Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs

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Nexsus

Banned
romanian
Hi everyone!

I have a question concerning something I've read today. . . the sentence is : " Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs. "
Well, I'd like to know why the subject " they " is repeated with " nor ". I mean, I think it should be : " Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are pigs " since I say " I can neither change it nor improve it. " and not " I can neither change it nor can I improve it. "
Maybe I'm wrong and it is acceptable to say that, but I don't know any longer now, I'm quite confused!

Any help would be greatly accepted. :)
 
  • Tofail

    Senior Member
    Bangla
    In "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs" you describe two things 'Guinea', and ' pigs', so you should indicate them as different things.
    In " I can neither change it nor can I improve it, you indicate the same thing 'it', so it is not needed to indicate them differently.
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    There is an error in the original. That which comes before the "neither" should apply to everything that follows it, but we then end up with "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea" and "Guinea pigs are nor are they pigs", with an extra "are" for the second item. The original sentence should be either
    Guinea pigs neither are from Guinea, nor are they pigs
    or
    Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea, nor pigs
    .
     

    Nexsus

    Banned
    romanian
    Thank you guys!
    But I must admit it is not clear at all to me yet.
    Why do we say " ... nor are they pigs. " and not " ... nor they are pigs " ?
     

    Tofail

    Senior Member
    Bangla
    Now I can understand why it felt awkward to me. Here, the sentence structure is: Guinea pigs are neither from..... nor pig. But, from Guinea and from pig could not be parallel in meaning. One thing may be come from Guinea, but can not be from pigs. The 'from' here used for originate from a 'place', it could not be replaced by 'originate from a species.'
    We would not write: We neither study Math nor Banana. We should write: we neither study Math nor eat Banana.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Is it possible to write: He neither speaks English nor French? ...
    No, because the two phrases need to be balanced, you need to be able to reverse them. Here, you can't reverse the order - you can't say He neither French nor speaks English. :cross:

    You have a choice: He speaks neither English nor French, or else He neither speaks English nor speaks French.
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    Now I can understand why it felt awkward to me. Here, the sentence structure is: Guinea pigs are neither from..... nor pig. But, from Guinea and from pig could not be parallel in meaning. One thing may be come from Guinea, but can not be from pigs. The 'from' here used for originate from a 'place', it could not be replaced by 'originate from a species.'
    We would not write: We neither study Math nor Banana. We should write: we neither study Math nor eat Banana.
    You're parsing it incorrectly. "Guinea pigs are neither <from Guinea> nor <pigs>."
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    There is an error in the original. Y
    Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea, nor pigs
    .
    With all due respect, I find the original quite correct. Unfortunately, I also find your example ambiguous, at best. :eek: The second part seems to suggest Guinea pigs are not from pigs... :confused:
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    Now I can understand why it felt awkward to me. Here, the sentence structure is: Guinea pigs are neither from..... nor pig. But, from Guinea and from pig could not be parallel in meaning. (etc.)
    As RM1 notes, you have divided the sentence incorrectly. You criticism would be valid if the sentence I had suggested was "Guinea pigs are from neither Guinea nor pigs" -- but that isn't the order of the words in the sentence that I gave. Instead, my sentence was "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea, nor pigs."

    Only words that precede the "neither" can apply to both alternatives; words that follow the "neither" do not apply to both, but only to the one alternative. Because the word "from" follows "neither", it only goes with "Guinea" (as in "from Guinea"); you cannot say that it also combines with "pigs".
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    With all due respect, I find the original quite correct. Unfortunately, I also find your example ambiguous, at best. :eek: The second part seems to suggest Guinea pigs are not from pigs... :confused:

