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


 
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:

  • Neither the forwards nor the scrumhalf, all of whom were within 10 metres of the tackle, nor the crowd appealed for a foul.
  • (three things grouped)

  • I could neither laugh nor cry.

  • Either the clerk or the secretary has the keys to the Rover.
  • (Note that has is correct. Using have would be wrong. See the lesson Either/Or Singular or Plural?)

  • 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.

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.)
 
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.
 

 
EITHER/OR OR NEITHER/NOR – YOU CANNOT MIX THEM

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.)
 


See also:

What are double negatives?
Either/or plural or singular verb?