Definition of or in US 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’
    • ‘Research in New York showed men with cats or dogs had lower blood pressure.’
    • ‘She never learned to read or write.’
    • ‘We are just interested in your honest opinions - there are no right or wrong answers.’
    • ‘The café is a great place for locals to meet up for a chat over a cup of tea or coffee.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘We don't mind if we have a boy or a girl, we just want a healthy, happy baby.’
  • 2Introducing a synonym or explanation of a preceding word or phrase.

    ‘the espionage novel, or, as it is known in the trade, the thriller’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘By early Tuesday he was dead - a victim of the most deadly of the world's culinary delicacies, the blowfish or fugu.’
  • 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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Hurry up, or you'll be late for class.’
    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 so

    • (after a quantity) approximately.

      ‘a dozen or so people’
      • ‘The last hour or so is as close to the magic of the original trilogy as you can get in my book.’
      • ‘You could put your feet up, close your eyes and simply enjoy doing nothing for half an hour or so.’
      • ‘Rob failed to get a bite, and after an hour or so, he suggested that we try further upstream.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Every couple of years or so since then money has been handed over for a succession of studies.’
      • ‘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, 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.