1. The WordReference Forums have moved to new forum software. (Details)

"Neither" with "or" or "nor"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Eugens, Nov 15, 2005.

  1. Eugens

    Eugens Senior Member

    Argentina Spanish
    I came across this sentence:

    "Neither could we talk or write about people or objects not immediately present."

    It surprised me because I used to think that "neither" could only be accompanied by "nor". Would the meaning of this sentence change if I replaced the or's with nor's?

    If the sentence were this:

    "Nor could we talk or write about people or objects not immediately present."

    Could I replaced here or's with nor's or that would be wrong?
    Thank you. :)
     
  2. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    In this sentence, "could we talk or write about people or objects not immediately present" is one element. The other element has presumably already been mentioned. Therefore, the "or"s belong to this element and need not be changed to "nor"s (in fact, that would be wrong). You could substitute "nor" for "neither"; that's no problem.

    If "talk" and "write" were different elements, you would say the following:

    We could neither talk nor write about people or objects not immediately present.

    I hope that helps.
     
  3. Eugens

    Eugens Senior Member

    Argentina Spanish
    Oops! You are right, the previous sentence was: "But for these languages, we could not communicate sophisticated or abstract ideas."
    Thank you very much!

    One last question: to substitute "or" with "nor" would be wrong because it would be a double negative? Something like "we don't need no education"?
     
  4. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    You could think about it like that, yes.

    We are not allowed to speak or write in Spanish. :tick:
    We are not allowed to speak nor write in Spanish. :cross:

    Whatever you choose to call it, just know that it's wrong and avoid it. ;)
     
  5. Eugens

    Eugens Senior Member

    Argentina Spanish
    Thanks again. :)
     
  6. Eugens

    Eugens Senior Member

    Argentina Spanish
    :eek: Sorry for continuing bothering about this, but I need to ask some questions to be sure that I've really understood it...

    1) Always that "neither" or "nor" are at the beginning of a sentence (or they are after a comma or semicolon), that means that everything that follows is one element and that the other element was before the period, comma or semicolon; doesn't it?

    2) I think it isn't really a question about double negatives... "We are neither allowed to speak nor write in Spanish" is correct, isn't it? And "we are nor allowed to speak nor write in Spanish"?

    In the same way as I have changed the previous sentence replacing the "not (...) or (...)" structure with the "neither (...) nor (...)" one, could it be possible to convert these two sentences -->( "But for these languages, we could not communicate sophisticated or abstract ideas. Neither could we talk or write about people or objects not immediately present." ) into one with "not (...) or (...)"? Something like "But for these languages, we could not communicate sophisticated or abstract ideas or talk or write about people or objects not immediately present"? I know it sounds awful because it is too long and full of or's, but is it the meaning the same?

    And I suppose this kind of transformation is only possible when the subject is the same for the two elements, isn't it?

    Trying to change this sentence to the "not (...) or (...)" structure-->
    "Surely the grandfather wasn’t ten years old, nor was the clock doing the writing."
    ....I can't think of a way of keeping the same meaning. But if the sentence were this-->
    "Surely the grandfather wasn't ten year old, nor was he playing football."
    I think that...
    "Surely the grandfather wasn't ten year old or playing football."
    ...would mean the same.

    3) And one last question: can there be more than two elements? For example: "We are neither allowed to speak nor write nor read anything in Spanish"?
     
  7. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
     
  8. Eugens

    Eugens Senior Member

    Argentina Spanish
    Thank you sooo much!!! :)
     
  9. DaleC Senior Member

    To go back to the original question: yes, the sticklers (puristas) say to use neither . . . nor, not neither . . . or. If you are taking an English course, you should humbly (sumisamente) avoid neither . . . or. But in the real world, nobody pays attention to this particular rule.

    Mind you, there are many grammatical rules that must be obeyed strictly. In English, this just is not one of them. Let me suggest an analogy from Spanish (your language). Actually, you will have to tell me whether I understand this matter correctly. I refer to the choice between two suffixes to form the imperfect subjunctive, -ara- vs. -ase- (for first conjugation verbs, as in hablara vs. hablase). There was a time, within living memory, and maybe still to this moment, when certain people, particularly Spaniards, insisted on assigning a distinct range of use to each suffix. Puristically, these suffixes are not to be interchanged, nor are you allowed to eliminate either of them. But in the real world, speakers either do interchange them, or most commonly, eliminate one of them, according to their dialect.

