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Japanese uses ’or’ less than Western languages, and I sometimes feel that I’m using または or あるいは an awful lot more than I should. Especially, is it legit to begin a sentence with these words?

Let’s consider the following conversation.

When shall we meet?

How about today? Or maybe Wednesday?

Can it become:

いつ会いましょうか。

今日はどうですか。または、水曜日でも...

Another example:

My name was not on the list.

You must have signed up too late. Or maybe it was just a mistake?

Is this correct?

僕の名前はリストに書いてなかった。

遅れて申し込んだでしょう。または、何かの間違いだけだったかも?

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    Good teachers won't make false claims about the language, though, so they won't claim you can't start a sentence with or. – snailcar Apr 3 '17 at 6:50
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    Anecdotal information: I Googled "または" and in the first several pages, the only example of a sentence that began with it was in Wiktionary, where the example is for the logical OR. – muru Apr 3 '17 at 8:02
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    In addition to Yuuichi Tam's answer, I'd like to point out that 何かの間違い だけ だった should be (何かの間違い) だった だけ, and that you should use それか or それとか instead of または・もしくは・あるいは. – user4092 Apr 3 '17 at 11:40
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    How come no-one has mentioned それとも yet? It would work great in OP's examples. – Matti Virkkunen Apr 3 '17 at 18:02
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    @MattiVirkkunen それとも doesn't work because it doesn't specifically indicate Wednesday for a choice, and the second sentence is not even a question. – user4092 Apr 3 '17 at 23:10
4

Yes, it is possible. This shares the similar opinion with English counterpart, whether conjunctions can be used to start a sentence (Yes indeed, you can).

Begin with または or not

For written Japanese language, look at the full-text search result of または on ウィキペディア for example. From the first 20 matching items, I have found only one article i.e. フィード that uses または at the beginning of a sentence (Text in bold).

フィード(英: feed)とは、ウェブサイト、特にブログやニュースサイトなどのコンテンツの概要もしくはコンテンツ全体を配信用に加工した文書のこと。またはそのファイルフォーマットのことをいう。 [...]

Even within a page of the first 100 matching items, 。または (include period when using 'Find' in web browser) had only 9 matches, which is less than 10%. Therefore, we can assume that Japanese articles often use it somewhere in the middle of sentences.

So, is it possible to begin a sentence with または? Yes. Should one begin as such? Not quite, especially when conversation could be expressed in other ways.

Without または

Notice that the use of conjunction "or" in given conversations are not intended to limit the choices of the listener to reply, but for the speaker to give suggestions in subsequent order. For this reason, the conjunction at beginning would be better removed at all.

In the first conversation, I'd suggest to remove the words or and または. Then, I'd suggest to replace ...でも(even; also) with ...とか (such as; like).

When shall we meet?

いつ会いましょうか。

How about today? May be (like) Wednesday?

今日はどうですか。 水曜日とか

In the second conversation, the words are removed similarly. Assuming "was not on the list" is not because name was not written earlier, I'd suggest to replace 書いてなかった (did not write) with 載ってなかった (not mentioned). Otherwise, it is 書かれてなかった (was not written).

My name was not mentioned/not written on the list.

僕の名前はリストに載ってなかった書かれてなかった

You must have signed up too late. May be it was just a mistake?

遅れて申し込んだでしょう。 何かの間違いだっただけかも?

If the speaker feels かも? cause the speech to end abruptly, consider to add しれない。 to the sentence and remove the question mark.

[...] May be it was just a mistake.

[...] 何かの間違いだっただけかもしれない

Regarding 間違いだけだった of original sentence, this translates to "was [the] only mistake". In contrast, 間違いだっただけ of revised sentence translates to "was a mistake only" and English could rearrange to "was only (just) a mistake". This may be tricky to understand.

Above all, the idea is to give up the habit of using or and または at the beginning of sentences. The repetitive use of these conjunctions is quite awkward to hear in conversations.

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I think it is possible but there may be some people who feel a bit odd in daily conversation. I rarely use または in daily conversation.

I think there are some conjunctions which are a bit odd in daily conversation like そして、なぜななら、したがって.

Of course, they are commonly used in writings and speeches.

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