Or or And in Negative Sentences?

“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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Examples:

  • 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.)

Exceptions:

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!

Tanya

59 comments

Leave a Comment ↓

  1. Piyush says:

    Jun 03, 2019 at 10:30 am

    “You said you were happy” or
    “You said that you were happy”
    Which of the above sentenceis right?
    I think that we have to use “that” after “said” so that it will become a noun clause and full clause can be used as an object.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 04, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      Hi Piyush,

      Both of your sentences above are correct, and there is no difference in meaning. These sentences are examples of reported speech, and you are correct that the clause “(that) you were happy” is a noun clause because it takes the object position of the main clause: You (S) said (V) that you were happy (O).

      With noun clauses that act as objects, it is almost always possible to drop the relative pronoun “that” from the clause. Dropping “that” makes it more informal and is very common in speech. Find more tips and examples here: https://blog.esllibrary.com/2017/01/26/reported-speech/

      • Piyush says:

        Jun 06, 2019 at 9:53 am

        Thanks you tanya. Love you ummmaaahhhhh

  2. Love says:

    May 23, 2019 at 10:03 pm

    Thanks a bunch for this post. My students
    were really unhappy when I marked it wrong in their English test. Now I can explain it to them.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 29, 2019 at 6:58 pm

      You’re welcome! I’m glad it’ll come in handy.

  3. Choot says:

    May 11, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    Please tell me Tanya in British English much,many,more,most are considered as which part of speech? Adjective or adverb

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 22, 2019 at 5:16 pm

      Hi Choot,

      They have different parts of speech (adjective, pronoun, noun, adverb, and/or determiner) depending on how they’re used in a sentence. Oxford Dictionaries is a great place to check on the British usage for each word: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

      For example, here are some of Oxford’s examples for “much”:
      – as determiner: “I didn’t get much sleep that night.”
      – as pronoun: “He does not eat much.”
      – as adverb: “Thanks very much.”

  4. cc says:

    May 10, 2019 at 11:02 am

    Tina isn’t climbing a tree, she is taking a photo. <– could we use comma to join these two sentences?

    thank you!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 10, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      Hi! That sentence has two complete clauses, so you need to join them somehow. A comma isn’t correct here. Instead, you could use a semicolon, an em dash, or a period.

      – Tina isn’t climbing a tree; she is taking a photo.
      – Tina isn’t climbing a tree—she is taking a photo.
      – Tina isn’t climbing a tree. She is taking a photo.

  5. raaju kaaju says:

    May 09, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    this sentence is right or wrong? “he will either obey me or take the consequences

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 09, 2019 at 1:00 pm

      Hi Raaju,

      “Or” is correct in this sentence because you are talking about a choice. The common expression is “face the consequences,” though, not “take the consequences.”

      Correct sentence: “He will either obey me or face the consequences.”

  6. William says:

    Apr 30, 2019 at 11:51 am

    The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
    Can we use OR to replace AND in the above quote? Why or why not?
    Thanks a lot in advance.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 06, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Hi William,

      Yes, you can definitely replace “and” with “or” in both instances in the sentence above. In fact, this is the “correct grammar,” as we’ve discussed in the post above. However, “or” is sometimes replaced by “and” when the author feels that the meaning will be clearer. In this sentence, both “or” and “and” are clear to me. I think the author chose “and” to emphasize that the actions (read/write and /learn/unlearn/relearn) are all included and that it’s not one or the other.

  7. damon salvatore says:

    Apr 04, 2019 at 6:02 am

    1. She doesn’t have a diary and an address book, but has some pens in her bag.
    2. She doesn’t have a diary or an address book, but has some pens in her bag.
    In first sentence i think she does not have a diary and an address book together(combination) at least she has one….. am i right?
    In second sentence i think she does not have both a diary and an adress book
    please explain me all how to use ”and” ”or” in negative sentence for ”showing all” for ”showing combination” for showing ”choice making”

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 04, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      Hi again Damon,

      Your sentences #1 and 2 have the same meaning, but 1 isn’t as natural (because it is more natural/correct to use “or” in a negative sentence). They both mean that she doesn’t have a diary and she doesn’t have an address book, but she does have some pens.

