and vs. or

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and vs. or

Post by azz » Sat Feb 09, 2019 9:24 pm

a. We can't all be managers, bankers, professors, researchers, teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers. Some of us have to do manual labor.
b. We can't all be managers, bankers, professors, researchers, teachers, nurses, doctors or lawyers. Some of us have to do manual labor.


Which of the above sentences is grammatically correct and makes sense?

Obviously, the idea is not that each of us can't be all of those things at the same time. The speaker has a situation in mind where each person has one job. But it seems to me that (a) is saying each person can't be all of those things at the same time. I think (b) is the correct one, but I wonder if people don't use (a) instead of (b).

Many thanks.
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Re: and vs. or

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Feb 10, 2019 3:09 am

Both sentences are grammatical.

Logically, people ought to say b), but often say a). However, because everyone who hears such an utterance intuitively understands that nobody has all those occupations at the same time, it's a case of a distinction that makes no difference.
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Re: and vs. or

Post by Phil White » Sun Feb 10, 2019 6:47 pm

It's an interesting one. I run up against this one at least a two or three times a week in my translation work from German to English.

Erik's comments are valid.

Although German has "und" (and) and "oder" (or), most writers will invariably use "und" in sentences of the kind you offer. I invariably write "or" when I translate them. I have a feeling that, the shorter the list, the more likely we would be to prefer "or", not because of the precise semantics of "and" and "or", but more because "or" gives an "open-ended" sense to the list. Just my gut feeling.
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Signature: Phil White
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