When to Use “Nor”

Remember to keep your balance.

Bonnie Mills, Writing for
Episode #202
neither nor

Today we’re going to get a bit negative by looking at the various times you can use the word “nor.”

“Nor” with “Neither”

Everybody knows that “neither” and “nor” are bosom buddies. They require balance. A “nor” usually follows a “neither” when they're used in the same sentence (1). For example, you might say, “I like neither hot dogs nor mustard.” You may also use “nor” if you’re talking about more than two items, but you must repeat “nor” after each element (2). So if you want to add ketchup to your list of dislikes, you have to say, “I like neither hot dogs nor mustard nor ketchup.” It would be incorrect to use an “or” anywhere in that sentence—or to leave out either case of “nor.”

“Neither” can appear at the beginning of a sentence as well as the middle. For example, “Neither the man nor the woman is a good surfer” is nice and balanced.

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The issue gets a little complicated when the two items in the “neither-nor” part of the sentence are a mix of singular and plural. If you changed the sentence to discuss the surfing skills of two men and one woman (one plural, one singular), what would you do? Writer Patricia O'Connor (3) calls this “a two-headed creature,” but luckily for us, it’s not as complicated as it seems. Simply take the noun closest to the verb and ensure they agree. So “Neither the men nor the woman is a good surfer” is correct, as is “Neither the woman nor the men are good surfers.” Note how we use the plural word “surfers” at the end there to keep everything in agreement.

“Nor” doesn’t necessarily have to appear in a sentence with the word “neither.” “Nor” can start a sentence. For example, if you’ve just mentioned that you don’t usually wake up at 6 a.m. and you want to continue being negative, you can start another sentence with “nor”: “Nor do I like to wake up at 5 a.m.” Another option is to combine the two negative ideas into one sentence and then start the second part with “nor”: “I don’t usually wake up at 6 a.m., nor do I like to wake up at 5 a.m.”


About the Author

Bonnie Mills, Writing for Grammar Girl

Bonnie Mills has been a copyeditor since 1996.

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