      It’s not natural to show a choice or a combination of items in a negative sentence (because the meaning is zero—no items). If you want to show a choice, it’s better to ask a question or embedded question. For example:
      – Does she have a diary or an address book in her bag? = one item
      – Does she have a diary and an address book in her bag? = two items
      – I’m not sure if she has a diary or an address book in her bag. = one item
      – I’m not sure if she has a diary and an address book in her bag. = two items

      If the verb directly before the objects is negative (as in your examples), use “or” (because the meaning will be “zero/no items”).

  8. damon salvatore says:

    Apr 04, 2019 at 5:15 am

    how can i say ?
    if i want to say that i like coldrinks and sweets as a combination
    if i want to say choice between coldrinks and sweets

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 04, 2019 at 12:28 pm

      Hi again Damon, here are some natural-sounding sentences:
      1. I like cold drinks and sweets.
      2. Do you prefer cold drinks or sweets?

  9. damon salvatore says:

    Apr 04, 2019 at 4:58 am

    please tell me among these which are correct in blank? With Explanation
    we don’t like ____________
    THE BLACK AND BLUE COLOUR
    THE BLACK AND THE BLUE COLOURS
    THE BLACK AND BLUE COLOURS
    BLACK AND BLUE COLOURS
    BLACK AND BLUE COLOUR
    THE BLACK OR BLUE COLOUR
    THE BLACK OR THE BLUE COLOUR
    THE BLACK OR THE BLUE COLOURS
    BLACK OR BLUE COLOUR
    BLACK OR BLUE COLOURS

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 04, 2019 at 12:25 pm

      Hi Damon, the most natural sentences are:
      – We don’t like black or blue. (for general colour preference)
      – We don’t like the black or blue colours. (when looking at colour choices, fabric, etc.)

  10. J Anton says:

    Mar 20, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    We often describe analytical results and will pair certain compounds/tests when nothing if found i.e. No concentrations of arsenic or lead were detected or No concentrations of VOCs or PCBs were detected. Although someone would unlikely mean to pair compounds by using ‘and’ it seems it could be viewed as joining the items and based on that I believe ‘or’ is the appropriate word in this case, but appreciate your feedback.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 21, 2019 at 1:18 pm

      I agree that “or” is the best choice in those sentences. Not only is it the grammatically correct option, it also sounds much more natural to me. If someone used “and” the meaning would still be clear, but it doesn’t sound quite right.

  11. Deb says:

    Aug 02, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    Also–
    “patient denies a history of AND/OR current suicidal ideation”

    Thanks.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Aug 02, 2018 at 5:37 pm

      Hi again Deb, as with the comment below, I’d say “and” is the better choice for clarity.

  12. Deb says:

    Aug 02, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    Am I using this correctly?

    “Patient denies alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drug use”
    if I am getting across that the patient denies use of all of the above?

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Aug 02, 2018 at 5:36 pm

      Hi Deb, this is a tricky one since “denies” has a negative meaning. I’d say that both “or” and “and” are possible here. But since there is no negative adverb (not, never), I think that “and” is best for clarity (i.e., the patient denies all three things). We wouldn’t want it to be misread as a choice (using “or”).

  13. Subinay says:

    Jun 16, 2018 at 7:28 am

    I am not sleeping and watching TV .
    What is the meaning of this sentence?

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 18, 2018 at 1:59 pm

      It should be “or.” “I am not sleeping or watching TV” means that you’re doing something else instead (e.g., you’re doing your homework). “I am not sleeping and watching TV” would be very strange to say because you can’t watch TV while you sleep.

  14. Alexey says:

    Jan 15, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Hi Tanya,

    If two predicates which we negate are in different tenses, should we use “or” or “and” and the second not?
    Which one of these two sentences is correct?
    “The Landlord represents that the house has not been sold or is in dispute.”
    or
    “The Landlord represents that the house has not been sold and is not in dispute.”

