A and B or C

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wanabee

Senior Member
Japanese
Dear all,

If you have to choose A and B or C, what are the possibile combinations of your choice? Which of the bellow would you think is the natural interpretation?:
(A and B) or C
(A and B) or (A and C)

I would appreciate any comments.
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Nothing is a natural interpretation of 'A and B or C'. You'll have to give us some realistic examples before we can talk about what's natural. I suspect it'll depend significantly on the examples too.
     

    wanabee

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Nothing is a natural interpretation of 'A and B or C'. You'll have to give us some realistic examples before we can talk about what's natural. I suspect it'll depend significantly on the examples too.
    Thank you very much, entangledbank.
    Here are examples:
    1 Waiter to Customer: You can choose steak and vegetable or fruit.
    2 Waiter to Customer: You can choose steak and rice or hashed beef.
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    Thank you very much, entangledbank.
    Here are examples:
    1 Waiter to Customer: You can choose steak and vegetable or fruit.
    2 Waiter to Customer: You can choose steak and rice or hashed beef.
    That's an excellent example of the importance of context. I would take 1 to mean (steak) with either (vegetable) or (fruit); I would take 2 to mean that my choices are (steak and rice) or (hashed beef). In real life, the waiter would probably pause to emphasize the difference.
     

    Hau Ruck

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    When I hear "A & B or C", I assume that I can have 1 of 2 things. Option 1 is both A&B or option 2 which is just C.

    Obviously no one would assume that you get either steak with vegetables or just fruit (hashed beef). But strictly speaking in literal terms, that's what it would seem to be to me.

    In your examples, I'd most likely say "We have steak with either vegetables or fruit".
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    When I hear "A & B or C", I assume that I can have 1 of 2 things. Option 1 is both A&B or option 2 which is just C.

    Obviously no one would assume that you get either steak with vegetables or just fruit (hashed beef). But strictly speaking in literal terms, that's what it would seem to be to me.

    In your examples, I'd most likely say "We have steak with either vegetables or fruit".
    Since "hashed beef" is beef and potatoes, I think pob14 is right to assume that the examples are not the same. "Beef and beef and potatoes" is not a likely offering.
     

    Codyfied

    Senior Member
    When I hear "A & B or C", I assume that I can have 1 of 2 things. Option 1 is both A&B or option 2 which is just C.

    Obviously no one would assume that you get either steak with vegetables or just fruit (hashed beef). But strictly speaking in literal terms, that's what it would seem to be to me.

    In your examples, I'd most likely say "We have steak with either vegetables or fruit".
    That's a bit of a quandary, working with what's given. If it's something said in reality (not written) then it comes down to the inflection of the waiter. Otherwise there is something usually in context, such as in "or you can have fruit as a substitute" to be said.

    I've truly had this problem when the menu would say "Eggs and bacon or sausage with biscuits, toast, grits or hash browns."
    I didn't know if I had a choice of "Eggs and bacon" or "Sausage with biscuits...." Surely it was eggs with a choice of bacon or sausage, but does it come with "biscuits, toast" and a choice of "grits or hash browns" or just a choice of either ONE of the four listed. Surprise to me. I was told it was only ONE choice of the four listed!

    Hau is equally right in that, taken literal, in real-life use, no menu would have a choice of "Steak and vegetables" and then "Fruit" to be a comparable entre choice said in the same breath.

    Given your examples then, as pob14 says, each have their own connotations because of the food choices and lends itself to the waiter's spoken inflections and choice of words to know the difference.

    By the way, wouldn't most usage include the article "a" to distinguish that it is NOT "steak and vegetables" as the entre?

    1 Waiter to Customer: "You can choose steak and a vegetable or fruit."

    We would not have a choice of "and vegetable" In use, it is "and a vegetable" or "two vegetables", "three vegetables" and so on. In other words, if a side item, we always give an amount of choice which would help end any confusion if we said "a vegetable or fruit." Note, I understand it may have just been a slip of English use, but also an important point of context to make in this thread.

    Furthermore, the problem is the waiter is using "choose" which is uncommon as well if talking only about ONE item: STEAK. (I debate that "steak and rice" is not a mutually exclusive group if not set in quotes) So if taken literally, the correct answer for line (1) is that the CHOICE is "Steak and vegetable[sic]" or "Steak and fruit".
    BUT, equally the correct answer for line (2)—without delineating the grouping of "steak and rice" with quote marks—would be the same. A CHOICE of Steak and rice OR Steak and hashed beef. We feel that as odd, so it's most likely NOT the intended choices of the waiter.

