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Help! About the usage of "or not" in the end of a sentence
Thread poster: liuweileo

liuweileo
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:50
English to Chinese
+ ...
Aug 6, 2007

Can we say "A can be obtained or not."?IMO, at least in films , people say a lot of " A may/can blah blah blah, or not" stuff. But is this sentence grammatically correct?
I've been discussing this with someone. According to him, the sentence above is obviously wrong, since "you have to make a judgment in a narrative sentence like this, and the sentence listed is against grammar and linguistic habit !".
To this , I really really doubt. I guess it's just about possibilities, not a direct judgment. As far as I can remember, people use " or not" to end the sentence, either to make a sharp contrast( one way to create some irony), or to cover all the possibilities, so that his words sounds preciser.
However, it's hard to find some proof to support myself, just because it's a tiny little problem. So, what do you think?Thanks for all your opinions shared.

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2007-08-06 22:44]

[Edited at 2007-08-06 23:27]


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Yvette Neisser Moreno  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:50
Spanish to English
+ ...
depends on the context Aug 7, 2007

[quote]liuweileo wrote:

As far as I can remember, people use " or not" to end the sentence, either to make a sharp contrast (one way to create some irony), or to cover all the possibilities, so that his words sounds preciser.



It depends on the context, but the instances you mention of when to possibly use it sound right to me.


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:50
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Depends on the formality of the situation Aug 7, 2007

[quote]Yvette Neisser Moreno wrote:

liuweileo wrote:

As far as I can remember, people use " or not" to end the sentence, either to make a sharp contrast (one way to create some irony), or to cover all the possibilities, so that his words sounds preciser.



It depends on the context, but the instances you mention of when to possibly use it sound right to me.


I agree, as usual it depends on the context, but also on the formality of the situation.
A wife might say in conversation "I can't decide whether to divorce him or not", while her lawyer's letter might say "My client is deciding whether or not to instigate proceedings".
Does that sound right - or not??
Regards,
Jenny.


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xxxE2efour
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:50
Swedish to English
A can be obtained or not Aug 7, 2007

I don't see how this specific sentence can be faulted grammatically.

However, I don't think it likely that any native speaker would say it. More likely it would be expressed as below:

1) Either A can be obtained or not.

2) A can be obtained or not, as the case may be.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:50
French to English
Also depends on what "or not" is referring to Aug 7, 2007

When "or not" occurs at the end of a sentence, a native speaker will usually infer some kind of repetition of part of what has gone before. e.g.:
- I can't decide whether to divorce my husband or not [divorce my husband]
- the website may be running or not [be running]
- is that right or not [right]?

There must be some kind of rule of grammar at work here, but I don't know the name of it, or how it is 'officially' expressed, but that is the general idea.

As Jenny said, in more formal writing, it is probably best to put the "or not" closer to what is being negated, e.g. I cannot decide whether ot not to divorce my husband, the website may or may not be running. (*)

I do sometimes find that when people just stick "or not" at the end of a sentence, it can be hard to determine exactly what is meant, what it is exactly that may, or may not, be happening.
For example, at the (*) above, I was going to write "This may make the sentence longer". But it may not.

If I had written "This may make the sentence longer or not", I think that most English native speakers would say that it sounds 'odd', because what they hear is "This may make the sentence longer or not longer", even if they can probably deduce that what is meant is "This may or may not make the sentence longer".


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Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:50
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Generally colloquial and a bit redundant Aug 7, 2007

"Or not" sounds less formal, although it is fairly often heard in spoken English.

Has my comment been copecetic or not?


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Language Creations
United States
Local time: 19:50
Member (2011)
Polish to English
+ ...
unnecessary Aug 7, 2007

The addition of "or not" is used very often in spoken language, though in my opinion it's rather unnecessary. I think in most cases taking out the "or not" does not change the meaning. I remember learning somewhere not to write "whether or not" but just "whether". But is it grammatically correct? Probably. I would rather avoid it in formal or written use, though I probably say it every day.

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Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:50
Finnish to English
It's fine Aug 7, 2007

It is OK in most contexts and in some cases needed

'Whether this is ncessary or not' in a formal text could read' whether or not this is necessary'


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xxxSpring City  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:50
Chinese to English
+ ...
I think the issue is distance from the phrase it is qualifying Aug 7, 2007

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with "or not" at the end of the sentence, but as people have said it can be tucked inside the sentence, which might make for a better written style. As written English tends to have more subordinate clauses and more adverbial phrases, it can get more unwieldly, and so it is better to have the "or not" placed elsewhere. So I don't think use of "or not" at the end of the sentence needs to be strictly avoided in written style on all occasions, but using "or not" at the end of the sentence can separate it from its context.

1) can you do it or not?
2) can you let me know whether or not you can do it?
3) we have been discussing whether XX would make a good prime minister under the current circumstances or not. [or not: a long way from whether in this sentence and a little clumsy]
4) we have been discussing whether or not XX would make a good prime minister under the current circumstances. [a little bit better]

But there is also another use of "or not", used on its own, as an "ironic" retort to imply the other speaker may be wrong. It is "hip" slang that may not last in the English language.

[Edited at 2007-08-07 13:33]

[Edited at 2007-08-07 13:34]


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Trudy Peters  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:50
German to English
+ ...
On a related note... Aug 7, 2007

what about "or no?" A local radio talk show host always says things like, "Would you go see this movie or no?"

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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 19:50
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
"Or no?" Aug 7, 2007

Trudy Peters wrote:

what about "or no?" A local radio talk show host always says things like, "Would you go see this movie or no?"




He ought to be taken out and shot.

Cheers,
Andy


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Yongmei Liu  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:50
English to Chinese
+ ...
Consider this: Aug 7, 2007

"Or not" can be used at the end of a sentence to indicate negation or retraction of the main statement. It's like saying, "Oh, silly me, why did I say that? I take it back." It shows annoyance, disappointment and sarcasm.

It is similar to "Never mind."

For example:

Maybe you can give me a ride after we're done here. [Seeing the other person's hesitation and a bit pissed off] Or not. I will just call a cab.

Here, you first make a statement that is based on certain expectations of people. Then, you feel unsure, you feel maybe you are being presumptuous, or you feel people may not be so helpful. So, you retract your previous statement by saying, "Or not."

In this scenario, the usage is certainly grammatically sound.


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