Optionally/additionally as a grammatical alternative to and/or when the prior item(s) are essential

The grammatical construct “and/or” is frequently criticized for being unnecessary and/or ambiguous.

As a logical operator, when used in a list of two things (e.g., rice and/or beans), it implies that it is acceptable to have:

  • Item 1
  • Item 2
  • Items 1 and 2

However, having no items is unacceptable.

When used in a list of three things (e.g., rice, beans, and/or salsa), it implies that it is acceptable to have:

  • Item 1
  • Item 2
  • Item 3
  • Items 1 and 2
  • Items 1 and 3
  • Items 2 and 3
  • Items 1, 2, and 3

However, having no items is unacceptable.

This, obviously, is quite vague. Some have suggested just using “or” instead of and/or. However, “or” is also ambiguous in common language. This may be why APA style tolerates and/or, neither endorsing nor forbidding it.

Due to its vagueness and a lack of viable alternatives, and/or is used in many situations where it does not apply. One common instance is using and/or when you really mean to say “this item can be added, but the prior items are essential.” To address this, I propose a new grammatical construct: optionally/additionally.

Optionally/additionally has all the slashy goodness of and/or, but an air of sophistication. Sure, you could just say “and optionally,” but this isn’t strong enough at conveying that the subsequent item or items are optional add-ons, while simultaneously conveying that the prior item or items was/were essential.

For instance, when suggesting how to invest in equities, I would advise investing in a mutual fund of the whole U.S. stock market and optionally/additionally the whole international stock market (encompassing the whole world except the United States—the US is about 50% of the global market by market capitalization and all other countries sum to about 50%).

I would not want to say “the whole U.S. stock market and/or the whole international stock market” because the first item is essential, while the second item is not (depending on how bullish you are on the United States).

Of course, there are index funds that combine both the U.S. and international markets. For the equities portion of a portfolio, it would be fine to suggest investing in the whole U.S. stock market or the whole world stock market, but if we replace “whole world” with “international” (all other countries except the US), neither “or” nor “and/or” are acceptable, because both imply the first item is optional rather than mandatory. This is an example of when the optionally/additionally construct is useful.

I did not do extensive research into whether someone else has addressed this conundrum of grammar and logic. Please reply if you know of such sources. A Google search shows that optionally/additionally has been used three times before, but without elaboration on the grammatical or logical implications:

  1. On 2010-03-14, “GrapefruiTgirl” made this statement on the LinuxQuestions.org forum: Optionally/additionally, as your regular user, enter your ~/.fonts folder (or create it of there is none) and repeat the above three commands as regular user.
  2. On 2010-04-25, Michael S. from Vienna, Austria made this statement on TripAdvisor: Take the first train to Innsbruck which is a nice little city surrounded by majestic mountains. The city has a small but fine city center and you can easily and quickly go up to 2.300m above sea level by ropeway. Ex Innsbruck you could optionally/additionally visit the Karwendel Area with places like Seefeld and Mittenwald. The Karwendel Railway is known for spectacular views. Prepare for a long day but it is feasible!
  3. On 2016-11-15, “horst” made this statement on the application programming interface (API) discussion board in the ProcessWire content management system (CMS) forum: Optionally / additionally interesting in this regard maybe the weighten option of Pia here.

From these examples it appears optionally/additionally is most relevant to fastidious Austrians and computer programmers, but its slashy goodness remains undiscovered by the rest of Googleable humanity. A search of additionally/optionally reveals more than 20 uses, but I prefer emphasizing the optionality before communicating the supplementary nature of the subsequent items (and, consequently and implicity, the necessity of the preceding items), so additionally/optionally is of less interest to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *