How to Use the Conjunction "Nor"

How do you use the conjunction nor and why is it so special it deserves a podcast of its own? Neal Whitman of the Literal Minded blog explains. 

Neal Whitman, Writing for,
Episode #429

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In a recent episode on coordinating conjunctions, I talked about the popular mnemonic word FANBOYS to remember them: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. I also talked about how the conjunctions for, so, and yet are different from the better-known conjunctions and, but, and or. But I didn’t talk about nor, because it’s unusual enough to deserve an episode of its own. Well, this is that episode! We’ll be talking about negative conjunctions, and what they can tell us about parts of speech in general.

What Makes Something a Coordinating Conjunction

As I said in the earlier episode about coordinating conjunctions, or coordinators for short, one of their two main properties is that they can connect words or phrases of the same category to create a larger phrase of that same category. The other is that the coordinator has to come between the words or phrases it connects.

Nor Is a Coordinating Conjunction that Has Limits

Nor has those two properties, so it’s definitely a coordinator, but it is severely limited in the kinds of words or phrases it can connect.  It’s a lot like for and so, which in American English, can join only clauses. Even then, a condition has to be satisfied: The first clause has to be a negative clause. For example, you could say,

“Fenster doesn’t like to do his homework. Nor does he check his answers when he does do it.”

The verb in the first clause is negative: doesnt like. The negation can also be implied. Let’s change our example to

“Fenster turned in his math worksheet two days late. Nor did he check his answers before turning it in.”

Now the verb in the first clause is positive: turned in his math worksheet two days late. Even so, there’s an implied negation: “not on time.”

The First Clause Must Be Negative for You to Use Nor Later

If you try to use nor to join two clauses when there’s nothing negative about the first one at all, it sounds bad. To illustrate, let’s adjust our example one more time:

“Fenster completed his math worksheet and turned it in right on time. Nor did he check his answers before he turned it in.”

What? That doesn’t make sense!

Nor Makes You Reverse the Verb Order

In listening to these examples, you may have noticed another wrinkle in how we use nor: We have to reverse the order of the subject and the auxiliary verb in the second clause. We don’t say “Nor he checked his answers before he turned it in”; it has to be “Nor did he check his answers.”


About the Author

Neal Whitman, Writing for Grammar Girl

Neal Whitman PhD is an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg school board. You an find him at literalminded.wordpress.com.

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