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

    ‘the espionage novel, or, as it is known in the trade, the thriller’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
  • 3Otherwise (used to introduce the consequences of something not being done or not being the case)

    ‘hurry up, or you'll miss it all’
    • ‘Hurry up, or you'll be late for class.’
    • ‘I'd better tell him myself or I'll get in even more trouble.’
    • ‘Do as you're told Beth or you'll get hurt.’
    • ‘We do have to leave now or we won't be back until after sunset.’
    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.’


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. On the use of either … or, see either


  • or else

    • 1Used to introduce the second of two alternatives.

      ‘she felt tempted either to shout at him or else to let his tantrums slide by’
      • ‘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 this makes it very difficult to combat, either through eradication or interdiction or else finding alternative livelihoods for Afghan farmers.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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 that, or else it'll drive you batty in thirty seconds flat.’
      • ‘So, a second lasts either for no time at all or else for an infinite amount of time.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘She was almost emaciated-looking and her clothing looked as if it were either second-hand, or else really old.’
      • ‘Why is the second-rate part of a hero's corpus uncritically praised or else ignored to keep the hero's reputation unsullied.’
      1. 1.1In circumstances different from those mentioned; if it were not the case.
        ‘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.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘‘Most work makes a difference in someone's life in some way, or else the job wouldn't exist,’ Grant says.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘It was a good thing she never mentioned about it, or else I would have been really hurt.’
        • ‘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.’
        or else, or, if not
        View synonyms
      2. 1.2Used to warn what will happen if something is not carried out.
        ‘you go along with this or else you're going to jail’
        • ‘They continued to shout at us ‘get back to your country, or else we will be back.’’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘Due to China's one-child rule, they cannot keep this second child or else they will suffer severe financial and political penalties.’
        • ‘She couldn't stop, not for a second, or else they would get her.’
        • ‘I couldn't afford to be back a second late or else, Margaret would suspect where I was.’
        • ‘You all had better hurry up or else the food'll be cold.’
        • ‘‘You better let her in - or else you'll be in deep trouble,’ they threatened.’
        • ‘A man's got to have a beer once in a while or else he'd go nuts without warning.’
      3. 1.3Used as a warning or a threat.
        ‘she'd better shape up, or else’
        • ‘We'll let this disc go with a stern warning: Make sense next time, or else.’
        • ‘By catering to his every wish you have not disabused him of the notion that he is entitled to demand whatever he wants from you… or else.’
        • ‘It may want to go further and attempt to punish the alleged offender as a warning to other civil servants to stay in line or else.’
        • ‘She stood beside me with her hands on her hips and her eyes demanding that I tell her everything or else.’
        • ‘Couched in this extraordinary advice from Chen's subordinates was a warning not to step on their toes, or else.’
        • ‘If the referee has made a blatant mistake, then the panel should have the power to criticise the referee openly and demand that their standards improve or else.’
        • ‘TCI is at the forefront of a new breed of restless shareholders in Europe that are demanding that management create shareholder value, or else.’
        • ‘Finally, his mother came up and demanded him to open his door or else, young man.’
        • ‘It was more of a warning laugh, a laugh that told you to stop or else.’
        • ‘This advice itself carries a delicate aroma of threat: Vote for the BJP or else!’
  • or so

    • (after a quantity) approximately.

      ‘a dozen or so people’
      • ‘You could put your feet up, close your eyes and simply enjoy doing nothing for half an hour 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.’
      • ‘I will be away from my computer for the next week or so, and will be taking a break from blogging.’
      • ‘I saw a local reporter for one of the news stations and about a dozen or so protesters.’
      • ‘Always buy fresh live scallops with closed shells and make sure you use them within a day or so.’
      • ‘Every couple of years or so since then money has been handed over for a succession of studies.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The last hour or so is as close to the magic of the original trilogy as you can get in my book.’
      • ‘You cut them into squares and blanch them in boiling water for a minute or so with onion and garlic.’
      • ‘Rob failed to get a bite, and after an hour or so, he suggested that we try further upstream.’
      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, give or take, give or take a few, 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.