Let’s start by looking at an example of a common phrase that is used in English.

“Are you free tomorrow and/or next week to do some extra recording? Whatever we could get done would be great!”

What is meant by this, particularly when using the phrase “and/or?”

We are going to be talking about this phrase today, because it can be confusing when you should or should not use it.

We’re going to help you to understand when to use it and when it may present more confusion than help.

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We have a great listener question on this that may help to highlight this example in a helpful way.

Hello Dear Lindsay,

I love your show, and I listen all the time! I am hoping that you can help me with something that I am unsure of. I just wanted to know how to pronounce “and/Or” when we encounter it in a sentence. For example you might say something about “working and/or improving our skills. . .” I am just confused how or why you might use this, and I would appreciate your help.

Thank you very much, and I love your podcasts!

Reza from Kurdistan, Iran

How Do You Pronounce and Use This?

This is a great question, as you may find yourself using this a fair amount.

We will talk about how to pronounce it, and also how to use it in English.

Let’s start with understanding, how do you pronounce it?

You would just say and or—you don’t actually say the slash.

An example would be “do you have any apples and/or oranges?”

When it comes to usage, what exactly does this mean or how would you use it?

It means option A, option B, or even a combination of the two.

Breaking This Down

So the first question asked in the example was “are you free tomorrow and/or next week to do some extra recording? Whatever we could get done would be great!”

Let’s break this down so that you can understand this and see how it’s used.

I was asking you if you are:

  1. Free both tomorrow AND next week
  2. Free tomorrow
  3. Free next week

The idea here is that any of these options could be helpful, so I was throwing it all out there.

It’s like offering multiple options, sometimes even when they aren’t really necessary.

You are putting all the options out there in the hopes that something will work or stick.

You are offering options in the hopes that one of them will work and you are trying to offer some flexibility in some capacity.

Examining The Differences

Could I just have said and or just have said or?

There are instances where you may offer one distinct choice, but that’s not always the case.

Sometimes you want to offer this or that, or even both.

Let’s examine the difference in this instance when you find that there is a need to use it.

“Are you free tomorrow AND next week to do some extra recording?”

Yes, you may be available only for one of these options, but it sounds like I’m asking you about both.

You don’t really want to know about both, you want to know about either option.

You are trying to make it as easy as possible, while checking on availability.

“Are you free tomorrow OR next week to do some extra recording?”

This sounds like one or the other, when really, I am kind of insinuating that the optimal situation would be to record both tomorrow and next week.

Do you say this?

This may be something that you tend to see more in writing, but you may say it as well sometimes.

Using and/or only really works if the first option, the second option, or both options are really possible.

So it’s not a specific choice or a broad offering, but rather a way to see if any of these options work.

You are trying to be flexible and offer some helpful options to ensure that the person finds something that works for them.

Here are a couple more examples of this and how it can work.

  • “Do you have a job and/or place to live in San Francisco yet.”
  • “It’s important to live in a place where you have friends and/or family.”
  • “You have the option to get up to two beverages. Would you like coffee and/or orange juice?”

When To Use This

You may have heard that this is really not useful for writing that is formal.

There may be varying thoughts on this though.

Some may say that this isn’t the best phrase to use, because it would be good to write one or the other.

It may be better to write out “and” or “or” in some instances.

It may be that sometimes it isn’t specific enough, and formal writing usually should be more specific.

So this may be the type of phrase that you use in conversation, but not in formal writing.

It may be best if you use it in writing, but in a more informal way just to be sure there is no confusion.

It is worth saying that whatever the rule is, that’s not the focus of today’s episode.

The point is you are likely to see this used in so many different places.

However, it may be a good idea to avoid it if you feel unsure.

There may be contradictory thoughts on this if it’s a good phrase to use for legal documents, but then you may hear that these documents shouldn’t contain and/or.

It’s okay if it’s unclear to you, because even natives struggle with when this may be appropriate to use sometimes, especially in writing.

Examples of When This Phrase May Not Work

There may be times when this phrase simply doesn’t work.

Though it may fit in conversations or some types of writing, there are other times when it is not a fit at all.

Knowing when this phrase may not work is just as important, and so let’s take a look at when you don’t want to use “and/or” in conversation.

  • “I could really go for some cake and/or cookies for dessert.” This is just so awkward sounding. In this case, we can just use one or the other, because that’s really what makes sense.
  • “I’m looking to rent a house and/or an apartment.” This doesn’t work because you aren’t considering doing both, and so you would only use “or” here to decipher that choice.
  • If someone uses and/or and you aren’t sure of what they mean, then just ask.
  • Is it awkwardly used in a sentence? Who are you speaking/writing to?

If it’s coming across as confusing, especially in writing, then don’t use it.

The main thing to think about is are you being specific, and is “and/or” what you actually want to say?

Are you truly ok with either option/both?

Takeaway

Some think this isn’t really appropriate, but it can be useful in the right context.

You hear this all the time, even if you don’t say it often.

This comes down to what you actually read and hear in your conversations.

Look out for this in your English interactions.

We also taught you the pronunciation, so you can get out into the world and use this in your conversations.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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