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Consider the following sentence structure:

If {some subject} has either no {one thing} or {another thing} then ...

Does the no part of has either no apply to the {another thing} here?

I.e. does it mean that the condition is true when {one thing} or {another thing} is missing

or

It means that only {one thing} should be missing OR {another thing} be present?.


Example:

If this paper has either no hardware topic or a programming language chapter then it's good for me.

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  • I think I could give a better answer to this with an actual example, or better several examples. Aug 18, 2022 at 22:00
  • @DavidSiegel i came up with an example and added, but can different subjects possibly change the semantic of the language construction? Aug 18, 2022 at 22:11
  • Yes, the logic of the situation can clarify an example, and having definate items makes it easier for me, in many cases, to analyze the wording. Aug 18, 2022 at 22:52

1 Answer 1

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The example in the question:

If this paper has either no hardware topic or a programming language chapter then it's good for me.

seems to me to be ambiguous. It could mean (1) that an acceptable publication must either lack a hard were topic or else or else include a programming language chapter. Or it could mean (2) that an acceptable publication must lack one or the other.

Sense (1) could be rewritten as:

If this paper has either no hardware topic or else has a programming language chapter then it's good for me.

Sense (2) could be rewritten as:

If this paper has either no hardware topic or else lacks a programming language chapter then it's good for me.

(by the way it is a bit unusual for a "paper" to be divided into "chapters"/)

Other examples:

  • If this book has either no lectures or a friendly positive style it will be good for John. [Sense (1): Speaker is selecting a children's book.]
  • If this car has either no moonroof or low sets it will be good for us. [Sense (1): my wife is quite tall, and a moonroof lowers the effective height of the car's ceiling/]
  • If this design has no falue points or easy fraud scenarios it will be good. [sense (2) note that "or" could easiliy be converted to "nor".]

This kind of sentence can be made clearer by changing or" to "nor" in sense two, or by changing or" to "or else has" for sense (1). Other changes might also make such a sentence clearer. This is a somewhat unusul construction, so it pays to be as clear as possible.

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  • This is a somewhat unusual construction - it however is used in an official academic material with quite a formal language. Aug 18, 2022 at 23:05
  • @The Dreams Wind Oh yes, unusual does not imply "wrong" here in any way. But because it is unusual, an audience may be more easily confused, and anything a speaker or writer can to to make meaning clearer is good. Some academic writing uses over-elaborate constructions and is thereby more obscure than it needs to be. This is not a virtue. Aug 18, 2022 at 23:31

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