Nor vs or. Nor is a strange little word, one that I always think sounds a little formal. But it’s also a useful word, and one that it’s important to know how to use correctly. The definition of “nor” is “and not.” It is inherently negative and is used when you have multiple negative things.
Traditionally, of course, nor is used with neither. Similarly, you would use or with either.
A mnemonic trick to remember Nor vs Or
You need a pair of “n”s – like bookends.
Nor vs Or, Example 1
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
This classic quote, from Hamlet, is a great example of how to use nor. There are two things that Polonius is telling Laertes he shouldn’t be: borrower, lender. Since both are being expressed as negatives, you need “neither” and “nor.”
But what about when a sentence doesn’t use “neither?” How do you know when a nor is appropriate?
This does get a little trickier, but all you have to remember is that without a “neither,” you need to see whether the two negatives in the sentence are verbs or any other part of speech.
Nor vs Or, The rule?
Verbs need a “nor,” while everything else (noun, adjective, adverb) uses an “or.” This is because with anything other than a verb, the original negative covers all the elements listed.
Nor vs Or, Example 2
He didn’t want to order drinks or appetizers, because it would cost too much.
The original negative: “didn’t”. And what “didn’t” he want? “Drinks” and “appetizers.” Since these are both nouns, we use “or.”
Nor vs Or, Example 3
Because she will not run nor walk to school, she is forced to take the bus.
“Run” and “walk” are, of course, verbs, so we need to use “nor.”
So even though it’s a strange little word, it’s very useful in making sure readers know exactly what your negatives are.
Are you all ready for more grammar already?
Rachel is a full-on, hardcore grammar freak. Her favorite punctuation marks are parentheses, em dashes, and ellipses. She still loves adverbs but is trying to wean herself off of them. And she truly believes that it’s okay to split an infinitive. In addition to her grammar obsession, Rachel writes light contemporary romance – occasionally with a paranormal twist – and is published in short fiction.
I certainly appreciate your clear-cut examples of how and when to use those pesky little words with which we writers all seem to struggle.
Thanks Chris! Glad you find them helpful!