There was a confusing question in my reading test.

This is the sentence in the passage:

"All starfish have at least 5 arms, but some have more"

Is the following statement true?

"All starfish have 5 or more arms"

My class was confused by the word "or". Some people think the statement can be re-written as:

"All starfish have 5 arms or All starfish have more than 5 arms"

Which then makes the statement false.

So I want to ask: as a native speaker, what does this sentence really mean to you?

  • 3
    The statement cannot be written as described. “five or more” acts as a single quantifier meaning “at least 5”. – Jim Jun 17 '19 at 17:17
  • Thanks a lot. I want to sorry if I ask inappropriately. Are you a native speaker? – Thïện Nguyễn Jun 17 '19 at 17:32
  • 3
    All starfish have (5 or more) arms. This is a classic semantics problem in logic. If "my coffee tastes good with cream" is true, and "my coffee tastes good with motor oil" is false, sentential calculus states that "my coffee tastes good with milk or motor oil" is true. In English, it's not, because the or binds within the prepositional phrase. – jimm101 Jun 17 '19 at 17:43
  • 1
    Just to be awkward: some starfish have arguably lost arms to predators. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 17 '19 at 18:02
  • 2
    I am a native BrE speaker and, neglecting logic problems and predated starfish, normally 5 or more has exactly the same meaning as at least 5. The people in your class could write the sentence "All starfish have at least 5 arms but some have more". But the version you quoted contains a contradiction, All is inclusive so you are saying every starfish has both 5 arms and at the same time more than 5 arms. – Peter Jennings Jun 17 '19 at 20:45

Your statement "All starfish have 5 or more arms" is correct.
But it's better to use "at least 5" (as discussed in the comments), as it already means 5 or more.

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