Dear Peer Consultant,
I can never remember how to use “or” or “nor” in a sentence when I use the word “either.” Can you explain, please?
Sincerely, Nora Ora
Dear Nora Ora,
This is a good question! The basic rule you’re looking for is referred to as “either … or, neither … nor.” In most cases, the words “either” and “or” work together as a pair, whereas “neither” and “nor” work together.
While “either” and “or” connect two ideas where only one piece will prevail, “neither” and “nor” connected two pieces of the same idea. For example:
“Matt could either have chips or pretzels.”
“Matt would have neither chips nor pretzels.”
In the first example, Matt is facing a choice between two items: the chips and the pretzels. While in the second example, Matt has already made his choice against both the chips and pretzels.
While using “neither” and “nor,” be careful not to use another negative, or you will be faced with a double negative sentence. For example, if one was to add the word “not” to the example above, you would get a new example which would be incorrect such as:
“Matt would not have neither chips nor pretzels.”
Another helpful bit of information regarding the use of “nor” would be that if you do not use the word “neither,” you will not usually want to use the word “nor.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to write us. We hope this is a helpful response and wish you all the best for your upcoming writing. If you would like further assistance, you can come to the LAC, which is located in the Bradner Library.
Sincerely, The Writing Support Studio