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In the following sentence is it clear what I mean by saying "deter or at least hinder"?

I want to say that the ideal is to completely prevent bad crowds from doing their business, but if it does not prevent them, it is still necessary making it more difficult for them to carry on. Is it clear from the sentence?

Some tough restrictions are needed to deter or at least hinder the sordid business of drugs and smuggling.

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    Not really, because "deter" doesn't mean "prevent" - it only means to give someone a reason not to do something, i.e. to discourage.
    – cruthers
    Dec 14 '21 at 4:45
  • @cruthers: I disagree. The sequence deter or at least hinder sounds fine to me, and that's a link to multiple published written instances. Dec 14 '21 at 15:14
  • ... And there are even more instances of hinder or even deter, showing that hinder and deter fall somewhere on a "continuum", whereby one goes "further" than the other. Dec 14 '21 at 15:15
  • Note that when both terms are being juxtaposed like this, it's contextually implicit that the speaker/writer is using deter in the more "absolute" sense of make something so unattractive that people don't do it (rather than the "weaker" sense of simply make it less attractive, but not necessarily enough to put people off doing it at all). Dec 14 '21 at 15:20
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You generally use "or at least" when talking about two things that are different degrees of the same thing, for example "eliminate, or at least reduce". Deter and Hinder have similar degrees (reducing the likelihood that something will happen) but a significantly different emphasis: deter focuses on affecting somebody's motivation, whereas hinder is more about affecting somebody's ability to do something.

deter - to prevent someone from doing something or to make someone less enthusiastic about doing something by making it difficult for that person to do it or by threatening bad results if they do it

hinder - to limit the ability of someone to do something, or to limit the development of something

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The grammar is fine. You might want to put parenthetical commas around the phrase "or at least hinder". I'm not sure that "deter" is the right word. It means "discourage" rather than "prevent", and so means roughly the same as "hinder". Perhaps

...needed to eliminate, or at least hinder, the sordid business...

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