed). However, in speaking English, "or" is traditionally exclusive.

You can have an apple or an orange

The above would imply that you can have one or the other (without the "either," it is not strictly clear, but it is implied).

Is there any preferred way to say an inclusive or?

We can restrict registration and/or purchase

"and/or" is kind of clunky, especially when speaking.

Is there another inclusive or word or a way of phrasing a sentence to make options inclusive?


The English word "or" is notoriously ambiguous this way. Often you can tell from context. If the waitress asks, "Would you like cream or sugar in your coffee?", it is not uncommon to answer "both". But if the boss asks, "Are you for or against Fred's suggestion?", clearly you are expected to pick only one of these options.

Programmers get endless amusement out of answering a question of the form, "Do you want A or B?" by saying "Yes".

As you note, "and/or" is sometimes used to clearly indicate that multiple selections are allowed. To make clear that only one is allowed, they may say "either A or B". Like, "Would you like cake and/or ice cream?" would mean you can choose either or both. "You can have either cake or ice cream" means you can only have one or the other.

  • I'd just add that programming "or" is the Boolean "OR" operator which has a specificity not in the English language word "or". Just as "and" differs as well. – Wudang Apr 12 '12 at 20:05
  • @Wudang Yes, I don't know why people insist on trying to apply definitions from one subject matter to another. Like the simplistic statement that "a double negative makes a positive" because -(-x)=x in algebra, like anything true of a mathematical minus sign must also apply to any English word classed as a "negative". Or people who take the technical definition of a word like "work" or "energy" from physics and try to apply it to the ordinary English words. Etc. </rant> – Jay Apr 13 '12 at 15:21

Well, or can be inclusive as well. This is the English language, not programming or mathematics.

I prefer apples or oranges. No mangoes, though.

This doesn't necessarily mean that if you give me apples and oranges I would not partake of both. I just wouldn't eat the mangoes.


I would suggest adding both as a third option:

You can request apples, oranges, or both.

You can request apples or oranges, or both.

Making the option explicit avoids and/or as well as removing ambiguity. In fact, you could go one further and say

One can request apples or oranges, both, or neither.

When writing multiple-choice exams, I'd suggest the pedantically expanded

Apples, oranges, or both apples and oranges.

to be especially explicit.

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