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A Word About "Nor"

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Nor After Negatives

The conjunction nor can serve either as a coordinating conjunction or as part of the correlative conjunction neither . . . nor. As a coordinating conjunction, it can join a complete independent clause. When used in this way, it continues the negative state in the preceding clause (usually shown by not, no, never, etc.). Here we see its role in continuing a negative state.

He left and I never saw him again, nor did I regret it. Random House, p. 1321.

The word nor also joins elements in a series within a given clause. It can appear even if a negative state already exists. At least according to Random House, the word nor can follow other negatives:

They won’t wait for you, nor for me, nor for anybody. Random House, p. 1321.

Personally, I prefer to use the word or when a negative has already been established in the sentence or clause. Bryan Garner concurs:

Where the negative of a clause has already appeared and a disjunctive conjunction is needed, or is generally better than nor. The initial negative carries through to all the elements in an enumeration. Garner Legal, p. 597 and Garner Oxford, p. 230.

In Garner Legal, we find this example:

When on the witness stand at the trial of this case, he could not see the trial judge nor [read or] the examiner who was five feet away. Garner Legal, p. 597.

In Garner Oxford, this example appears:

There have been no bombings nor [read or] armed attacks by one side against the other. Garner Oxford, p. 230.

Thus, if I had to edit the Random House example of nor joining elements in a series when a negative has already been established, I would opt for or:

They won’t wait for you, or for me, or for anybody.

Starting a Sentence with Nor

Finally, notice in the editorial by The Washington Post quoted earlier that the writer began a sentence with Nor. Notice also the need to invert the sentence: “Nor is it the case . . . .” Here the subject it follows the verb is.

The same will hold true for an action verb in a sentence begun by Nor. You will have to use an auxiliary verb and put the subject between the auxiliary and the main verb. Study the Random House example above: “. . . nor did I regret it.”

Try it out. Whenever you begin a clause with Nor, you’ll have to invert the clause, by putting the verb to be before the subject (Nor am I happy about his development) or by using an auxiliary (will, do, have, others) and putting the subject between the auxiliary and the main verb (Nor will he listen to me).

We saw the same need to invert when we started a sentence with the correlative conjunction not only . . . but (also).

Multiple Nors

The Postal Service’s Slogan

Writers often ask if they can use multiple nors in a series. I always respond by citing … The U.S. Postal Service:

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Or I respond by citing the keeper of the Queen’s English, Mr. Henry Fowler:

The type neither .. nor .. nor clearly falls within the bounds of legitimacy: e.g., Neither rain, nor cold, nor obscure polling places could keep voters from their civic duty yesterday (referring to a U.S. presidential election); But the comment that receives the heartiest agreement concerns neither the war, nor the earthquake, nor the crime rate—Observer Mag. 1992. New Fowler, p. 527.

 

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