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 16, 2018 at 5:17 pm

      Hi Alexey,

      The different verb tenses in two predicates wouldn’t normally affect the choice of conjunction. Usually we only use “or” if the main verb (“represents”) is negative. (I’m not sure what you mean by “represents,” though, so I’ll use the verb “is explaining” in my examples.)

      When the main verb is positive, use “and””
      √ The landlord is explaining that the house has not been sold and is in dispute.
      √ The landlord is explaining that the house has not been sold and is not in dispute.
      √ The landlord is explaining that the house has been sold and is in dispute.
      √ The landlord is explaining that the house has been sold and is not in dispute.

      But when the main verb is negative, use “or”:
      √ The landlord doesn’t know if the house has been sold or is in dispute.

      • Alexey says:

        Jan 18, 2018 at 9:40 am

        Thank you a lot for your explanations. “Represent” is a legal term and means “state”.

        • Tanya Trusler says:

          Jan 24, 2018 at 4:01 pm

          You’re welcome, Alexey. I’ve never heard “represent” used that way before. Interesting!

  15. deven shukla says:

    Nov 19, 2017 at 1:36 am

    Hi Tanya. Can we write nor in place of or in the given examples in #trick-1?

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 20, 2017 at 2:53 pm

      Hi Deven,

      Not exactly. Remember that “nor” takes the place of the negative adverb “not.” You can’t have both.

      So you could say “I like neither apples nor oranges,” “English is neither quick nor easy to learn,” etc.

      Hope that helps!

  16. Han Chiao says:

    Sep 18, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    thx!

  17. Plamen says:

    Aug 29, 2017 at 6:18 am

    Hi, Tanya! Your comments are very useful. When we use adjectives with negative meaning for example as unhappy do we have to apply the rules for or/and for the negative sentences? She is unhappy in professional and/or private side of her life.
    Secondly, if we use the adjective NO do we have to apply the rules for negation and or/and. There is no evidence of a nerve disorder in the upper or/and lower limbs.
    Finaly, when we use both /which implies and/ and either /which implies or/, do we have follow the same rules as and/or in negation? She is not happy in both/either side of her life. Many thanks!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 01, 2017 at 4:00 pm

      Hi Plamen,

      Thanks for the kind words. To answer your questions:

      1. The rules in this post don’t apply for negative adjectives. The correct sentence is: “She is unhappy in (both) the professional and private side of her life.”

      2. With “no,” the rules do apply. The correct sentence is: “There is no evidence of a nerve disorder in the upper or lower limbs.”

      3. With “not,” we should use “either,” not “both.” The correct sentence is: “She is not happy in either side of her life.” or “She is not happy in either her professional life or her personal life.”

  18. Ghiaath says:

    May 31, 2017 at 5:33 am

    Hi Tanya,
    Could you please tell me if this is acceptable.

    He didn’t help his wife with the housework, take care of the baby, or even answer the phone.

    I want to use ‘or’ in the middle too, but there is one befor the 3rd part. Is there a better way to express the above?

    Thank you for your help!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 31, 2017 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Ghiaath, your sentence is just fine. The “or” is in the correct spot, and I wouldn’t recommend using two (it’s repetitive and unnecessary). :)

  19. Sandy says:

    May 22, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Hi, I would just like to ask is this part of this statement “provided that the member is not i default of this agreement and subject to the terms and conditions there of,…”

    I understand you’re not a lawyer and I’m not asking you for legal advice this is not and I understand that you cannot give me legal advice. A lot of people a lot of people do not understand and they get confused by this part of the statement. I say that the “not” in the sentence applies to the part of the sentence before the “and” and the part of the sentence after the “and”.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 23, 2017 at 1:07 pm

