Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Grammar

‘Nor’ Without ‘Neither’? It’s Probably Better If You Don’t

Can you write a grammatically correct sentence using the word ‘nor’ without ‘neither?’ Technically, yes, but there’s a catch.

For some of the grammar purists out there, something seems very wrong about writing a sentence that includes nor without neither.

The two just seem to go together so well — like peanut butter and jelly.

Grammatically speaking, neither/nor goes together just like either/or does. So if you can’t use either without or, it stands to reason you can’t use neither without nor.

But people use or without either all the time. So shouldn’t that mean nor as a standalone should work? Yes and no, it turns out. If you’re using nor without neither, there’s still one thing you still need. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Nor, like or, serves as a conjunction to join two or more items in a list that have something in common.

Consider, for example, these sentences:

Either the anchors or the reporters have the script.

Neither the anchors nor the reporters have the script.

The anchors or the reporters have the script.

The anchors nor the reporters have the script.

The first three sentences are fine. The either/or combination reinforces the idea that one of the two have the script. The neither/nor combination reinforces the idea that both are without it.

Using or by itself still makes it clear that one or the other has it.

But that fourth sentence — the one with nor without neither — is missing something. It doesn’t sound right.

That’s because when you use nor without neither, you still need a negative in the sentence because nor reflects the negative that either would otherwise provide.

You could get away with something like this:

The script couldn’t be found by the anchors nor the reporters.

Yes, you need to restructure the sentence to truly make it work, but it does work. The word couldn’t serves as the negative that nor reflects.

But you surely also have noticed that the sentence would work even better this way:

The script couldn’t be found by the anchors or the reporters.

You’re communicating that two units couldn’t find an item. Nor without neither can work, but often it’s more awkward than simply using or would be.

There’s a different kind of sentence construction in which someone might include the word nor. It’s a sentence that connects two thoughts. Consider this one:

The student didn’t submit her term paper on time nor did she offer any explanation for missing the deadline.

This sentence works just fine: we understand that this student has some serious problems because she didn’t complete an assignment and didn’t explain the failure. But you’ll note that didn’t toward the beginning of the sentence: that serves as the negative that the nor needs for the second half of the sentence.

This sort of use of nor is easier to comprehend for the reader, as long as a negative precedes it.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.