Redundant or not?


We often hear may or may not, as in A vote may or may not be held.

A vote may be held usually does the trick by itself. Since may by itself implies uncertainty it is unnecessary to add or may not, and if used repeatedly the extended phrase quickly becomes tiresome.

But beware ambiguity. May is sometimes used not neutrally but to counter a negative expectation. If so, this can be signalled by stressing may or by adding a word like but. So A vote MAY be held would mean The PM says there will be no vote but ….

If a vote is expected may not might be the more appropriate alternative (without the "may or"), meaning … but it may not happen.

Whether or not has been justly criticised for the same reason as may or may not. But here the or not is sometimes necessary for the sentence to make sense: It is necessary whether or not it has Cabinet support.


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