Example 1

I don't swim or jog.

I have learnt that if it's a negative verb, then we have to use "or" if you want to say all the things are things that you don't do.

But it seems like somehow this case can be used both ways. My speculation is that the example two means that I don't like John and Mary as a group. Maybe that is similar to "I don't like them." they are a group and they are different from me or something and I don't like them.

Example 2

I don't like John and Mary.

Example 3

I don't like John or Mary.

2 Answers 2


I don't like fish and chips.

This means I dislike the British dish called fish & chips (also written as fish and chips)

I don't like fish or chips / fries

This means I don't like eating fish and I don't like eating chips (fries) either.


I don't like John and Mary

suggests that John and Mary are either related (brother and sister) or a couple whereas

I don't like John or Mary

suggests that they are two individuals who are unrelated or are not a couple.

  • I think it can be interpreted as the two people have some similarities or they can be categorized as a crowd or a group. The reason is that I often hear people say "oh I don't like them" or "I don't like those people " so when you name the persons individually, the same principle should apply, am I right? "I don't like Mary and John" is just individually naming the people but I think it's it's the same thing as "I don't like them." Do you think I'm on the right path to understand this?
    – vincentlin
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 12:21
  • 1
    Yes, John and Mary could belong to a group of friends or share the same class or workplace but if you consider these two people to be closely related (e.g uncle and aunt) or a fixed couple I think it sounds better to use "and" rather than "or" In a figurative sense they come together.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 12:40
  • Okay so basically when the people are closely related (eg when they are colleagues or belong to the same friend circle) using "and" will be better, Right?
    – vincentlin
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 12:50
  • 1
    Not quite. The reason you hear “I didn’t like them” or “…those people” is that there is no way of explitly conveying the or in the pronominal versions. So “I don’t like them” can mean either “…John or Mary” or “…John and Mary.” But the and version conveys the sense of “as a unit.” The fish-and-chips example illustrates it: in principle, one can like fish and like chips, but not the combination. That’s the difference between such and statements and their or variants. Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 13:00

For example 1, another alternative would be 'I neither swim nor jog'. This would sound more formal (and perhaps old-fashioned), but would still be appropriate in most situations.

It uses the construction 'neither... nor...' where 'neither' and 'nor' negate the sentence, so there's no need to say 'don't' (which is literally 'do not').

I swim and jog would be negated as 'I neither swim nor jog'

'He eats meat, fish and eggs' would be negated as 'he eats neither, meat, fish, nor eggs'

So for the final 2 examples, example 3 makes it clear that you don't like John and you don't like Mary. This could also be written as 'I like neither John nor Mary' and 'I neither like John nor Mary' (both correct, and with the same meaning, but slightly more formal than your original example 3). If I heard example 2, I'd probably interpret this as being the meaning, but as you say, it's perhaps also open to being interpreted as you not liking John and Mary as a group.

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