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Either/Or and Neither/Nor (Beware Double Negatives)

The Quick Answer
The 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.
Neither is paired with nor and either is paired with or. You cannot mix them, but often the word either is omitted.

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.)

Examples:
  • 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.)
Read more about using a singular or plural verb with Either/Or and Neither/Nor.
  • 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 Negative

The 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 Mistake

Remember, 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.)

Quick Test
 
 
Beware

Don't Use Or with Neither

The 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.)
Note

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.
Remember, two negatives make a positive. The examples above are not grammatically incorrect, but they probably do not mean what the originator intended.
  • My kids don't believe in no Santa Clause.
  • (This means they do believe in Santa.)
Read more about double negatives.

What Are Correlative Conjunctions?

Correlative conjunctions are used in pairs to link equivalent elements in a sentence. The most common ones are:
  • either...or
  • neither...nor
  • not only...but also
  • so...as
Read more about correlative conjunctions.