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From what I've seen here, and elsewhere, the basics are...

  • It's meant for presenting two choices, and implying the second choice is the better choice
  • It's more often used with 敬語 and other formal speech
  • It can be used as a conjunction, or in the middle of a sentence
  • And that when used in a sentence, the sentence will often be ended with かもしれません, or any variant, thereof

But in searching for further info on it, I can't seem to turn up anything concrete, despite it being one of the 2000 words and grammar bits one must learn, to sufficiently communicate in the language. Is there anything more I need to know about how it works?

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    I'm not sure what exactly you mean by "grammatical rules." Do you know what they are for または?
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Apr 24 at 20:52
  • No, sir. I only saw あるいは for the first time, today, working on reference materials, and または, in looking up あるいは. Nothing I've uncovered has told me anything, in depth, about how they work. This is the only place that even HAS anything to a reasonable level of depth, on them Commented Apr 24 at 21:16
  • Might be helpful to know that あるいは is a calque from Classical Chinese 或 which means "someone; other one; other case". Commented Apr 27 at 12:49

1 Answer 1

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It's meant for presenting two choices

Correct, but there is an exceptional usage. See the last part of my answer.

and implying the second choice is the better choice

No. The second option, said after あるいは, is usually equally likely to or less likely than the first option. It's the same as using the English word "alternatively".

It's more often used with 敬語

No, it's not associated with politeness or showing respect. While あるいは can be used safely in respectful speech, it's typically used in formal essays, academic papers, Wikipedia articles and other stilted/serious writing that has nothing to do with 敬語. Small children rarely use it, either.

It can be used as a conjunction, or in the middle of a sentence

Correct.

And that when used in a sentence, the sentence will often be ended with かもしれません, or any variant, thereof

Are you referring to a sentence like "彼女はあるいは生きていないかもしれません" ("She might, just possibly, no longer be alive")? Then yes, this is a usage unique to あるいは. This type of あるいは is used to express an unlikely yet undeniable possibility (which is usually undesirable as well). When あるいは is used in this way, it cannot be substituted with または or もしくは.

In summary, depending on the context, あるいは expresses two different nuances:

  • または; もしくは; alternatively; or; or else
  • もしかしたら; ひょっとしたら; or maybe; by any chance; possibly

Either way, it's a word preferred in formal situations.

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