LawProse Lesson #323: Best Practices for neither . . . nor.

LawProse Lesson #323: Best Practices for neither . . . nor.

As we saw last time, there are important rules about correlative conjunctions. Neither . . . nor constructions are similar to those with either . . . or:

  1. A neither . . . nor construction takes a singular verb when the alternatives are singular or when the second alternative is singular <Neither the committee members nor the chief officer agrees with the reporter’s assertion.>. Use a plural verb when both alternatives are plural or the second alternative is plural <Neither the driver nor the passengers were wearing seat belts.>.
  2. As with either . . . or, these correlative conjunctions best frame only two elements, not more. When three or more are involved, you should rephrase. So it’s better to avoid: *She ate neither beef, chicken, nor fish. And instead say: She didn’t eat beef, chicken, or fish.
  3. Make sure the items they frame are grammatically parallel. You can say He intended neither to offend nor to infringe on their rights. But you shouldn’t say He intended neither to offend nor infringe on their rights. The grammatical element that follows neither must match the one that follows nor. Upon seeing neither, any good editor immediately looks for nor to ensure that what follows each conjunction is grammatically parallel.
  4. Never say *neither . . . or. This phrasing is either a serious grammatical lapse or a serious typographical error.
  5. Both neither and nor may begin a sentence. They must follow either an express negative or an idea that is negative in sense: None of that mattered to Jane. Nor did it matter to her staunch supporters.

One last thing. These are correlative conjunctions we’re talking about. Please don’t—as so many do—confuse corollary (= something that’s the direct result of something else) with correlation (= a connection between two ideas, facts, etc.). Correlative, an adjective, describes two or more things that are closely related or dependent on each other, like the conjunctions neither and nor. There’s neither more nor less that I’d like to say about the subject.

* Invariably inferior form.

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