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When you're using y/o with options of different genders, what's the correct ending to use for an adjective that modifies both?

Specifically, I was writing:

Si entras un usuario y/o contraseña _____, se te marca un error.

I didn't use "incorrectos", because it doesn't work: consider interpretation "un usuario o contraseña incorrectos". "incorrecto" would hardly be any better.

What I settled upon was:

Si entras un usuario inválido y/o una contraseña inválida, ....

This is, I think, correct but inelegant.

Is there a more elegant way to phrase this?

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Don't you like the answer? I think is valid, you should accept it and mark it as accepted. –  Rafa Oct 24 '13 at 13:17
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1 Answer

Let's check what RAE says about this. In this link of RAE you can read

3.2. Adjetivo pospuesto a varios sustantivos. Cuando un adjetivo califica a dos o más sustantivos coordinados y va pospuesto a ellos, lo más recomendable es que el adjetivo vaya en plural y en masculino, si los sustantivos son de distinto género: «Tiene el pelo y la barba enmarañados» «Apareció [...] vestida con traje y mantilla blancos».

Si concordase solo con el último de los sustantivos, se generarían casos de ambigüedad, pues podría interpretarse que el adjetivo únicamente se refiere al más cercano: vestida con traje y mantilla blanca (¿el traje y la mantilla son blancos, o solo es blanca la mantilla?).

No obstante, cuando los sustantivos coordinados se conciben como una unidad, de la que cada uno de ellos designa un aspecto parcial, el adjetivo puede concordar en género y número con el más próximo: «La gente de origen y habla francesa predomina en la provincia de Quebec»

So basically it means that when you use and adjective after two nouns with different gender you should use a masculine adjective in plural (to avoid ambiguity). But if the 2 nouns are considered as a unit, you can use an adjective which agrees with the last noun.

If you consider the user and the password as a unit you can use an adjective which agrees with "contraseña", so it would be femenine and singular:

"Si entras un usuario y/o contraseña inválida, se te marca un error."

But you can consider it as in the first case as well and use an adjective in masculine and plural:

"Si entras un usuario y/o contraseña inválidos, se te marca un error."

The problem of the first case is that it is ambiguous because we don't know if "inválida" refers to the last name or to both nouns, but I guess that people would understand what you mean.

As synonyms for "inválido" in this context you could use any of these:

Inválido

Erróneo

Incorrecto

On the other hand, at least in Spain, "entrar" is usually used as an intransitive verb and for that meaning we usually use verbs like "meter" or "introducir". "Introducir" sounds more technical if you're writing something like an user manual. Also, "marcar" could be used as a non-pronominal verb and probably even in future tense (depending on what you mean):

Si introduces un usuario y/o contraseña inválida, se (te) marca(rá) un error.

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Way not "Si introduces un usuario y/o contraseña inválido(s) te retornara un error" –  Fortunato Jan 5 '12 at 21:12
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