'Neither/Nor' (Beware Double Negatives)

by Craig Shrives
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.
double negative with neither/nor

Using 'Either/Or' and 'Neither/Nor'

The pairings "either/or" and "neither/nor" (called correlative conjunctions) can be used to group two people or things. (NB: Be aware that the grouping of more than two things is frowned upon by some grammarians.)

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

Here are some examples of 'either/or' and 'neither/nor' in sentences:
  • I could neither laugh nor cry.
  • Either the clerk or the secretary has the keys to the safe.
  • (Using "has" is correct. Using "have" would be wrong.)
  • The clerk or the secretary has the keys to the safe.
  • (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 practice.)
Read more about correlative conjunctions.
Read more about using a singular or plural verb with "either/or" and "neither/nor."

Beware Double Negatives with 'Neither/Nor'

The pairing "neither/nor" plays a negative role in a sentence. Be careful not to create 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

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 that 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.
neither/nor double negative

Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What are conjunctions? What are double negatives? Either/or plural or singular verb? Take another test on the difference between either and neither.