Either/Or and Neither/Nor (Beware Double Negatives)
The Quick AnswerThe 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.
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.)
- I could neither laugh nor cry.
- Either the clerk or the secretary has the keys to the Rover. (Using has is correct. Using have would be wrong.)
- 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.
- 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 style that is likely to irk your readers.)
Beware Double NegativeThe 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 MistakeRemember, 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.)