    The original is not correct, my example is not ambiguous, and the second part in no way suggests that Guinea pigs are "from pigs". You may wish to read the sentence more carefully, and note the order of the words. In my sentence, there is no word "from" preceding the word "neither", or following the word "nor", as your criticism seems to be suggesting.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    The original is not correct, my example is not ambiguous, and the second part in no way suggests that Guinea pigs are "from pigs". You may wish to read the sentence more carefully, and note the order of the words. In my sentence, there is no word "from" preceding the word "neither", nor following the word "nor", as your criticism seems to be suggesting.
    The original sounds good to me.
    Here is an example from the BNC:
    ...I conclude that they come neither from Jerusalem nor Antioch, but Hell or Babylon.’
    'From' does not have to precede 'neither' to make the sentence ambiguous. It can easily follow it, as seen above. Also, in the original the verb 'are' does not have to follow 'neither'. It can easily precede it, as far as I am concerned.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Another example from the BNC that I find perfectly correct:
    Individuals are neither slaves to their attitudes, nor are they necessarily masters of their own destiny.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    While agreeing with Mahantongo, I feel a little doubtful whether we can use "neither" in this way since the two halves of the structure don't balance. Wouldn't it be better to say "Guinea pigs are not from Guinea, nor are they pigs".

    Dolphins are neither fish nor amphibians. Here there is balance and the sentence feels more natural.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Hi boozer,

    I was agreeing with the explanation in post #16, which seems very logical to me. I do think the original is incorrect, or at best very awkward.

    I like your example in post #19, with its parallel or balanced structure.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Hi boozer,

    I was agreeing with the explanation in post #16, which seems very logical to me. I do think the original is incorrect, or at best very awkward.

    I like your example in post #19, with its parallel or balanced structure.
    Objection, Milady. :) The example in post 19 has the exact same structure as the original...
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Individuals are neither slaves to their attitudes, nor are they necessarily masters of their own destiny.

    You are quite right counsel. This judge needs to take a break and possibly sleep on it. :eek:
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    The original sounds good to me.
    Here is an example from the BNC:
    ...I conclude that they come neither from Jerusalem nor Antioch, but Hell or Babylon.’
    'From' does not have to precede 'neither' to make the sentence ambiguous. It can easily follow it, as seen above. Also, in the original the verb 'are' does not have to follow 'neither'. It can easily precede it, as far as I am concerned.
    As far as you are concerned, you may do anything you like. However, as far as the rest of us are concerned, there are some other principles to consider.

    As Keith Bradford noted, in order for a "neither... nor...." construction to be correct, you need to be able to take the two parts (that is, the "neither" alternative and the "nor" alternative) exactly as they are and reverse them without changing them.

    Consider the sentence "The ancient Egyptians had neither telephones nor airplanes." Because this sentence is correct, I can reverse the order and get "The ancient Egyptians had neither airplanes nor telephones." However if I had made the original "The ancient Egyptians neither had telephones nor airplanes", when I reverse that I get "The ancient Egyptians neither airplanes nor had telephones", which makes no sense. The inability to reverse the components of that sentence indicates its structure is incorrect.

    The original sentence provided by Nexsus was "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs." If you try to reverse that without changing the words, what you get is "Guinea pigs are neither are they pigs nor from Guinea". The problem with the reversed sentence (note the double "are") shows that there was an error in the original. My suggested alternative of "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea, nor pigs" reverses to "Guinea pigs are neither pigs, nor from Guinea." which is grammatical, and in no way ambiguous.

    The example you gave from the BNC was written by John Bunyan, who was not the most educated of men and occasionally expressed himself awkwardly. If you try to reverse "they come neither from Jerusalem nor Antioch", what you get is "they come neither Antioch nor from Jerusalem", which is garbled. It would have been better for Bunyan to write "they come from neither Jerusalem nor Antioch", which would have avoided the problem.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    The advice you give is good, Mahantongo, but it is not universally applicable. I do not buy all that, at least not enthusiastically. Is the other example I gave also written by an illiterate man? :)
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    I do not buy all that, at least not enthusiastically. Is the other example I gave also written by an illiterate man? :)
    "Also"? "Illiterate"? I do not recall that I called Bunyan "illiterate", boozer -- and I rather think that you don't recall such a statement on my part, either.

