The Confusion of And vs. To


English can be a difficult language to learn, not because English grammar is tricky (though it can be) but because the language can be vague. Word choice, in particular, can be very confusing, particularly when more than one word is possible. 

Here’s a question I received recently about the nuances of the English language.

Question: Which of the following is correct:
a. I would like to send Peter an email AND give him my regards.
b. I would like to send Peter an email TO give him my regards.

As in so many cases, the answer is . . . both, depending on your intended meaning. Let’s look at these two statements to figure out which one to use.

SENTENCE A: AND

“I would like to send Peter an email AND give him my regards.”

This statement has two potential meanings.

First, this sentence could mean that I want to do two separate actions: (1) send Peter an email, and (2) give Peter my regards. These actions might happen at the same time, or they might not. This sentence isn’t clear. To understand how this sentence describes two actions, we can compare it to a similar sentence with the same structure: “I want to make a million dollars AND take a trip to the Bahamas.” They are separate actions. 

To help clarify that they are separate actions, we can revise the sentence to read, “I would like to send Peter an email and also give him my regards.”

On the other hand, this sentence could mean that I will send my regards to Peter through an email. These are not separate actions: they are one action, or, more specifically, one action and its purpose. In this case, sentence A is elliptical, meaning some implied words are left out. The full sentence is “I would like to send Peter an email and [by doing so] give him my regards.”

Here’s the point: Sentence A has more than one possible meaning. It’s not wrong—it’s vague.

SENTENCE B: TO

“I would like to send Peter an email TO give him my regards.”

This sentence has one possible meaning: I want to give Peter my regards, and I will do it by sending him an email. This sentence is identical in meaning to “I would like to send Peter an email for the purpose of giving him my regards.”

CHOOSING WHICH WORD TO USE

I always prefer to use exact language: words and sentences that mean what I am trying to say and that don’t mean anything else. In this case, I would use Sentence B TO state my message.


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1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “The Confusion of And vs. To

  1. Farhad

    Great explanation!

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