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Sunday, 16 January 2011

Either/or...neither/nor

I'm working my way through the bookshelf, reading books I've not read before. Today was the turn of The Alchemist by Kenneth Goddard.

I ground to a halt on page one. Not because of some awefulness in the story (although there is plenty of that later on). It was because either was used with nor, instead of or.

You either use or with either or nor with neither :)

I looked at the mistake for a while and then realised the reason for the whoopsie. I think it happened because the author used 'not' before 'either'. So:

I did not understand either the question nor the answer

This is incorrect and should read:

I did not understand either the question or the answer.

Negatives in sentences are not usually a problem...although it was here.
Sentences with double negatives, on the other hand, can be downright confusing. For example:

I don't want not to go means I want to go.
I don't want nothing - often used in Britain to mean 'I want nothing' actually means I want something.

Great if I want my character to say something which misleads another character but otherwise best avoided!

My preferred alternative for the above incorrect either/nor sentence is:

I understood neither the question nor the answer.

Mmmm. I really enjoyed that :)
More about the book later...

2 comments:

  1. I know what you mean, the little things often irk me when reading a book these days. It wasn't always that way. I used to be able to read a book happily oblivious to all its flaws, and just enjoy the story. Now I find myself nitpicking most of the way through. Sadly I think it's one of the side effects of becoming a writer. Hopefully I'll learn how to switch that part of my brain off when I read in future.

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  2. I'm hoping it will settle down when I become more proficient at writing!

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