Definition of or in English:



  • 1Used to link alternatives.

    ‘a cup of tea or coffee’
    ‘are you coming or not?’
    ‘I either take taxis or walk everywhere’
    ‘it doesn't matter whether the theory is right or wrong’
    • ‘She never learned to read or write.’
    • ‘School administrators should work to ensure that the majority of students can walk or bike to school.’
    • ‘We are just interested in your honest opinions - there are no right or wrong answers.’
    • ‘Research in New York showed men with cats or dogs had lower blood pressure.’
    • ‘In cities and towns most people wear Western clothing - pants or blue jeans and shirts.’
    • ‘We don't mind if we have a boy or a girl, we just want a healthy, happy baby.’
    • ‘The café is a great place for locals to meet up for a chat over a cup of tea or coffee.’
  • 2Introducing a synonym or explanation of a preceding word or phrase.

    ‘yoga is a series of postures, or asanas’
    • ‘Spain entered the twentieth century having lost its colonies in the New World and the Pacific in the Spanish-American War or, as it is known in Spain, the War of 1898.’
    • ‘By early Tuesday he was dead - a victim of the most deadly of the world's culinary delicacies, the blowfish or fugu.’
    • ‘Joshua was born weighing just 18 ounces - half a kilo or just over a pound.’
  • 3Otherwise (used to introduce the consequences of something not being done or not being the case)

    ‘hurry up, or you'll miss it all’
    • ‘I'd better tell him myself or I'll get in even more trouble.’
    • ‘Hurry up, or you'll be late for class.’
    • ‘We do have to leave now or we won't be back until after sunset.’
    • ‘Do as you're told Beth or you'll get hurt.’
    or else, or, if not
    View synonyms
  • 4Introducing an afterthought, usually in the form of a question.

    ‘John's indifference—or was it?—left her unsettled’
    • ‘It was just an accident … or was it?’
    • ‘Emily, unaware of the mental battle that was going on in his mind (or was she?), kept on walking towards him.’
  • 5archaic Either.

    ‘to love is the one way to know or God or man’
    • ‘Learn that to love is the one way to know Or God or man.’


1 Where a verb follows a list separated by or, the traditional rule is that the verb should be singular, as long as the things in the list are individually singular, as in a sandwich or other snack is included in the price (rather than a sandwich or other snack are included in the price). The argument is that each of the elements agrees separately with the verb. The opposite rule applies when the elements are joined by and: here, the verb should be plural: a sandwich and a cup of coffee are included in the price. These traditional rules are observed in good English writing style but are often disregarded in speech. 2 On the use of either … or, see either


  • or else

    • 1Used to introduce the second of two alternatives.

      ‘he always had a cold or else was getting over an earache’
      • ‘Either that, or else it'll drive you batty in thirty seconds flat.’
      • ‘For on our paraphrase, if the second surface is flatter than the first, then either the second surface is flat while the first is not, or else the second is more nearly flat than the first, neither surface being flat.’
      • ‘Either the flush would come giving Harold the win, doubling his stack, and solidly ensconcing him in second place, or else he would be out of the tournament.’
      • ‘She was almost emaciated-looking and her clothing looked as if it were either second-hand, or else really old.’
      • ‘You should be offered a suitable alternative job if it can't be made safe, or else be suspended on full pay.’
      • ‘Further, they contended, in the alternative, that the words were substantially true or else were fair comment on matters of fact.’
      • ‘If you want an affordable copy, your best bet is either to trawl the second hand bins and hope you get lucky, or else wait until the hoopla about Wanda has died down.’
      • ‘So, a second lasts either for no time at all or else for an infinite amount of time.’
      • ‘Why is the second-rate part of a hero's corpus uncritically praised or else ignored to keep the hero's reputation unsullied.’
      • ‘So this makes it very difficult to combat, either through eradication or interdiction or else finding alternative livelihoods for Afghan farmers.’
      1. 1.1In circumstances different from those mentioned.
        ‘they can't want it, or else they'd request it’
        • ‘A small argument spread thin: men and women cannot be that different, or else women would not be saved.’
        • ‘I was thankful that I had grabbed my backpack before I left for breakfast - or else we would be completely broke… not to mention unarmed.’
        • ‘And I try to play them slightly different every night, or else I would collapse in the second verse of ‘You Know So Well’ of boredom.’
        • ‘‘Most work makes a difference in someone's life in some way, or else the job wouldn't exist,’ Grant says.’
        • ‘It was a good thing she never mentioned about it, or else I would have been really hurt.’
        • ‘I had heard tales of the need to immediately spend $15,000 to build your game once you were done developing it, or else no one would give it a second glance.’
        • ‘Everything they mentioned in the conversation had to have had some sort of impact on them or else they wouldn't have mentioned it.’
        • ‘He had been lucky that the branch missed his eyes, or else a very different scenario would be happening right now, Trip thought as Lee continued to fuss over him.’
        • ‘Lucky for him, indeed, that they were specially tinted to look dark from the outside, but in fact made no difference to his vision, or else he'd have trouble seeing where he was going.’
        or else, or, if not
        View synonyms
      2. 1.2Used as a warning or threat.
        ‘you go along with this or else you're going to jail’
        ‘she'd better shape up, or else’
        • ‘You all had better hurry up or else the food'll be cold.’
        • ‘He demands that the UN back their decisions on Iraq with the threat of force, or else the US will overrule the UN charter and attack anyway.’
        • ‘A man's got to have a beer once in a while or else he'd go nuts without warning.’
        • ‘He and I had the same class and to make my escape fast, I needed to bring him along or else I would seem even more suspicious.’
        • ‘‘Do not mention this secret spot to anybody, or else I will have to kill you,’ Parker snapped.’
        • ‘I couldn't afford to be back a second late or else, Margaret would suspect where I was.’
        • ‘‘You better let her in - or else you'll be in deep trouble,’ they threatened.’
        • ‘Due to China's one-child rule, they cannot keep this second child or else they will suffer severe financial and political penalties.’
        • ‘They continued to shout at us ‘get back to your country, or else we will be back.’’
        • ‘She couldn't stop, not for a second, or else they would get her.’
  • or so

    • (after a quantity) approximately.

      ‘a dozen or so people’
      • ‘José Luis is in his forties and has a group of a dozen or so mates he has been hanging out with all his life.’
      • ‘I will be away from my computer for the next week or so, and will be taking a break from blogging.’
      • ‘The last hour or so is as close to the magic of the original trilogy as you can get in my book.’
      • ‘I saw a local reporter for one of the news stations and about a dozen or so protesters.’
      • ‘You could put your feet up, close your eyes and simply enjoy doing nothing for half an hour or so.’
      • ‘Every couple of years or so since then money has been handed over for a succession of studies.’
      • ‘Rob failed to get a bite, and after an hour or so, he suggested that we try further upstream.’
      • ‘Always buy fresh live scallops with closed shells and make sure you use them within a day or so.’
      • ‘At our last place I had to take an inch or so off the bottom of a door, as it was sticking on a shaggy new carpet.’
      • ‘You cut them into squares and blanch them in boiling water for a minute or so with onion and garlic.’
      roughly, about, around, just about, round about, or so, or thereabouts, more or less, in the neighbourhood of, in the region of, in the area of, in the vicinity of, of the order of, something like, in round numbers, rounded down, rounded up
      View synonyms


Middle English: a reduced form of the obsolete conjunction other (which superseded Old English oththe ‘or’), of uncertain ultimate origin.