    As for your other example, it comes from a social psychology paper by Michael Billig. I am sure that the quality of Professor Billig's scholarship in his field is beyond question. On the other hand, social scientists are not always the most elegant of prose stylists, and I note that the good professor makes the same error on a following page when he writes "This tactic, which blurs the conventional distinction between pure theory and applied work, stems from the belief that theory in social psychology is neither produced as an end in itself, nor to generate research programmes." While I would not call Professor Billig "illiterate", doesn't that construction strike you as awkward?
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    "Also"? "Illiterate"? I do not recall that I called Bunyan "illiterate", boozer -- and I rather think that you don't recall such a statement on my part, either.

    As for your other example, it comes form a social psychology paper by Michael Billig. I am sure that the quality of Professor Billig's scholarship in his field is beyond question. On the other hand, social scientists are not always the most elegant of prose stylists, and I note that the good professor makes the same error on a following page when he writes "This tactic, which blurs the conventional distinction between pure theory and applied work, stems from the belief that theory in social psychology is neither produced as an end in itself, nor to generate research programmes." Wile I will not call Professor Billig "illiterate", doesn't that construction strike you as awkward?
    Honestly, yes :) it does strike me as somewhat awkward, that second quote you gave. But not the one that I gave - that one is good English for me. Just because someone is capable of uttering an oddity every once on a while does not mean he/she is always wrong...

    Edit: This is beginning to look like a trial where one of the attorneys attempts to shake the credibility of a witness summoned by the opposing side. :D
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Mahantongo said:
    "The ancient Egyptians had neither telephones nor airplanes." Because this sentence is correct, I can reverse the order and get "The ancient Egyptians had neither airplanes nor telephones."
    Here, we see you reversing only the nouns.
    However if I had made the original "The ancient Egyptians neither had telephones nor airplanes", when I reverse that I get "The ancient Egyptians neither airplanes nor had telephones",
    Here, you move the verb with the first noun.

    If you leave the verb alone, you get "The ancient Egyptians had neither telephones nor airplanes", which is fine.

    I cannot see the point of moving the verb.

    The OED remarks:
    The regular position of neither is immediately before the first of the alternative expressions, but it is frequently placed earlier in the sentence. The ‘unbalanced’ placing of neither is commonly criticized by grammarians from the mid 18th cent. onwards.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Boozer, you're not alone - I wouldn't have batted an eyelid at the "guinea pig" sentence either, perhaps because I've heard it so many times. I do try to use parallel structures myself, but there's something about the "They are neither X, nor are they Y" which somehow feels 'parallel', even though it isn't.

    Perhaps the answer lies in the OED comment quoted by Paul:).
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    Getting back to the original question, I would say you should not say "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are pigs" which to me is almost suggesting saying that neither pigs nor guinea pigs are from Guinea. The original sentence is okay and and I think you need to say "nor are they pigs" because the two ideas are not parallel. In other words, I could say "X is neither from A nor from B" in place of "X is neither from A nor is it from B" because 'from A" and "from B" are parallel. But I cant reduce "X is neither from A nor is X a good solution" to "X is neither from A nor a good solution" because "from A" and "[being] a good solution" are not parallel.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I've been wondering about this thread. I've read the sentence in the OP over and over again, and it still seems a perfectly normal sentence. I was wondering what was wrong with me, but PaulQ's and Loob's posts have reassured me. As far as I'm concerned it's fine - unlike Michael Billig's sentence. It's the infinitive in the nor phrase that throws that badly off course.
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    [/B]Here, we see you reversing only the nouns.Here, you move the verb with the first noun.

    If you leave the verb alone, you get "The ancient Egyptians had neither telephones nor airplanes", which is fine.