    So, go ahead and say neither . . . or. Probably most English speakers vacillate between the "correct" way and the "incorrect". I suspect that if you insist on neither . . . nor, natives will even praise you for your good grammar. But they won't join you. ;)

    Notice that about four sentences ago, I used a third option: . . . not . . . nor. :cool: In this construction, it's obvious you must use nor, not or.

    (Point of terminology. Earlier in this thread, the term "element" was used; neither governs one "element" and nor/or governs the second. This is comprehensible, but grammatically, the correct term is constituent. In "I see a big house up the street", street is a constituent of up the street, up the street is a constituent of the sentence, but "house up" is not a constituent.)


     
  10. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Oh yes they do. That is not sound advice if you are intending to communicate in British English. Use of neither ... or will be noticed.
    See above. I am not a follower of rules for rules' sake, but in this instance, the rule accurately reflects normal usage.
    Do so if you wish, but bear in mind that many BE speakers will have you marked as either illiterate or at best careless.

    If you are aware of the difference, as evidently you are, then there is no reason at all to use neither ... or, and every reason why you shouldn't.
     
  11. DaleC Senior Member

    I suggest that to be able to understand this topic, we need to recognize two things. (Now that I've slept on this topic, I myself recognize them so much more clearly than when last I spoke up! ;) )
    (1) In judging the grammaticality of neither . . . or (or of other variants), see whether the subconstituent that varies between the two constituent halves of the sentence is the subject or the predicate (including, just a part of the predicate).
    (2) The neither . . . nor construction and its variants are largely rhetorical devices, in addition to having a core meaning. (I'll use the term "rhetorical", but it might be the wrong term.) This gives a speaker lots of discretion in choosing among them..
    I will try to explain.

    But first, I'd like to reply to another comment. Because of this comment, I will have to backpedal -- just partway -- on my previous claim (and I thank our moderator for leading me to distinguish between cases).

    panjandrum wrote:
    Learners of English. beware: "British English" and North American English do diverge on some controversies of "good" and "bad" usage. That's not all you need to know. Sometimes the English speaking world diverges on usage by subcultural or demographic grouping, not by region. Finally, please be aware that what is in bad taste for writing is not always in bad taste for conversation -- that goes for many languages. (Take note that panjandrum, our moderator, is Irish. "British English" grammar -- not the English or Scottish or Welsh accents! -- is what is spoken in Ireland, or at least it's true that the Irish dialects are way closer to dialects on the island of Britain than to North American dialects. So the term "British English" could be thought of as "British Isles English" since historically, the name "British Isles" encompasses Britain, Ireland, and Man.)

    Now, then, about my point number (1). To make up examples, it's one thing to say,

    "Neither you or I know enough about it to really say anything" [the constituent varying between the two halves is the subject].

    This is just fine (meaning, "quite unremarkable, OK, not the least bit objectionable") in America (ca. 280 million native speakers), in writing as well as speech. But in careful writing, you might as well use nor. In fact, if you are a native speaker and you spoke "neither you nor I", this would usually be jarring. People would likely think you are angry. Alternatively, they would judge you to be bossy or snobbish. If you are a foreigner and you uttered it, they might instead sincerely congratulate you, for studying so hard.:) "Wow, Eugens, your English is better than mine!" After all, people understand that foreigners usually learn by sitting in a classroom and being given rules.

    I couldn't speak for the British Isles (ca. 60 million native speakers). ;) Well, maybe even in America it isn't just fine to a handful of purists, and maybe you should not write it down when applying for a job or admission to a university. Otherwise, it is just fine.

    But it would be quite another thing to say

    "I neither support or oppose it" [the varying constituent is the verb]. I personally find this much less acceptable. But I wouldn't be horrified at it. In any case, off the top of my head, I'd guess that using neither . . . nor with predicates (as opposed to with subjects) is rather formal: it's for speeches and documents. Since, as I claim below, the construction largely serves to forcefully make a point, there would be a contradiction between choosing it and then slacking off by replacing nor.


