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First, this is not a dupe of:

"Not bad either" versus "not bad neither"

nor a dupe of:

"Neither Michael nor Albert is correct" or "Neither Michael nor Albert are correct"?

So on to my question...

I'm not a native english speaker and there's something that I always find very strange when I read sentence containing the following construct:

"and try not to be shocked or overreact if..."

Isn't something using "neither/nor" better, like maybe the following:

"and try neither to be shocked nor overreact if..."

To me the first sentence can be interpreted in two ways:

  • you should either try not to be shocked or you should overreact (wrong of course, this is not what the writer meant but in other case it is not that obvious that it is a wrong interpretation

  • you should try not to be shocked and you should also not overreact

while with the second sentence, there's no room for interpretation (once again, in this case in the first sentence it can be deduced from the sentence but I often encounter cases where it is not so).

So... not/or or neither/nor?

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I agree that this question is not a duplicate of english.stackexchange.com/questions/1144/…; that question is really asking if it should be used is or are. The questions are in someway related, but they don't duplicate each other. –  kiamlaluno Jan 26 '11 at 9:20
    
There is no room for confusion in either sentence. If you use not followed by or, I believe the meaning of both alternatives is always taken to be negative. If you want the meaning of the second alternative to be positive, you need to say "and try not to be shocked, but overreact if ..." –  Peter Shor Sep 27 '11 at 3:08

2 Answers 2

...and try not to be shocked or overreact if...

In this sentence, you're telling them that what they must try to avoid is any of being shocked or overreacting. In essence, you're asking them:

...[try not] to [either be shocked or overreact]...

And not, for instance:

...either [try not to be shocked] or [overreact]...

Phrases with neither...nor are more explicit, but also more formal, and I think not...or is much more common for lists where all items are negative.

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The NOAD defines nor as:

used before the second or further of two or more alternatives (the first being introduced by a negative such as neither or not) to indicate that they are each untrue or each do not happen: they were neither cheap nor convenient | the sheets were never washed, nor the towels, nor his shirts.

Or should be used when the first of two or more alternatives is not a negative phrase.

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