    I cannot see the point of moving the verb.
    Paul, my point was to show what would happen if I had placed the verb after the "neither", thus making it apply to only one of the two alternatives. Note that I was giving this as an example of an incorrect construction of a "neither... nor..." sentence. I knew that the first one was fine, and the second was not, but that was the whole point; I was explaining why such a sentence is "unbalanced", and subject to the criticism noted by the OED
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    I just cannot see the original sentence as being correct.

    Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs. :cross:
    Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor pigs. :tick:
    Guinea pigs neither are from Guinea nor are pigs. :tick:

    (And if I were writing this sentence myself, I would put a comma after Guinea.)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    This is becoming intriguing. Of the versions discussed so far in this thread, the one that feels the most wrong to me is the one with "neither" before uninverted "are": Guinea pigs neither are from Guinea nor are pigs.
    Hmm...
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    There's clearly a marked division in what is seen as idiomatic. Perhaps it's the way we construe "neither". If we take an alternative version of the sentence we can have "Guinea pigs are not from Guinea nor are they pigs." I take it that nobody objects to that. We expect the negation to follow the verb: "Guinea pigs not are from Guinea ...." is manifestly wrong. In this sentence "neither" serves to intensify the meaning; it emphasises the statement. Because I have a logical place for "not" I expect "neither" to be in the same place. Thus, for me, the ungrammatical (by prescription) sentence "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs." is the idionatic one.

    "Guinea pigs neither are from Guinea nor are pigs." is, for me, a forced sentence, similar to sentences contorted to avoid placing a preposition at the end.

    As for "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor pigs." Who has ever claimed that Guinea pigs came from pigs? To make sense that has to be rewritten: "Guinea pigs are neither pigs nor from Guinea."
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    As for "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor pigs." Who has ever claimed that Guinea pigs came from pigs? To make sense that has to be rewritten: "Guinea pigs are neither pigs nor from Guinea."
    "...are neither <from Guinea> nor <pigs>" makes perfect sense to me - they're not from Guinea, and they're not pigs. From would have to be moved outside the neither/nor to make it apply to pigs: "...are from neither Guinea nor pigs."
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The problem there is the habitual elision of prepositions in English. I take it you would find "He is from Italy or Spain" identical in meaning to "He is from Italy or from Spain". That also applies to "He is not from Italy or Spain", and so to "He is neither from Italy nor Spain". "Guinea pigs are neither from Italy or Spain" is equivalent, as is "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor pigs." Where's the difference?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    "Guinea pigs are neither from Italy or Spain" is equivalent, as is "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor pigs." Where's the difference?
    You need to include these two sentences in generating your "rule".
    "Guinea pigs are neither Spain nor from Italy."
    "Guinea pigs are neither pigs nor from Guinea."
    Most native speakers will approve of three out of four of these sentences despite the protest of mathematicians. English is neither transitive nor commutative in the strict mathematical sense but sometimes it's a little of each.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'm not generating a rule, I'm just as curious as Loob about the difference in perception between contributors to this thread. The two sentences you add do not have an elided "from", so they aren't actually relevant to the point I was making, which is about expectation.

    For me "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor pigs" has potential for immediate confusion. I understand that RM1(SS) would immediately perceive it as a straightforward sentence. I, on the other hand, don't. I automatically perceive it as meaning "from pigs" even though that is clearly ridiculous. That is, I think, why the structure "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs." seems entirely normal to me. The negation of "are" is where I expect it to be, and the "nor are they" removes any possible confusion.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Perhaps the problem is that we're looking at this question from the structural point of view, not the functional one. For instance, if I wanted to convey the idea under discussion I'd probably say either: "Guinea pigs are neither pigs nor from Guinea" or "Guinea pigs are not from Guinea nor are they pigs."

