I would be especially interested in Indo-European languages or other common language families, but failing that, I would be very interested if it exists at all, because it is an important distinction in formal discourse, but can almost always be taken from context in informal speech.

9 Answers 9


Yes, Basque (in the batua dialect) has ala "or (exclusive)" and edo "or (inclusive)", although ala can only be used in questions.

You may also be interested in the WALS maps of languages with an Inclusive/Exclusive Distinction in Independent Pronouns and an Inclusive/Exclusive Distinction in Verbal Inflection.

  • 3
    just curious, are those inclusion/exclusion distinctions that you link related to the or distinction in some way?
    – Louis Rhys
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 12:07
  • @LouisRhys What do you mean? They're related in that they exhibit an inclusive/exclusive distinction.
    – Alek Storm
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 17:28

In Finnish, tai is inclusive, vai exclusive, and eli is for an equivalence.


Haluaisitko omenia tai päärynöitä?

"Would you like some apples or pears?

Haluatko omenan, vai päärynän?

"Do you want an apple, or a pear?"

Se on hyvän- ja pahantiedon puun hedelmä, eli omena.

"It's the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, or an apple."

  • Does the tai/vai distinction appear only in interrogatives? Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 10:27
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    Yes, it is restricted to interrogative clauses. This also includes indirect interrogatives, e.g. Siinä ei ole väliä, onko sinulla omenia vai päärynöitä "It isn't important whether you have apples or pears."
    – user8017
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 0:17

Not sure about other languages, but I know that Latin made this distinction:

In Latin they had several different words for these different 'ors'. AUT was generally exclusive, VEL inclusive, as was -VE on the end of a word, whilst the 'or' of equivalence was denoted by SIVE or SEU


  • Do you know some examples to illustrate the usage? It would be great
    – Louis Rhys
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 7:00
  • 14
    I'm afraid I can't entirely support this. Aut is usually a more emphatic word than the others (which, incidentally, are related both etymologically and semantically). Because exclusive or is more often used in emphatic sentences, there is perhaps a greater chance that aut will be exclusive than vel etc.; but the correlation is not very strong, and certainly not reliable. Especially not with negations: numquam videbam Romam aut Athenas: "I have never seen Rome or Athens". See The Myth of Vel and Aut‎ from the SEP.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 10:55
  • Very interesting, thank you for enlightening me! Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 5:10
  • @Cerberus That article no longer supports your comment. Do you have anything up to date on that? (Disjunction in negative clauses also act differently from those in positive clauses.)
    – cmw
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 21:28
  • @cmw: Err I could have raised a child since that post...I do not remember anything about this!
    – Cerberus
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 21:57

In many European languages we can modify the "or" word by prefixing with "either" to make it exclusive, as in "You must chose either a or b" (explicitly not both).

But without modification it's inclusive or exclusive depending on context: "Left or right?" is exclusive since "both" is not "possible" (usually), while "Milk or sugar?" is inclusive because "both" is possible and quite common.

PS: As a programmer I'd really like the languages to have words for inclusive-or and exclusive-or clearly defined... ;)

  • I suppose the english OR is inclusive. Why do so many people write "and/or"? Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 23:08
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    English "or" is ambiguous. Sometimes it's used to mean OR, sometimes it's used to mean XOR. For instance, if a menu offers "fries or chips" as part of a combo, I'll probably assume that it means "fries XOR chips" and that I can't ask for both. So if you're an extra-generous restaurant owner and you would be willing to let me order both for the same price, you can write "fries and/or chips," and that makes your generosity unambiguous. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 3:13
  • If English "or" were ambiguous and sometimes meant XOR, then "Alex or Bill or Charles" would have a reading where it means "one or three of (Alex, Bill, Charles)". [The observation is due to Reichenbach and McCawley. See Alonso-Ovalle's thesis (pp.56ff) for a nice exposition: alonso-ovalle.net/index.php?page_id=28.] Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 22:57
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    @KaivonFintel: Broken link. Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 13:58
  • 1
    >If English "or" were ambiguous and sometimes meant XOR, then "Alex or Bill or Charles" would have a reading where it means "one or three of (Alex, Bill, Charles)" I mean, "or" between NPs, unlike "and" between NPs, does not have a mereological sense. It doesn't stop it from being either OR or XOR depending on context; "Alex or Bill or Charles came" can indeed mean "came(Alex) XOR came(Bill) XOR came(Charles)" (or, at least, its Russian equivalent can). The question of whether XOR is scalar implicature or a genuine polysemy is unrelated.
    – Viridianus
    Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 9:59

I think the closest thing you can get in natural languages the distinction between choice-aimed and simple alternative. Finnish and Basque have already been mentioned, and here are some more:

There are, however, 9 European languages that do not have any general marker for alternative, but show two distinct connectives for choice-aimed alternative and simple alternative relations. These languages are Polish (choice-aimed: czy, simple: lub/albo), Finnish (choice-aimed: vai, simple: tai), Belorussian (choice-aimed: ci, simple: abo), Albanian (choice-aimed: apo, simple: ose), Basque (choice-aimed: ala, simple: edo), Ukrainian (choice-aimed: čy, simple: abo), Georgian (choice-aimed: tu, simple: an), Lezgian (choice-based: tax̂ajt'a, simple: ja/wa-ja), Dargi (choice-aimed: aħi, simple: ya-ra).

This distinction is also present in Mandarin Chinese: choice-aimed alternatives use 還是 háishì and simple alternatives use 或者 huòzhě.

Note that Polish, Belorussian, Ukrainian and Albanian are all Indo-European, just like you wanted.

  • Albanian apo is used exclusively in questions, ose exclusively in statements/suggestions.
    – Marin
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 1:48

Just to coin one more way to express inclusive OR versus exclusive OR.

In Ukrainian, we use "or X, or Y" construct to denote exclusivity:

дай мені яблуко або помаранч — "give me an apple or an orange", inclusive;
дай мені або яблуко, або помаранч — "give me either an apple or an orange", exclusive.


In Arabic (classical) ʼam is exclusive, ʼaw is (generally) inclusive.

  • 1
    Yes! And the distinction is also technically present for interrogative sentences in Modern Standard Arabic, although the average writer today will more often than not be found using ’aw for all purposes, introducing the same ambiguity as with "or" in English.
    – hallo
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 17:52

In Azerbaijani language there are separate connectives for both inclusive and exclusive ors.

VƏ YA — inclusive or

YA DA — exclusive or

Qapını ört ya da bağla — Close or open the door (exclusive sense)

Çantalarınızı və ya zənbillırinizi masanın üzərinə qoyun — Put your bags or packages on the table (inclusive sense)

But in non-formal speech "ya da" is used more frequently. And the interesting fact is that inclusive or "və ya" is literally translated as "and or" (which is true including third case, when A and B are both true).


Let us understand the structure of XOR through boolean logic.


Assuming that inclusive OR appears in languages first... XOR could be obtained by applying a further condition to the OzR clause as is done by AND above...

This condition is imposed by . Either .in English. . 'Ya' . in Hindi interestingly inclusive OR is also Ya in Hindi.

This is derived from Sanskrit 'Va'... and as per Sanskrit grammer a repetition of this word suggests exclusion (Learn Sanskrit Online: "And," "Or," and "Not").

So the basic point is that the truth table for XOR can be realized by filtering out the truth table for OR and interestingly most languages make use of this mechanism instead of having a separate XOR operator (word).

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