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Neither ... nor

Neither ... nor

Neither ... nor

(OP)
When excluding a list of things, I always "neither A nor B nor C nor D". Recently, I had a set-to with a colleague who changed that to "neither A nor B or C or D".

I can see that she was thinking "neither A nor (B or C or D)", but I feel that this construction allows for some ambiguity, and I HATE ambiguity.

What do you think?

Frank Clarke
--America's source for adverse opinions since 1943.

Replies continue below

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RE: Neither ... nor

Strictly SQL: NOT IN('A', 'B', 'C', 'D') upsidedown
As an English language, you can probably argue either way (or is it 'both ways'...?)

---- Andy

"Hmm...they have the internet on computers now"--Homer Simpson

RE: Neither ... nor

From the pedant's point of view, neither should be restricted to two negated choices. However there are sources that tolerate, or outright accept more than two.

What you really want is either:

"Not any of A or B or C or D."

or

"None of A or B or C or D."

RE: Neither ... nor

Merge mansion

Skip,

glassesJust traded in my OLD subtlety...
for a NUance!tongue

"The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible" A. Einstein

You Matter...
unless you multiply yourself by the speed of light squared, then...
You Energy!

RE: Neither ... nor

This is surely one of those cases where the correct choice is what sounds right - regardless of the strict rules of grammar. In this case, I'm with you, Frank. Your choice is the one that sounds right to me, and therefore the one that I would choose.

Mike

__________________________________
Mike Lewis (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Visual FoxPro articles, tips and downloads

RE: Neither ... nor

I've just checked my two favourite reference books, but neither Bryson1 nor Fowler2 has anything to say that throws any light on this.

But there is a related question on which they both agree: on the number (singular or plural) of the verb following an neither/nor construct. In most cases, the verb should be singular: Neither Bill Gates nor Jeff Bezos is infallible. That sounds right to me.

But consider the case where the nouns are both plural: Neither the men nor the women has anything. That sounds wrong. And what about where there is a mixture: Niether Bill Gates nor his fellow philanthropists [has? have?] considered the problem.

In cases like these, Bryson says that the verb should agree in number with the noun that is closest to it. So in that last example, the verb should be have because philanthropists are plural.

Fowler cites several more complications, including: Neither you nor I [is? am? are?] the right person for the job and Neither employer nor employees will say what [he wants? they want?]. Fowler says that, rather than face these uncertainties, the "wise man" will rephrase the entire sentence. (He doesn't say what the wise woman would do.)

1. Bryson, Bill. Troublesome Words, Penguin 1997.
2. Fowler, H.W. Modern English Usage, Oxford 1968.

Mike

__________________________________
Mike Lewis (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Visual FoxPro articles, tips and downloads

RE: Neither ... nor

I think "neither" implies only two choices.
Less ambiguous would be "not a or b or c or d".

RE: Neither ... nor

(OP)
The usage is in a legal document. Legal eagles don't speak programish as a general rule, therefore the wording as if it were an essay (rather than a program).

Frank Clarke
--America's source for adverse opinions since 1943.

RE: Neither ... nor

Since were talkin' about English conversation and writing and not the rigor of math or coding, I'd be apt to use normal conjunctive rules like...

"I would choose a, b and c," meaning all three. One might also say, "I would choose a and b and c," meaning all three.
"I would choose a, b or c," meaning any one of the three. One might also say, "I would choose a or b or c," meaning any one of the three.
"I would choose neither a, b nor c," meaning none of the three. One might also say, "I would choose neither a nor b nor c," meaning none of the three.

Skip,

glassesJust traded in my OLD subtlety...
for a NUance!tongue

"The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible" A. Einstein

You Matter...
unless you multiply yourself by the speed of light squared, then...
You Energy!

RE: Neither ... nor

On further review, I find that "neither" can apply to more than two alternatives. According to Oxford Languages, the correct conjunction is "nor".

RE: Neither ... nor

Quote (rexxhead)

The usage is in a legal document
in this case I think it is essential to remove any possibell ambiguity & rephrasing is in order

Do things on the cheap & it will cost you dear

Avaya Remote Support Engineer (A.R.S.E)

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