Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

English can be a very confusing and contradictory language with all of its rules and innumerable exceptions. As a result, it is not uncommon for people to over-correct their grammar, misusing “myself” or “I” when just regular old “me” will do. And the same can be said about how to use “nor” correctly.

Most people probably know that “neither” goes with “nor” and “either” pairs with “or.” We discussed that in a Grammar 101 post from way back in 2011. Whenever you see the word “neither,” you can likely expect the word “nor” to follow shortly thereafter. Larry has been to neither Paris nor Rome.

Are there instances where you can (and should) use the word “nor” even when the sentence does not contain the word “neither” too? Yes, but you have to be careful about how you use it. “Nor” still denotes a negative context. You use it when you start with a negative condition and then you follow with another negative condition, but only in the case of a couple of verbs (or verb clauses).

  • Harry isn’t going to eat this sandwich nor pay for it.
  • Moe wasn’t going to run. Nor was he going to hide.

If the sentence (or sentences) is constructed such that the negative conditions are nouns, adjectives or adverbs, then using “nor” is unnecessary and incorrect. Under these circumstances, the initial negative indication transfers to all subsequent conditions.

  • Dorothy doesn’t like pink shirts or purple skirts.
  • Rose wasn’t kind or sincere with her date.
  • Blanche didn’t walk away quickly or slowly.

All of these sentences can be rewritten with the word “neither” if you’d like. In doing so, the word “nor” must then be used.

  • Harry is neither going to eat nor pay for this sandwich.
  • Moe was going to neither run nor hide.
  • Dorothy likes neither pink shirts nor purple skirts.
  • Rose was neither kind nor sincere with her date
  • Blanche walked away neither quickly nor slowly.

You can argue that the “Moe” example has a split infinitive with this construction, but that’s another issue for another day. I have neither the time nor the energy to discuss that now.

Do you have a question or suggestion for the next Grammar 101 post?