    We tend not to like writing quotes within quotes, right? As in: Waiter to Customer: "You can choose 'steak and rice' or hashed beef." I don't know why. I like using the marks. They help lessen ambiguity. I would see menu items as a grouping, so in writing, I like to set out groups such as "steak and rice" in quotes to reference the item as a menu listing or as a daily special. This would also make the items in the examples mutually exclusive —only this one or that one—and not a choice of three or more. Even throughout our comments, we resort to using quotes and parentheses to set out our groupings.

    The OP's question was which was the natural inclination to us. I feel quote marks can keep the words as written and set out the proper intent of meaning (of the waiter) without resorting to the use any commas. But for most, I'll assume using quotes within quotes may seem a bit troublesome.

    So, as often seems the case, the best bet is to rewrite to better fit the intent of the sentence and add clarity.

    If you were quoting the waiter, as you would as if writing a novel, then I wouldn't worry about any confusion, in any case, and let the context of the conversation guide the results.

    ________________________________________
    Footnote: another solution in writing, then, is it's perfectly acceptable to use the forward slash (/) to represent a mutually exclusive choice, thus having "A and B/C." As the examples above are quotes of a waiter, the slash mark would look odd. Don't use it in this instance.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I run into this often on coffee shop menus in the US. It is usually, but by no means always, obvious from the context (i.e. which food items are likely to go together) whether it is

    Main dish and (A and B) or C

    Main dish and A and (B or C)

    but they don't stop there! Sometimes it's Main dish and A or B and either C or D and E.:eek:
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    This structure is inherently ambiguous. Computer programming languages solve the problem by establishing rules of operator precedence, usually (as regards these two operations) that and is done before or. Therefore, in a programming language, "A and B or C" would always be taken to mean "A and B" or C.

    However, English is not a computer programming language, people are not computers, and the meaning of the words and and or is different when they represent choices than when they represent combinations of true-false conditions (as they usually do in computer programs). We do not have any such fixed rule to settle this question. The construct remains ambiguous. The ambiguity can only be resolved by context, by knowledge of the situation (one is more likely to have a choice of milk or cream with coffee than a choice between coffee with milk or cream by itself), by verbal pauses and stresses, by further explanation, or by something else along those lines.

    The same problem exists in all the other languages I know, though some of them have structures like the English either ... or that can help resolve it. ("Coffee with milk or cream" is ambiguous, but "Coffee with either milk or cream" is not.) It's a logic and reasoning problem, not an English language problem.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] Footnote: another solution in writing, then, is it's perfectly acceptable to use the forward slash (/) to represent a mutually exclusive choice, thus having "A and B/C." As the examples above are quotes of a waiter, the slash mark would look odd. Don't use it in this instance.
    I wouldn't recommend the slash as a definite equivalent of "or". It's sometimes used as "and" or "and/or" (although in "and/or" the slash is indeed an "or" ;)).

    For me, Cenzontle's commas (#6) are the clearest way of avoiding ambiguity — or, if there are only two possibilities, then "either ... or" works, as Egmont suggests.

    Ws:)
     

    Codyfied

    Senior Member
    I agree with Cenzontle. The whole issue can be resolved with a well-placed comma to indicate the intended intonation and meaning.

    The rule for a serial comma is within a series (three or more) of items. As neither is a series it's not officially proper to add a comma but heck, it's a dang good idea! As is often said, intonation (and body language) covers about 70% of meaning. Personally, anything to get the point across more clearly is OK in my book. I say quotes takes care of things, but I'll go with the flow. Commas it is.
     
    Last edited:

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    The rule for a serial comma is within a series (three or more) of items. As neither is a series it's not officially proper to add a comma but heck, it's a dang good idea! [...]
    Not to be adversarial at all, 'cos we're not disagreeing, but just a comment about 'comma rules', for wanabee or anyone else who happens by. In many parts of the English-speaking world, the rigid (some would say artificial*) rules are disappearing in favour of the more basic concept of using a comma where you'd naturally pause in speech or where it serves to avoid ambiguity. Both reasons apply to wanabee's "A and B or C".

    (*The serial comma "rule" is a good example: some sources promote it in a 'three-or-more' series; others don't accept its use at all. Since there's no official language authority for English, neither can claim to be 'officially proper'.:p If learners of English want evidence that common sense can work better than inflexible rules, they need look no further than this article.)

    Ws:)
     
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