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A native English speaker said:

...with respect to any given country a person can:

  • be a citizen,
  • be a national but not a citizen,
  • be eligible to become a citizen by taking some active step(s) - a choice if you will,
  • be neither a citizen nor eligible to become one.

I took that as any/all of the 4 options apply to any country and asked the person to confirm whether they asserted that all countries support being a national but not a citizen (because I know many countries do not even distinguish the two concepts).

They replied that they didn't say that at all. They said "there are 4 broad categories I never suggested every country has all 4". Now I understand they meant that any option from the list of 4 may apply to a country but will not necessarily do so.

Can the quoted passage be only interpreted the latter way i.e. the options are alternatives and do not necessarily all apply at once? Or can it also be interpreted as I originally did i.e. a person can be any of the 4 options in any country?

1 Answer 1

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Two things:

First, when there's a bulleted list like this, writers often leave it to the reader to infer what the conjunction is ("or" or "and"), but it's bad style to do so, and some would say bad grammar, as all those points separated by commas and terminated with a period make a sentence, and a list of things required a conjunction between the last two items. So, the writer should have ended the third point like, "a choice if you will, or".

Second, because the writer said, "... with respect to any given country...", all four points should be applicable to all countries, so you're right about that. One way to convey that person's intent would be,

... with respect to a given country...

or

... with respect to some given country....

Another way would be:

*... with respect to any given country, a person is one of:

  • a citizen,
  • ...
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  • We need to distinguish between two issues: (1) whether all 4 options are possible in every country or whether each country can have some subset of the options, (2) whether, in relation to a specific citizen, multiple options can be applicable ("and" or "and/or") or whether they are mutually exclusive ("or"). Your last example indicates the second point but not the first.
    – JBentley
    Jul 4, 2021 at 14:48
  • @JBentley Based on the original question, I believe the intent of the speaker was only to state that there's 4 possibilities. It doesn't seem their intent included specifying whether they each apply to every country or not because they stated: "I never suggested every country has all 4" and left it at that
    – gotube
    Jul 4, 2021 at 18:57

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