J.A. Stinger

Words Can Inspire The World

Grammar-ease: When to Use ‘Nor’ or ‘Neither’

This post is inspired from a recent reader’s comment: when do you use ‘nor’ or ‘neither’ in a sentence?

In using neither/nor construction, it’s important to keep the sentence parallel. An example:

  • Incorrect: She will cook neither her apple pie nor do her laundry. [The part that follows “neither” is a noun (“her apple pie”), and the part that follows “nor” is a verb phrase (“do her laundry”) — so they aren’t parallel.]
  • Correct: She will neither cook her apple pie nor do her laundry. [Both parts are now verb phrases.]

Also, it’s important to watch for verb agreement when there is a mix of singular and plural. For instance, Neither the teens nor the teacher was excited about the fire drill. (singular was for ‘teacher’) Switched around, this is also correct: Neither the teacher nor the students were excited about the fire drill. (plural were for ‘students’)

If the second part of a negative construction is a verb phrase, it’s your choice whether to use ‘nor’ or ‘or’. Both of these examples are  correct:

  • The coach will neither allow unsportsmanlike conduct nor consider awarding good behavior.
  • The coach will neither allow unsportsmanlike conduct or consider awarding good behavior.

When using ‘neither,’ make sure there are no negative words preceding it. You would use either/or instead. For instance:

  • Arnold had seen neither the grandbaby nor the grandbaby’s rattle on the couch, and was ready to enjoy a quiet evening.
  • Arnold had not seen either the grandbaby or the grandbaby’s rattle on the couch, and was ready to enjoy a quiet evening.
  • (it would be incorrect to say: “Arnold had not seen neither the grandbaby, northe grandbaby’s rattle…)

And to add just a little more… when you have a negative sentence with ‘not’ (instead of ‘neither’) use ‘or’ in the second part of the sentence (i.e. “Not A or B.”). Examples:

  • She is not interested in Bob or Rick or Peter.
  • He didn’t (did not) speak hesitantly or softly.
  • They are not excited about horror or romance or comedy movies.
  • She does not want apples or oranges.
  • He does not enjoy walking or cycling or kayaking.

You won’t ever pair ‘either’ with ‘nor.’

You won’t see ‘nor’ without ‘neither.’

I hope that helps clarify the neither/nor topic. Happy writing!