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還是/还是 (háishì) and 或者 (huòzhě) seem to have very similar meanings:

還是/还是: or; still; nevertheless

或者: or; possibly; maybe

When I want to say 'or', how to I choose which to use, and are there any hard and fast rules about this? Furthermore, are there yet more ways to say 'or'?

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up vote 17 down vote accepted

Very good question.

还是 is usually used in asking questions. For example:

你想去北京还是上海呢? = Did you want to go to Beijing or Shanghai?

这是橙子还是橘子? = Is this orange or mandarin?

或者 is usually used in declarative sentence. For example:

我想去北京或者上海. = I wanted to go to Beijing or Shanghai.

你可以叫我小王或者老王. = You can call me Xiao Wang or Lao Wang.

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As a native I agree that 还是 usually has the element of doubt, hence is more commonly used in questions or statement expressing such doubt : "I don't know whether I should go to Beijing or Shanghai." (我不知道我应该去北京还是上海才好。) However it seems to me that 或者 can be used in questions just as well. Unlike 还是, it does not hint an element of doubt. Therefore it is sometimes used to express advice : 或者你要减肥了 (Perhaps you should loose weight) – Gapton Jan 12 '12 at 3:39

Both 還是(simplified form:还是) and 或者 can mean or, and I think the only different is that, "还是" is oral, and “或者" is formal.

You could just use ”或" to mean "or", you could also use “抑(yi4)或",but this word are used more in literature and you won't use it in ordinary life.

Thanks for Cocowalla's reminder.

I think you can use either of them in both question and statement sentence. There is only one thing to take care of. When you ask some to pick one from your choices in a simple sentence(no clause) , only ”还是" is acceptable, and when you express your choice in a simple sentence(no caluse), only "或者" is acceptable.

See my comments please.

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In the Pimsleur Mandarin course, 還是 seems to always be used for questions (你 想 喝 茶 还是 啤酒?), whereas 或者 seems to always be used in statements (e.g. 我 想 喝 茶 或者 啤酒) - is that correct or just coincidence? – Cocowalla Dec 16 '11 at 8:10
lol, that's correct. See my answer! – StarCub Dec 16 '11 at 8:15
Thanks for your reminder, by asking myself how I would say in your examples, I found something interesting. Yes, I would always say"你想喝茶还是啤酒?" and ”我想喝茶或者啤酒“, but I can also say ”你想喝茶吗?或者啤酒?" and “我喝茶还是啤酒,和你没什么关系( whethe I drink tea or beer, that's none of your business." Ok, I get confused. – Huang Dec 16 '11 at 8:20
You see the pattern here? When used reversely, you need to say two sentences here, instead of one sentence. – StarCub Dec 16 '11 at 8:25
I'm thoroughly confused now :} – Cocowalla Dec 16 '11 at 9:12

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