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The title might sound a little silly, but I have this confusion: When someone says, "Join document A with document B", does it mean document A should be first or document B should be first?

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The answer lies in the function word "with", not the word "join".

Join A with B

Would normally be interpreted as meaning to produce "AB".

However we can flip this interpretation by changing "with" to "onto":

Join A onto B

Would normally be interpreted as meaning to produce "BA".

When in doubt, you can use the words "prepend" and "append" to be explicit:

Prepend A to B

Means produce "AB".

Append A to B

Means produce "BA".

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It's ambiguous enough that whoever made the request shouldn't have a problem if you ask for clarification.

As with just about everything in English, it depends a lot on the context. For instance, the fact that you have listed documents whose names have a natural order (A then B), you would expect that the person wants the first document in the list order to be first. Moreso, if (s)he want them to be joined out of order (i.e., B then A), this should have been explicitly identified in the request.

If the documents being joined have no order, e.g., join the mango document with the apple document, then you shouldn't go wrong if you join them in the order mentioned—i.e., the mango document first then the apple document.

A different context would be where the two documents contain 'mergeable' information (e.g., lists, database records, etc). In this situation, the join request would result in a document that has items from document B interspersed with items from document A in list order, or record order.

A (slightly) less ambiguous version of the request would be to join document A to document B. In this case, I would expect the first named document to be added to the end of the other document. Again, if the documents were named 'A' and 'B' (or 1 and 2, or anything that inferred order), I would still double-check that the person didn't really want 'A' before 'B'.

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  • Do you get extra points here for nitpicking? The sentence used is just an example. The question is what does "Join mango with apple" mean? I don't like how you pick on "someone" and "A B" that I used. What if this is a sentence written by someone who has died? How do you double-check? This is an English learning community, not a Workplace issues community.
    – user448
    Feb 8, 2013 at 6:47
  • I'll add a bit about documents where there is no order. I wasn't picking on 'someone', I just added the single quotes to identify him/her as the person who made the original request. I don't know what you mean about Workplace issues. What you have identified as 'nitpicking' is an attempt to show that the answer will differ depending on context and I was trying to show some of these differing contexts. NO idea what you mean about someone who has died.
    – mcalex
    Feb 8, 2013 at 6:55
  • @MingXiu is this version better?
    – mcalex
    Feb 8, 2013 at 7:44
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In the case you mean to join the documents in no particular order, then use this:

Merge documents A and B.

The word "joining" is a little ambiguous, so you can use words like insert and append if you want a particular order. For example, this:

Insert document B after A.

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