This is for advanced or expert learners of English
By Jacqueline Schaalje
In a student exam I found the following sentence:
“I’ve read the manual three times to make sure I’m doing everything well, but still the microphone isn’t working both on my laptop and on my brother’s PC.”
What is wrong here?
Looks like a great sentence, doesn’t it? Yes, it is, almost. But there is one important mistake:
You can’t use “both” with a negative sentence.
Here you need “nor.”
The sentence should read: “I’ve read the manual three times to make sure I’m doing everything well, but still the microphone isn’t working on my laptop nor on my brother’s PC.”
Now you’re maybe thinking: I have no idea how to use nor.
So read on and find out.
Use Nor When You Have Two Negatives
The conjunction “nor” is used when you have two negatives. What I mean by this is when there are two people or two things that are not doing something, not using something, not going anywhere, etc., you use nor to connect the two things in a sentence.
Here are some examples:
1) The theatre isn’t full each night, nor does the theatre group have enough money to mount the play so often.
In this sentence there are two things that are not:
a. The theatre isn’t full each night.
b. The theatre group doesn’t have enough money to mount the play so often.
2) At no point did Jenny regret her decision, nor did she think of apologizing.
Again, let’s analyse this sentence to see whether there are two things that are not:
a. At no point did Jenny regret her decision.
b. She didn’t think of apologizing.
Switching the Word Order
In case you’ve noticed that after “nor” you need to swap the subject and the verb, well done!
We’ll talk about the subject of inversion some other time. For now, I’d like to concentrate on using “nor,” and not on the inversion (= swapping the verb and subject). (I think it’s better to concentrate on one thing when you’re learning something new.)
Another example of using “nor:”
3) Precious few birds are singing in my block, nor are they seen nesting.
(Precious few means not many.)
The two things that are not in this sentence are:
a. Precious few birds are singing in my block.
b. They aren’t seen nesting.
Example 4. Now we’ll do things the other way. We’ll look at two simple negative sentences, and see whether we can connect them with nor.
a. Seffie didn’t realize how lucky he was to have such a wonderful partner.
b. He didn’t understand either that he needed to grow the relationship.
Can we connect the two sentences with “nor?” Yes, this is possible.
Complete sentence: Seffie didn’t realize how lucky he was to have such a wonderful partner, nor did he understand that he needed to grow the relationship.
Example 5: Again, we’ll take two sentences that we want to put together with nor.
a. Dr Eaton didn’t remember he left his coat on the train.
b. Neither did he remember his date with his girlfriend that same evening.
Complete sentence: Dr Eaton didn’t remember he left his coat on the train, nor that he had a date with his girlfriend that same evening.
Last example (6):
a. Sheila couldn’t remember the word she wanted to use in the exam.
b. She didn’t bring her favourite pen.
Complete sentence: Sheila couldn’t remember the word she wanted to use in the exam, nor did she bring her favourite pen.
Using Neither Instead of Nor
Before you use “nor” in any sentence where there are two things that are not, have a think whether you can say the same thing in a shorter way, by using neither. What do I mean?
Have a look at this example:
Peter isn’t going shopping today, nor is Katy going shopping.
So both Peter and Katy are doing the same thing, right? Or rather, they are not (going shopping).
Here, I can use neither, and then I can group Peter and Katy (= put them together).
So the improved sentence would be like this:
Neither Peter nor Katy is going shopping today.
As you can see, it’s shorter and easier to understand.
Note: Use “is” and not “isn’t” in this sentence, because “neither” is already negative.
Note 2: With neither, use a singular verb (So “is” and not “are.”)
The package to Madrid hasn’t been sent yet, nor has the package to Moscow been shipped.
Can you use neither here?
Yes, you can, because the situation with both packages is the same.
So the improved sentence would be:
Neither of the packages to Madrid nor Moscow has been shipped yet.
Note: with neither we use a singular verb, so “has” and not “have.”
Her aunt from Australia had never met her before her 12th birthday, nor had her uncle from Chili.
Can we put this in a sentence with neither?
Yes, we can.
Neither her aunt from Australia nor her uncle from Chili had ever met her before her 12th birthday.
Notice that “never” changes to “ever,” because “neither” is already negative, so we don’t need another negative.
Your manager never agreed to your taking a day off, nor did the workers’ committee.
Can we use neither here? Yes, no problem.
Neither your manager nor the workers’ committee ever agreed to your taking a day off.
Now try the quiz.
Click here to do this quiz online, and get the answers at the end of the quiz.
Decide where you can use neither, or where to keep the sentence as it is (with nor).
1 Damon hadn’t asked any questions since the class began, nor had Bianca uttered a word.
2 Stork Street couldn’t be used today, nor was Frog Lane open to traffic.
3 Francesca couldn’t swim, nor did she care for the beach very much.
4 Little did she know that there were baby crocodiles in the river, nor that there were some dangerous rapids ahead.
5 Buck didn’t have a clue about web development, nor did Mary have any expertise on internet programming.
6 The mountain trails can be pretty inaccessible in the winter months, nor are all the hotels open during this season.
7 Heavy snowfall made further trekking irresponsible, nor did we want to continue our climb.
8 The egg noodles weren’t a highlight of the banquet, nor was the chocolate pudding.
9 The new laptop didn’t arrive on time, nor was the ordered HD webcam delivered on time.
10 None of his friends forgot Dan’s birthday, nor did he neglect to invite all of them to his party.
Still confused? Send me an email, to email@example.com.
6 thoughts on “Nor: The Forgotten Word”
yes, that was my point. The writer wanted to convey that the microphone wasn’t working, and it didn’t work on either computer.
“Not both” indicates a logical NAND operation, whereas “neither” indicates a NOR operation.
Sorry, I didn’t get that. How can it not be working, but might be working on one of the computers?
OK, so it wouldn’t be the microphone itself that’s faulty. Rather, it would be a configuration or compatibility issue.
To me, the original sentence is grammatical but means something different: the microphone isn’t working on both machines (but may for all we know be working on one of them).