    Remember, the purpose of language is to convey meaning, not to comply with rules. A person would be perverse to use an ambiguous or clumsy structure on the grounds that it was "correct", and then have to spend weeks explaining themself. Better to choose a more elegant construction in the first place.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    The problem there is the habitual elision of prepositions in English. I take it you would find "He is from Italy or Spain" identical in meaning to "He is from Italy or from Spain". That also applies to "He is not from Italy or Spain", and so to "He is neither from Italy nor Spain". "Guinea pigs are neither from Italy or Spain" is equivalent, as is "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor pigs." Where's the difference?
    :thumbsup: Nicely put. Excellent. :)
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    "Guinea pigs are neither pigs nor from Guinea" But Keith, the whole point of the original is that it mirrors the word order of "Guinea pigs".

    "If we had some ham we'd have ham and eggs if we had some eggs." is more effective than
    "If we had some eggs we'd have ham and eggs if we had some ham."

    I've been dying for ages for an excuse to slip that one in. :D
     

    Tofail

    Senior Member
    Bangla
    Keith Bradford, But don't you think without fixed rules using language may turned in to whimsical one? Unfortunately, no one here try to summarize the suggestions given by members and explain the correct one(grammatically and common use).
    Hope someone do it for us,the non native English speakers.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Tofail, the answer for you and other second-language speakers of English is: make sure that the construction after "neither" parallels the construction after a subsequent "nor".

    You should be aware, though, that native speakers may vary this.

    -------------

    I still think "Guinea pigs neither are from Guinea, nor are they pigs" is really, really weird....
     
    The original sentence was (quoted by Nexsus):

    " Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs. "
    I agree with Boozer, and later, Andy, there is no problem in grammar or clarity.

    Mahan's proposed improvement:

    "Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea, nor pigs."
    :confused:

    I find less than clear, possibly ambiguous. Further it highlights WHY the words 'are they' were inserted: to read well and to clarify. This echoes Andy, in post #41:
    'the "nor are they" removes any possible confusion.'

    Velisarius' suggestion effects the clarification (on Mahan's), as well, but is not necessarily better than the original--a bit flatter, perhaps; less rhetorical flourish.

    V:
    "Guinea pigs are not from Guinea, nor are they pigs".
    :tick:
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    Frankly, had the sentence been entirely under my control, I would not have used the neither/nor construction, but if pressed for that I would have said "Guinea pigs are neither pigs, nor from Guinea" -- but I was stuck with the original sentence, and tinkered with it as it was presented.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Reading this intriguing thread I was caused to wonder why Mahantongo finds the original so strange - it sounds entirely natural to me, as to many other BE contributors to the thread.

    The obvious explanation, that there's an AE/BE divide here, doesn't seem to apply because here's an example from the Washington Post from 2009:

    Depp's Dillinger and Bale's Purvis are neither charming nor despicable, nor do they occupy that delicious gray area between the two. (Source)

    The reporter is Dan Zak, who was born in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1983.

    I wonder

    1. if this sentence is close enough to the OP's Guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs to bear comparison.
    2. if this sentence too is unacceptable to the people who wouldn't accept the sentence in the OP.


    Here's another, just in case anyone's becoming addicted - further supplies available from TT on application (normal office hours apply):

    As a member at the Cathedral of St. Phillip here in Atlanta, with a 6,000 membership, let me assure the letter writers that we are neither dying from within nor are we in bad shape as a congregation about pressing issues. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Reading this intriguing thread I was caused to wonder why Mahantongo finds the original so strange - it sounds entirely natural to me, as to many other BE contributors to the thread.
    I will admit to having been quite affected by some of your comments made in this previous thread with regard to "not only-but also" structures, which are similar to "neither-nor" structures in the sense that, to express oneself correctly through them, one must be careful not to mess up the parallelism.

    In both cases the concern with parallelism seems more about style than getting a certain message across. I just don't see why it's okay to tamper with it in this particular case but not in the other.

    For what it's worth, my view here seems to agree with Keith Bradford's in post 42. He is proposing (as have others) a "not-nor" structure instead of a "neither-nor". That appears to me a reasonable compromise.

    Is the semantic difference between "neither" and "not" in those structures and in this case really so important that it's worth the risk of upsetting some of the readers?
     
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