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And/Or

It's best to avoid using and/or, but what should you do if you have to use it?

By
Mignon Fogarty
Episode #481

And/Or

Kelly asked whether and/or in a subject makes the verb singular or plural. For example, what verb should she use in a sentence like this:

This message and/or attachments [is? are?] confidential.

You'd be hard pressed to find a style guide that doesn't admonish you to drop and/or and rewrite the sentence with just and or just or.

If you feel you must use and/or, my nonscientific survey of professional writing shows that you probably want to treat and/or as though it makes the subject plural. For example, Kelly's sentence would read

This message and/or attachments are confidential.

Usually, rewriting the sentence with or better reflects the meaning you're trying to accomplish with and/or, but sometimes people try to add clarity by adding or both to the end of the sentence:

This message, or attachments, or both are confidential.

In Kelly's case, a slight rewrite with and is probably the best choice:

This message and any attached files are confidential.

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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