the difference between A or B/ A and B

bonbon2023

Senior Member
Korean(south)
When non-native speakers feel difficulty in distinguishing two similar words, people usually say "What's the difference between A and B?" by using the difference between A and B struccture, and I saw people use the distinction between A and B when they want to distinguish or make the similar idea or term clearly when I searched something similar words before. I've thought using the difference between A and B is the correct grammar for these reasons. But, I found the sentence doesn't use this structure in the Collins Cobuild Dictionary as below when I was looking up a word.

"Marginal activities, costs, or taxes are not the main part of a business, or an economical system, but often makes the difference between its success or failure, and are therefore important to control."

Why is the difference between its success or failure used in the above sentence, not the difference between its success and failure?
 
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  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It sounds wrong to me.
    It's not clear from the dictionary entry whether this example was created for the dictionary or quoted from another source.
     

    scrotgrot

    Senior Member
    English - English
    I don't think it would work with and either. Probably difference between is simply incompatible with two mutually exclusive scenarios; usually it's used with two things that co-exist or could co-exist.

    The sentence is quite badly constructed throughout, the first bit should use neither as well, or though. I wouldn't trust it.
     

    rhitagawr

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think 'difference' is being used with two different meanings in the 'A and B' and the 'success or failure' sentences.
    With 'A and B' you're comparing and contrasting. "One difference between a grass snake and an adder is that the latter is venomous."
    With "success or failure" you're not comparing and contrasting success and failure in the sense that you're trying to list differences between them. You're saying that the one precludes the other. You've either got the one or the other, unlike different kinds of snakes. I suppose that's why the author wrote "or". I personally would omit the "its". Not for any grammatical reason; the sentence simply sounds more natural without it - to me, at least. The "or" is fine in my opinion.

    (Note also that 'difference' is also used in a mathematical sense. "The difference between 7 and 4 is 3".)
     
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    bonbon2023

    Senior Member
    Korean(south)
    Thank you panjandrum, scotgrot,rhitagawr.
    Then, does "~, but often makes the difference between its success or failure,~." similarly mean the same as "~, but often makes the difference in either sucess or failure,~"?
     

    rhitagawr

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thank you panjandrum, scotgrot,rhitagawr.
    Then, does "~, but often makes the difference between its success or failure,~." similarly mean the same as "~, but often makes the difference in either sucess or failure,~"?
    'Between' is definitely better. 'In either success or failure', if it means anything at all, suggests to me that different marginal activities etc. are going to bring about different degrees of success or failure. This is not the same as saying that either you're going to succeed or you're going to fail. I hope this makes sense.

    (Incidentally, you need 'make the difference' as you've got a multiple subject.)
     

    bonbon2023

    Senior Member
    Korean(south)
    'This is not the same as saying that either you're going to succeed or you're going to fail.
    I think I understood why or is used in the dictionary now.
    'A success is the opposite of a failure.'
    'You can either suceed or fail.'
    "Marginal activities, costs, or taxes are not the main part of a business, or an economical system, but often makes the difference between its success or failure(plays a role in either you're going to succeed or you're going to fail), and are therefore important to control."
     
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