      Hi Sandy,

      Yes, please don’t take this reply as legal advice. You are correct that your example sentence would be read by most people the way you described, with the “not” applying only to the part of the sentence before the “and.” So provided that the member is not in default of this agreement and provided that the member is subject to the terms…”

  20. Mitsu says:

    Apr 11, 2017 at 10:12 am

    Q1 「臨床症状として、息切れ、喀血、胸痛、水泡音は認められなかった。」の英訳のうち、
    医薬文書として最もふさわしいものは以下1~3のどれか。
    (Which sentence among 1 to 4 is the best one for a official medical document in order to mean as below?
    “[Findings for] Clinical symptoms:
    Shortness of breath: none
    Hemoptysis: none
    Chest pain: none
    Rhonchi: none”)

    1. Clinical symptoms including shortness of breath, hemoptysis, chest pain, and rhonchi were not noted.

    2. No clinical symptoms of shortness of breath, hemoptysis, chest pain, and rhonchi were noted.

    3. No clinical symptoms of shortness of breath, hemoptysis, chest pain, or rhonchi were noted.

    4. Any clinical symptoms of shortness of breath, hemoptysis, chest pain, and rhonchi were not noted.

    5. Any clinical symptoms of shortness of breath, hemoptysis, chest pain, or rhonchi were not noted.

    Q2. Q1 の選択肢 2 において、「息切れ、喀血、胸痛、水泡音」が同格とならず、「No」が「symptoms」と「rhonchi」にかかるように読める可能性はあるか。
    (In the sentence “2” of Q1 items, can 4 words of “shortness of breath”, “hemoptysis”, “chest pain”, and “rhonchi”
    be regarded as not in the same rank, like a sentence saying “No clinical symptoms or rhonchi were noted.” ?)

    Q3. Q1 の選択肢 3 において、「息切れ、喀血、胸痛」が認められず、「水泡音」が認められた、と読める可能性はあるか。
    (In the sentence “3” of Q1 items, can the sentence be regarded as “present: shortness of breath, hemoptysis, and chest pain; none: rhonchi” ?)

    Q4. Q1 の選択肢 1 において、「including」を使用してもよいか、また、「of」よりもふさわしいといえるか。
    (In the sentence “1” of Q1 items, is the use of word “including” correct? Is it better than “of”?)

    I beg you will sympathize with me, and it would be extremely appreciated if you give me a helpful advice.
    Sincerest regards,

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 11, 2017 at 6:30 pm

      Hi Mitsu,

      A1. Sentences 1 and 3 are both correct. I think sentence 3 sounds the best (“No clinical symptoms of shortness of breath, hemoptysis, chest pain, or rhonchi were noted.”). Note that sentences 2, 4, and 5 don’t sound natural, in my opinion.

      A2. I’d say that sentence 2 reads the same as sentence 3, but the “and” sounds like an error to me.

      A3. No. Sentence 3 reads as “All four of these symptoms were not present.” So there were no symptoms of shortness of breath / no symptoms of hemoptysis / no symptoms of chest pain / no symptoms of rhonchi. If this is your meaning, sentence 3 works well.

      A4. Yes, “including” sounds natural in sentence 1 and sounds better than “of,” especially because you wouldn’t want to have “of” twice so close together (“Clinical symptoms OF shortness OF breath…”).

      Hope that helps!

  21. PPP says:

    Feb 05, 2017 at 2:46 am

    Great article. One concern: all your examples occur in the predicate. Do your tricks apply to the subject? And does this affect the subject/verb agreement? Can the following sentence be improved without using the formal “nor”?:

    John or Mike isn’t coming to the party.

    Thanks!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 06, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      Good question! The rules above do not apply to the subject of a sentence. So your example, “John or Mike isn’t coming to the party” is not correct. Instead, we could say:

      Neither John nor Mike is coming to the party.
      or
      John and Mike aren’t coming to the party.

      To help students with subject-verb agreement, tell them to think of it as “neither ONE of them IS coming” for the first example, and “THEY ARE not coming” for the second. Thanks for your question!

