Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education…”
~ Charlotte Brontë
The idea for this post came to me when I was editing some lessons for our new site, Sprout English (a site for young learners that is coming very soon—so excited about it!). In those lessons, sentences like I don’t like tomatoes, and I don’t like celery, either were used. In this case, and is used, but I remembered how or must often be used in negative sentences such as I don’t like tomatoes or celery. This used to confuse my students so much! They’d naturally want to write I don’t like tomatoes and celery, because they didn’t like both things. This kind of question always appears in tests like the TOEIC, too. So how do we explain it to students?
Or = not joining independent clauses
In English, or is used in negative sentences to join two or more nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, dependent clauses, etc. Negative sentences include the use of adverbs like not or never.
Trick #1: Tell students that if not is used once, they will most likely need or.
- I don’t like apples or oranges.
- English isn’t quick or easy to learn.
- My friend doesn’t want pork, beef, or fish for dinner.
- He never reads books or watches TV after class.
- I didn’t say that you could eat my food or that your friends could come over.
Trick #2: It might help to tell students to think of the full conjunction pairs of both…and and either…or.
- She likes (both) apples and oranges.
- She doesn’t like (either) apples or oranges. (We would never say She doesn’t like either apples and oranges.)
And = joining independent clauses
In English, and is used in negative sentences to join two independent clauses.
Trick #3: Tell students that if not is used twice, they will most likely need and.
- I don’t like basketball, and I don’t like volleyball, either.
- Mr. Lutz doesn’t want to meet today and he doesn’t want to meet tomorrow, either.
Point out to your students that while these constructions are possible, they’re quite long and cumbersome, and native speakers often prefer the shorter versions with or (I don’t like basketball or volleyball; Mr. Lutz doesn’t want to meet today or tomorrow.)
1) We can use and when it’s not joining independent clauses to show that the items are joined (act as one unit—e.g., peanut butter and jelly). To avoid confusion, I recommend only pointing this out to higher-level students. Compare the difference:
- I don’t like peanut butter or jelly. (I don’t like peanut butter. I don’t like jelly.)
- I don’t like peanut butter and jelly. (I don’t like peanut butter and jelly together, but I might like them separately.)
2) Don’t forget that even though words such as hate or dislike have a negative meaning, not isn’t used, so and is used to join two or more parts of speech.
- I dislike apples and oranges. (I dislike apples or oranges is incorrect.)
- She hates rain and snow. (She hates rain or snow is incorrect.)
I hope your students aren’t confused or defeated by these conjunctions anymore!