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There is this question and it is confusing me:

Has the applicant completed, or is currently enrolled in any other studies or training outside XYZ (country name)?

The answer is:

Yes or No

Actually, I have completed. So what should be the answer (yes or no) and why?

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  • 3
    Your answer to the whole question is "yes" because your answer to at least one part of the question is "yes". The "or" combines the two clauses into alternatives. Only someone who answers "no" to both parts should answer "no" to the whole question. Nov 29, 2017 at 19:14
  • It might help if the sentence was grammatical!
    – BillJ
    Nov 30, 2017 at 8:21

2 Answers 2

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You should answer "Yes."

"Or" in English is usually what is called in logic a non-exclusive "or." That means that "A or B" is considered true if A is true but not B, B is true but not A, or both A and B are true.

Sometimes context or vocabulary will entail that a simple "or" is to be understood as exclusive. For a simple example, the sentence "That was either a zebra or a giraffe" clearly intends an exclusive "or" because nothing is both a zebra and a giraffe. But the general case is that "or" without qualification is non-exclusive. The sentence "The quantitative requirement may be met by taking a year of mathematics or physics" does not mean that taking both math and physics will fail to meet the requirement.

Some people may interpret "either X or Y" as an exclusive "or." Unfortunately that usage is not universal. "Either X or else Y" is one way to specify an exclusive "or." Another is "A or B, but not both."

It is a lexical deficiency in English that it lacks a very sharp division between exclusive "or" (in Latin "aut X aut Y") and non-exclusive (in Latin "vel").

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Strictly speaking, this is a combination of two question rather than a single question. The two questions are:

  1. Has the applicant completed [...]? (A)
  2. Or is he/she currently enrolled in any other studies or training outside XYZ (country name)?

These are two yes/no questions.

When these two questions are combined into a single question by changing the punctuation, each of the two parts requires an answer. For example, "No, he/she has not completed [...] and he/she is not enrolled in (...)."

Comments:

  • (A) The verb to complete requires a direct object; the original question has no direct object (what has been completed?) and is therefore syntactically incorrect.
  • The second part of the original sentence requires a subject, e.g.: "(...) or is he/she currently enrolled ..." The combined sentence has two subjects (both referring to the same person) and two main verbs.
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  • I agree with you completely that the question is badly framed because it combines two logically distinct questions. I further agree that, if reported correctly, the sentence is incorrectly punctuated. A comma after "in" would give a direct object to "complete." But the correct answer in English to the question "Is A or B true" is "yes" unless both A and B are false. Nov 29, 2017 at 19:32
  • @JeffMorrow When you answer "yes", won't the other person ask, "Yes, what?"
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 29, 2017 at 19:34
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    Perhaps they will. Perhaps they will not. In the scenario outlined, the questioner will ask that follow-up question only if the distinction is important for the questioner's purpose. As the original question was framed, it seems likely that the distinction is NOT important to the questioner. If I ask "Did you successfully complete at least one year of math or physics," I I may not care at all which course was taken or whether courses in both fields were taken. Nov 29, 2017 at 19:43
  • I get the feeling this is on a paper form, so there likely won't be any follow-on question. The person reading the form simply wants to know if the person is currently taking or has previously taken studies/training. (It doesn't matter which; just answer "yes" or "no".)
    – J.R.
    Nov 29, 2017 at 21:17

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