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.]

Neither (1)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, nor the 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!

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

6 thoughts on “Grammar-ease: When to Use ‘Nor’ or ‘Neither’

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  2. Great post 🙂
    I am a writer myself, and I just wrapped up my debut fiction.
    While writing it, I faced a few stumbling blocks… This is it:

    While describing what has happened in the past of the current narrative, do I have to use “had” (the past participle) in every sentence of that sequence, or can I introduce the past with a had in the first sentence and use simple past for the rest of the lines?

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