Either/Or and Neither/Nor (Beware Double Negatives)
The Quick AnswerThe pairing Neither/Nor plays a negative role, so take care to avoid an unintended double negative. For example:
- He didn't find neither the map nor the key.
Either/Or and Neither/Nor (Beware Double Negatives)The pairings either/or and neither/nor can be used to group two people or things. (Although not a major grammatical error, the grouping of more than two things is frowned upon by followers of some style conventions.)
- I could neither laugh nor cry.
- Either the clerk or the secretary has the keys to the Rover. (Using has is correct. Using have would be wrong.)
- The clerk or the secretary has the keys to the Rover. (You can often omit the word either.)
- He did not find the key either on or under the mat.
- Neither the forwards nor the scrumhalf, all of whom were within 10 metres of the tackle, nor the crowd appealed for a foul. (It is quite harsh to mark this as wrong, but grouping three things is an unpopular style that is likely to irk your readers.)
Beware Double NegativeThe pairing neither/nor plays a negative role in the sentence. Be careful not to use a double negative.
- Adam did not find the key neither on nor under the mat. (This is a double negative.)
- He did not mention neither the flooding nor the landslide. (This is a double negative.)
- He mentioned neither the flooding nor the landslide.
- He did not mention either the flooding or the landslide.
A Double Negative Is Not Always a MistakeRemember, a double negative is not always a mistake, but it might change the intended meaning. For example:
- I haven't got no money. (This is a double negative. It means I have money, which is almost certainly not the message the speaker wanted to convey.)
- She is not unattractive. (This is also a double negative. It could mean She is attractive or She is not ugly. In this case, the positive sentiment is probably what the speaker wanted to convey.)
Don't Use Or with NeitherThe pairings either/or and neither/nor are known as correlative conjunctions.
You cannot mix them. In other words, either cannot pair with nor, and neither cannot pair with or.
(Note: It is common to omit either from the either/or pairing.)
What Is a Double Negative?The two sentences below are examples of double negatives:
- David doesn't know nothing.
- David did not see no car.
- My kids don't believe in no Santa Clause. (This means they do believe in Santa.)
What Are Correlative Conjunctions?Correlative conjunctions are used in pairs to link equivalent elements in a sentence. The most common ones are:
- not only...but also