      • PPP says:

        Feb 07, 2017 at 11:11 pm

        Ah, thanks for the extra help!

  22. Nina says:

    Nov 02, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Thanks. That’s very helpful.
    However, I do have some situation here:
    1. She doesn’t have a diary and an address book, but has some pens in her bag.
    2. She doesn’t have a diary or an address book, but has some pens in her bag.
    Can I say both sentences are correct? And how can I explain that both sentences are acceptable in what context, please?
    I hope I’m not asking an invalid question.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 04, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      Hi Nina,

      No questions are ever invalid! I’m glad you asked this one, because it can be confusing.

      Grammatically speaking, your second sentence with “or” is correct (“She doesn’t have a diary or an address book, but she has some pens in her bag.”) The meaning is that she doesn’t have a diary and she doesn’t have an address book. (Note that I’ve added a second “she” because it is more common to include a subject after a comma, especially with a switch from negative to positive.)

      The first sentence doesn’t sound as good. Native speakers naturally use “or” with negative sentences, although some people can and do easily make this mistake. It’s not a huge problem because the meaning is clear (and the meaning would be the same as the second sentence, that she doesn’t have a diary and she doesn’t have an address book). However, I wouldn’t teach that first sentence to my students.

      Hope that helps! :)

  23. Niloo says:

    Jun 01, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    Good..thanks
    I was confused..thanks for your good description

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 02, 2015 at 11:06 pm

      You’re very welcome, Niloo!

  24. wing says:

    May 22, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    thank you very much for this. It is very helpful. Can the same rule apply to positive sentences? For example, is it correct to say, ‘I like apples or oranges”?

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 02, 2015 at 11:06 pm

      Hi Wing,

      Good question! No, it’s not possible to use “or” for a positive sentence when you mean “both.” In positive sentences, “or” is used for a CHOICE.

      Examples:
      – Which do you prefer, apples or oranges?
      – Do you like apples or oranges better?
      – Do you want apples or oranges for dessert?

      The answer will only be one of the two nouns.
      Hope that helps! :)

  25. hamid says:

    Jan 08, 2014 at 6:54 am

    what about “nor”?
    do you think that we should use “nor” with negative sentences ?

    I don’t like apples nor oranges

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 08, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      Good question, Hamid! You can use “nor” in negative sentences, but remember that it’s quite formal and not commonly used nowadays. When you use “nor” you almost always use “neither”, and you will NEVER use “not”. Think of the “n” in the words “neither” and “nor” as already having the meaning of “not”.

      All of the following examples have the same meaning. #1 is the most common and #3 is the least common.

      1. I don’t like apples or oranges.
      2. I don’t like either apples or oranges.
      3. I like neither apples nor oranges.

      Hope that helps!
      Tanya :)

  26. laogui says:

    Dec 29, 2013 at 8:46 am

    I was correcting an entry at italki.com, in which the (Chinese) student had written ‘… without electronic toys and smartphones’ and asked why I had corrected her ‘and’ to ‘or’, was it because of the ‘without’ and yes of course it was; but how to express this as a rule of grammar, and how many such words are there?

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 30, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      Hi Laogui,

      You bring up a very good point. English has other negative words besides the usual “not” and “never”. The rule remains the same, though: Use “or”, not “and”, if there is a negative word in the sentence (that refers to the items being joined). Other such words include no, none, nothing, either, and, as you mentioned, without. I’m sure there are more, but that’s all that are coming to me at the moment. If anyone can think of words to add to this list, please leave a comment! :)

  27. Tanya says:

    Aug 02, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Thanks, Neide and Tracey! And it’s very true…I learned so much about English when I started teaching it. We’re not usually aware of all the grammar rules in our own language until we have to explain them to someone else.

  28. TraceySmiler says:

    Aug 02, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Very enlightening. It’s funny the things we just do naturally, often without being taught, and don’t recognise in our own language until they’re pointed out. Very helpful and interesting.

  29. neide says:

    Aug 01, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Very clarifying! Tks!

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed.