NOR And OR

When should nor be used and when or? If a neither or an either comes first there is no difficulty ; neither is always followed by nor and either by or. There can be no doubt that it is wrong to write "The existing position satisfies neither the psychologist, the judge, or the public". It should have been "neither the psychologist, nor the judge, nor the public". But when the initial negative is a simple not or no, it is often a puzzling question whether nor or or should follow. Logically it depends on whether the sentence is so framed that the initial negative runs on into the second part of it or is exhausted in the first; practically it may be of little importance which answer you give, for the meaning will be clear.

He did not think that the Bill would be introduced this month, nor indeed before the recess.

"He did not think" affects every thing that follows that. Logically therefore nor produces a double negative, as though one were to say "he didn't think it wouldn't be introduced before the recess".

The blame for this disorder does not rest with Parliament, or with the bishops, or with the parish priests. Our real weakness is the failure of the ordinary man.

Here the negative phrase "does not rest" is carried right through the sentence, and applies to the bishops and the parish priests as much as to Parliament. There is no need to repeat the negative, and or is logically right. But nor is so often used in such a construction that it would be pedantic to condemn it: if logical defence is needed one might say that "did he think it would be introduced" in the first example, and "does it rest" in the second were understood as repeated after nor. But if the framework of the sentence is changed to:

The blame for this disorder rests not with Parliament nor with the bishops, nor with the parish priests, but with the ordinary man,

it is a positive verb (rests) that runs through the sentence; the original negative (not) is attached not to the verb but to Parliament, and exhausts itself in exonerating Parliament. The negative must be repeated, and nor is rightly used.
« Grammar » « Guide » « ABC of Plain Words » « Use Of English » « Library » « Home »