I am here to discuss the use of ‘Nor’ without ‘Neither’.
A recent editing job brought this to my attention, and although I knew instinctively when it wasn’t right, I checked the rules to be sure. There weren’t many places to reference, so I thought I would share what I discovered to increase the circulation.
Many of us are used to using ‘Or’ without ‘Either’ - and in fact ‘Or’ has a pretty good existence on its own without ‘Either', but ‘Nor’ has to be more careful, there are some places it can’t go without ‘Neither’.
Let’s take a look.
‘Nor’ is allowed to start a sentence on its own: for example if mentioning items you don’t like to eat, you might continue the next sentence with it:
I don’t eat Indian food. I don’t eat Thai food. Nor do I eat Mexican food.
‘Nor’ can be used with other negative expressions in one sentence:
I don’t usually eat cranberries, nor do I eat blueberries.
The tide has not come up this far, nor should we expect it to.
She has never been to the theatre, nor does she want to go.
‘Nor’ can be used multiple times in a sentence when used after ‘Neither’:
The shop had neither bread nor margarine nor milk.
But on its own (without neither), it wouldn’t be right:
The shop didn’t have bread nor margarine.
The ‘didn’t’ already provides the negative for both parts, so it doesn’t need repeating.
Let’s break that down in another example:
Incorrect would be:
She didn’t know which direction she had approached from, nor which way she was going.
Imagine the sentence as two separate ones:
She didn’t know which direction she had approach from. She didn’t know which way she was going.
To omit the repeat of she didn’t know – the first negative applies to both parts of the sentence so ‘Or’ should be used. You don’t need the second negative that ‘Nor’ provides.
The same applies when you use the word ‘not,’ in the structure ‘not A or B’.
She is not interested in Princeton or Harvard.
She is not interested in Princeton nor Harvard.
She didn’t seem to be happy or joyful.
She didn’t seem to be happy nor joyful.
Another incorrect example would be:
He didn’t see the flying saucer, nor the robot that emerged from it.
When trying to break this into two sentences it shows up:
He didn’t see the flying saucer. He didn’t see the robot that emerged from it.
The repeat of ‘He didn’t’ should be omitted by ‘Or’ because the negative is implied in both parts of the sentence.
Some of the incorrect sentences might sound right, but when the second negative item is a noun (like the last example) adjective, or adverb phrase, the initial negative covers all items in the sentence.
BUT when the second part of the negative is a verb phrase - an action - can it be either ‘Or’ or ‘Nor’.
She never comes to class, nor does she listen to the teacher.
She never comes to class, or listens to the teacher.
Or in instances when the verb is not acting on the subject:
The teacher will not allow running in the halls or talking after the bell has gone.
The teacher will not allow running in the halls nor talking after the bell has gone.
The teacher is not running or talking in these examples. If it was ‘The teacher didn’t run in the halls or talk after the bell had gone’ it could only be ‘Or’ - because the ‘didn’t’ covers both parts.
And you as the writer get to choose. If you’re unsure which word to use, or if you want to avoid the problem all together, you can use ‘and not’ instead:
The teacher will not allow running in the alls and will not allow talking after the bells gone.
She will not come to class and she will not listen to the teacher.
Hopefully that helps you. Yes, I know, it’s complicated, but it’s what editors are for! ;)