    [Eugens 1]
    [Elroy 1]
    [the rest of the sentence after "Neither"] is one element terminologically, constituent; but your following reasoning is correct. The other element constituent has presumably already been mentioned. Therefore, the "or"s belong to this element and need not be changed to "nor"s (in fact, that would be wrong). You could substitute "nor" for "neither"; that's no problem. -- DaleC's emphasis. I agree with this, but compare with Elroy 2.

    [Eugens 2]
    [Elroy 2]
    Here, I need to correct myself again. I allowed the possibility, in my last posting, that yes, it might have to do with "double negatives". How hasty of me! "Multiple negatives" refers to: within the same clause. But Neither X and nor Y are distinct clauses. "John didn't, Mary didn't, Robert didn't, Kathy didn't" -- that's not "multiple negatives", and it can be paraphrased "Neither John, nor Mary, nor Robert, nor Kathy did" or -- with relevance to my comment on [Elroy 2] -- as "John didn't, nor did Mary, Robert, or Kathy."

    About my point number (2), the "rhetorical" nature of neither . . . nor.

    Speaking of core meaning (propositional content), Neither X nor Y is equivalent to "not X, and also not Y", "not X, and not only that, but not Y". Grammatically, it can also be paraphrased by "not X, and not Y either", "not X, nor Y either". Starting from the last one, you can, at least in America, just drop the either to end up with "not X, nor Y". These versions have the same propositional content, but differ at what I'm tentatively calling the "rhetorical" level.

    Why would a speaker choose one of these variations? I suggest there are two reasons. One, deliberate stylistic intent: in any language, departing from the most ordinary way of saying something (the "plain vanilla" variety, to invoke American slang) tends to make listeners pay more attention to you. Two, by accident: midway in speaking your sentence, you realize, "Oh! I should have started off with neither, and I didn't! Now I have to vary the grammatical construction to get the desired emphasis!" Namely, for effect, you would rather say something besides "not X, or Y". Either of these scenarios would account for "not X, nor Y".

    What is the point of saying neither X nor Y?. To a large extent, it's a device to emphasize that X and Y have something in common in the thought world outside the sentence.

    Let's start from "Elroy did not get it 100 percent correct, and DaleC also did not get it 100 percent correct." This has the general form, Not X, and also not Y. It's rhetorically unsatisfying, because X and Y obviously "have something to do with one another". They do not represent two unconnected circumstances. The sentence structure reflects that: constituents X and Y share a subconstituent. And already we find ourselves wanting to avoid repeating it.

    There are several ways we can restate this example and avoid that repetition we want to avoid. I suggest that the paraphrases constitute a progression in "rhetorical" force (if "rhetorical" is the accurate term). From lesser to greater:

    Elroy didn't Z, and DaleC didn't Z.
    Elroy didn't Z, and DaleC didn't either.
    Elroy didn't Z, and neither did DaleC.
    Elroy didn't Z, nor did DaleC.
    Neither Elroy nor DaleC Z.
    Elroy didn't Z, nor did DaleC.

    As you see, I think I'd place the "nor did" version variously, on a case by case basis.

    Let's follow up on the requirement of "having something to do with one another". Wouldn't you be puzzled to hear, "Neither does the village of Springfield have two traffic lights, nor has the state of California raised its sales tax (similar to VAT) twice in the last five years." Although it's grammatically perfect, it's "situationally" bizarre. It seems fit only for a textbook on logic, or grammar. You would object, "but they don't seem to have anything to do with each other!" Such a sentence would become "situationally" acceptable once its two halves could be linked by something in the world outside itself. Let's imagine:

    "John Smith is a totally untrustworthy a reporter. He gets the facts wrong time and again. He apparently even writes about places he's never visited. For example, neither does the village of Springfield . . . ."

    END
     
  12. hakanakin New Member

    turkish
    neither is always used with nor.. bothe makes the sentence negative..
    gramatically neither - or cant be used..

    either is used with or ..
     
  13. lux_ Senior Member

    Hallo everyone,

    So this sentence is grammatically incorrect? It comes from Sorkin, and talks about Warren Buffet's feelings:

    he despised the trader ethos and the lucrative paydays that enriched people he thought were neither particularly intelligent or created much value.
     
  14. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I would say that is incorrect - for reasons that are clear in posts above.
     
  15. Cagey post mod

    California
    English - US
    I agree with Panjandrum.

