Conjunctions

As their name implies, conjunctions join parts of a sentence. Common conjunctions: and, but, and or.

Choosing between and and or

Example 1: On 27 January 2007, The Guardian reported that the founders of Google were reconsidering the wisdom of their decision to censor their search engine in order to be permitted to operate in China. As The Guardian’s reporter at the World Economic Forum put it: “The company modified the version of its search engine in China to exclude controversial topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre or the Falun Gong movement, provoking a backlash in its core western markets.”

What’s wrong: In a list of items, each of which is accorded the same treatment—in this case, the treatment of exclusion—the conjunction must be and. The use of or means that only one, and not both, was accorded the treatment; this is incorrect, as both topics (Tiananmen Square and Falun Gong) were excluded.

Correct usage: “The company modified the version of its search engine in China to exclude controversial topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Falun Gong movement, provoking a backlash in its core western markets.”

Example 2: On 6 February 2009, in The Globe and Mail report that NDP Leader Jack Layton had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, we’re told that “Surgery or radiation therapy are two common treatments.”

What’s wrong: In a list of items, each of which has the same status—in this case, the status of being a common treatment—the conjunction must be and. The use of or means that only one, and not both, is a common treatment; this is incorrect, as both treatments (surgery and radiation therapy) are common.

Correct usage: “Surgery and radiation therapy are two common treatments.” If the reporter’s intention was to note that it’s common to address prostate cancer with one or the other, but not both, of these treatments, it would be correct to say “It is common to treat prostate cancer with surgery or radiation therapy”

Example 3: On 5 July 2010, in The Globe and Mail report of a Montréal borough’s traffic-calming plan, we’re told that “it may be the fastest and farthest-reaching campaign against the automobile that any Canadian city has seen—and it has not been without unintended casualties: not just businesses deprived of parking, but a church that can’t host a funeral or a seniors [sic]¹ centre that is no longer quite so accessible for [sic]² seniors.”

What’s wrong: In a list of items, each of which has the same status—in this case, the status of suffering an unintended consequence—the conjunction must be and. The use of or means that only the church or the seniors’ centre, but not both, suffered; this is incorrect, as both institutions (the church and the seniors’ centre) are affected by the traffic-calming plan.

Correct usage: “It may be the fastest and farthest-reaching campaign against the automobile that any Canadian city has seen—and it has not been without unintended casualties: not just businesses deprived of parking, but a church that can’t host a funeral and a seniors’ centre that is no longer quite so accessible to seniors.”

¹ Seniors is a plural noun, as is children. Just as we would refer to a children’s centre, and not a children centre, we must refer to a seniors’ centre, and not a seniors centre.

² Consider the following: The bus provided seniors with access to the hospital; the hospital was accessible to seniors by bus. To whom, rather than for whom, is the question answered when describing how access to a place or thing is made easier or more difficult.

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