By Nick Potter

In this series we look at real-life examples of the most common mistakes in English by native Spanish lawyers.

These and lots more invaluable tips are compiled in two e-books/paperbacks, here: 50 English Tips for Spanish Professionals and More English Tips for Spanish Professionals.

and or or

Marmite is a very popular sticky spread that many Britons put on their toast. It’s black, made from yeast extract and has a powerful flavour that fans would describe as tangy. Others might describe it as like licking a car park.

In the unlikely event that a Spanish speaker could be persuaded to try some Marmite, perhaps after also being persuaded to drink too many British beers, their opinion might be:

Or you hate it or you love it!

This of course would be a grammatical mistake (must be the beer), as they would be forgetting that the first o in the Spanish expression “o… o…”, e.g. o lo odias o te encanta, translates as either. To describe alternatives we say either A or B.

In fact, the makers of Marmite actually use the line “you either love it or hate it” in their adverts.

Question: Which ONE of A – F below is correct?

A An important Spanish company with international presence in countries such as France, Portugal, Saudi Arabia or Colombia
B I have a large experience working as a management assistant, five of them working for prestigious firms such as Garrigues or Banco Santander
C Among the interested parties, with the Texan fund Lone Star at the head, are firms like Cerberus, Apollo, Colony or Centerbridge
D The amounts stated do not include VAT or expenses
E The tax implications are that all payments under the Notes, including principal or interest, are exempt from withholding taxes
F This system has been adopted in various autonomous regions (like Madrid or Castilla-La Mancha)

■ Before you read the answer, remember:

Mistranslating o… o… as or.. or.. instead of either… or… is not the only mistake frequently made with the word or.

It is also often the wrong word in lists.

As we saw with Marmite, or is used to link alternatives, i.e. one thing instead of another:

  • Arsenal will face Chelsea or Manchester United in the final (exclusive – they won’t face both)
  • I think the Oscar for Best Film will go to The Imitation Game, Birdman or Boyhood (exclusive – only one will win)

And is used to link inclusions i.e. one thing as well as another:

  • Teams that have won the cup previously include Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United (inclusive – they all won)
  • Films nominated include The Imitation Game, Birdman and Boyhood (inclusive – they were all nominated)

Spanish grammar is a little different.

Here’s a line from an article about a foreign chef visiting Madrid:

  • En sus visitas a Madrid, el chef ha visitado DiverXO, Punto MX o La Máquina de La Moraleja

The restaurants mentioned are not alternatives. He visited them all. So in English this would translate as:

  • On his visits to Madrid, the chef has been to DiverXO, Punto MX and La Máquina de La Moraleja

When a list is inclusive, o in Spanish = and.

It is a different matter if we are wondering where to have dinner tonight.

  • Where do you fancy, DiverXO, Punto MX or La Máquina de La Moraleja?

Here they are alternatives i.e. we will only go to one.

When a list is of alternatives, o in Spanish = or.

■ So:

A-C are all wrong because of this subtle difference between Spanish and English grammar when listing things. Here, the things are inclusive, not alternatives.

A An important A major Spanish company with international presence in countries such as France, Portugal, Saudi Arabia or and Colombia [inclusive – the company is in all those countries]
B I have a large extensive experience working as a management assistant, five of them working for working for five years at prestigious firms such as Garrigues or and Banco Santander [inclusive – he or she worked at both those firms]
C Among the interested parties, with the Texan fund Lone Star at the head, are firms like Cerberus, Apollo, Colony or and Centerbridge [inclusive – all those firms were interested]

D is the right answer. We would use “or” here because it refers to things that are excluded, not included. Note that the Spanish sentence was: Los importes que mencionamos no incluyen IVA y gastos. So here we have an example of where, because it is a negative, y would translate more naturally as or, not and.

D The amounts stated do not include VAT or expenses [CORRECT]

In E and F, again, o in Spanish was translated as or. But they do not describe alternatives so the correct word is and.

E The tax implications are that all payments under the Notes, including principal or and interest, are exempt from withholding taxes [inclusive – both principal and interest payments are exempt]
F This system has been adopted in various autonomous regions (like Madrid or and Castilla-La Mancha) [inclusive – both regions adopted the system]

As for Marmite, try it if you dare!