We all know that the paired correlative conjunction “neither . . . nor” is used to join two noun forms or two independent clauses to denote the sense of “not one or the other of two,” as in “Neither the bride nor the groom made it to the wedding on time” (two correlated nouns) and “Neither does Ana want to go with us now nor does she want to follow us later” (two correlated independent clauses). In both cases, “neither” and “nor” works together to join a pair of noun forms or of clauses that depend on each other to form a complete thought.
That much is clear about how “neither . . . nor” works grammatically, but a member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum who goes by the username Miss Mae recently raised this very interesting question about this conjunctive pair: “Can ‘nor’ be used without its partner ‘neither’”?
Here’s my reply to Miss Mae:
Definitely yes, the conjunction “nor” can be used without the conjunction “neither.” On its own, “nor” works to introduce the second or last member or the second and each following member of a series of items, each of which is negated, as in the sentence “The burden wasn’t carried by you nor me nor by anyone for that matter.” Indeed, this is the most common task of “nor” as a stand-alone conjunction.
When only two members of a series of items are involved, however, “nor” works with
“neither” in the negative correlative form “neither . . . nor,” as in “Neither you nor I carried the burden.” This construction follows the traditional grammar rule that the negative
correlative “neither . . . nor” should only be used to mean “not one or the other of two.”
When the reference is to “none of several,” however, “none” instead of “neither” is used:
“None of the five reelectionists passed the advocacy group’s integrity test.”
Also not in tandem with the conjunction “neither,” the conjunction “nor” is used to introduce and negate a succeeding clause or phrase in a sentence, as in “The candidate didn’t mind being labeled a family dynast, nor did she mind being deemed unqualified.”
On a more profound note, the same stand-alone usage of “nor” can be seen in Psalm 121:6 of the New International Version of the Bible: “The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”
To this clarification of the solitary usage of “nor,” I now must add these three grammatical caveats to ensure that it does work correctly when working in tandem with “neither”:
(1) When two subjects are linked by “neither . . . nor,” the verb that follows them must agree in number—whether singular or plural—with the subject nearer that verb. Verb in singular form for “brother”: “Neither her parents nor her brother wants Alicia to get married before she finishes college.” Verb in plural form for “parents”: “Neither her brother nor her parents want Alicia to get married before she finishes college.”
(2) When two antecedent subjects are linked by “neither . . . nor,” the pronoun that comes after them must agree with the antecedent subject closer to it. Singular pronoun “his” for “Emilio”: “Neither his coworkers nor Emilio finished his assignment that day.” Plural pronoun “their” for “coworkers”: “Neither Emilio nor his coworkers finished their work that day.”
(3) When two independent clauses are linked by “neither . . . nor,” they should have the same grammatical form and be structurally parallel. Example: “Neither did Juliet inform her boss nor did she tell her fellow employees about her plan to quit her job.” Take note that in this example, as in the sentence I gave at the outset showing two independent clauses linked by “neither . . . nor,” the position of the subject and the verb after “neither” and “nor” are reversed, with each conjunction using the past tense of the verb “do” to make the clauses functionally coequal and structurally parallel in the negative sense.
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