    I am responding simply to say that in my experience, the rules that apply to the use of "neither ... nor" in British English also apply in AE. I disagree with DaleC's assertion that they are followed by only a "handful of purists".
     
  16. mmarco New Member

    Italian
    Hi, is this sentence correct? "I haven't received your email neither yesterday nor today" ? What's the correct way to say that? Thanks a lot.
     
  17. moonlight7 Senior Member

    Hello,
    Would it be correct to say like this?
    "Neither worship nor prayers nor sacrifices He demands!"
     
  18. Cagey post mod

    California
    English - US
    When we invert the order like this, we would probably invert the verb as well:
    Neither worship nor prayers nor sacrifices does He demand!
    I would consider it correct written this way, but very literary.
     
  19. baosheng Senior Member

    Canada
    Canada, English
    Is "neither + or" really considered correct in writing? I feel I must disagree here.. although you may hear it sometimes, it doesn't make it correct! The "neither + nor" is simply a formal construction, that's all (and can also be used in informal contexts too). Its usage is quite widespread in American English and it's not just the purists who use it.
    "Neither you nor I" --> I may agree here. Not everyone would say this as it does sound quite formal. But in writing, I can't see anything being recommended but this structure. "Neither.. nor.. " is certainly not a structure only used by purists.

    This is true, to a point, in informal spoken North American English. However, it depends on the context/construction. For example, in the following sentences:
    "She neither phoned in nor did she e-mail us about this issue."
    "Neither did he go to France, nor did he travel to Italy."
    Just to make things clear: I don't think any native speakers, American or not, would substitute an "or" here (and if they did, it would be extremely noticeable). Personally, I would find an "or" here a bit jarring..

    There are many ESL learners on the forums, so I would hate for them to be misled. This (sentence) may apply to some rules, but not to this one.

    I do wonder about the correctness of the second sentence here. In my logic, I think the second one is arguably correct and does have an ellipsis: "We are not allowed to speak nor [are we allowed to] write in Spanish." However, I'm not sure whether this makes it grammatically correct or not. I'll let the grammarians confirm this one!
     
  20. José_A Senior Member

    Español
    I too think the second one is correct.
    This is the usage note for nor at the freedictionary.com: However, when a verb is negated by not or never, and is followed by a verb phrase that is also to be negated (but not an entire clause), either or or nor can be used.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2012
  21. José_A Senior Member

    Español
    No, because you already negated the first clause by using not as in "have not". The use of "have" is also incorrect, you should use "did".
    It would be correct like this "I didn't receive your email yesterday nor/or today."
    You could simply say "I haven't received your email yet" I think that sounds better.
     
  22. maicart

    maicart Senior Member

    Castellón, Spain
    Spanish, Spain
    Do these rules apply in the following examples? Are some of these examples incorrect or could we label some of them as 'informal' English?

    a) They are neither from England nor Ireland
    b) They are neither from England or Ireland
    c) I travel neither by car nor by plane
    d) I travel neither by car or by plane

    Thanks.
     
  23. velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    The versions I would use are:
    a) They are neither from England nor from Ireland.
    b) They are not from England or from Ireland.
    c) I travel neither by car nor by plane.
    d) I do not travel by car or by plane.

    I regard the "neither ... nor" construction as quite formal. I prefer not to mix a and b, c and d.
     
  24. Cagey post mod

    California
    English - US
    In sentence 'as', I would put the neither on the other side of 'from'
    a) They are from neither England nor Ireland.

    I agree with valisarius's revision of sentence b.

    I prefer valisarius's revised d to c.
     
  25. velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    I had difficulty in deciding what to use in sentence (a) because without context I find it rather unnatural. Cagey's version is at least as good, or probably better.
     
  26. francocaqui Junior Member

    Argentina
    Español
    look this sentence that I found... what do you think of it?

    " Extremes in temperature have ranged from 105 °F (41 °C) on August 21, 1983 down to −12 °F (−24 °C) on December 30, 1917, though NEITHER 100 °F (38 °C)+ or sub-0 °F (−18 °C) occurs in most years. "
     
  27. srk Senior Member

    South Bend, Indiana
    English - US
    That it should be "nor".

    Forum rules require that you provide a source and some context for what you quote.
     

Share This Page