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Consider the following sentences, where X and Y represent words that the person does not understand:

  1. What do X and Y mean?

  2. What does X and Y mean?

  3. What do X or Y mean?

  4. What does X or Y mean?

From my understanding, (1) and (4) are correct, while (2) and (3) are wrong. Am I right?

2 Answers 2

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It's easier to understand the differences if you apply them to examples. All of them are possible in the right context although some are much more likely than others.

What do (the words)TIME and TEMPO mean?
(What do these two words mean?)

What does (the expression) PICK and PAY refer to?
(It means choose an item in a shop and pay for it.)

What do (bow or sow) mean (as the words appear in several different contexts)?
(Each word means different things - bow of a ship, bow and arrow, bow in one's hair, to bow down / female pig, scatter seed)

What does (the word) RUSTIC or (the word) TRUSTY mean?
(One of them should fit in my crossword puzzle)

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Either could be correct depending on whether you are treating “X and Y” as a single item or as two items. The latter is far more common, but the former does happen, such as when a proper noun contains the word “and”.

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