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I wasn't forcing myself to say anything, or/nor trying to be funny.

"Or" sounds more grammatically correct to me. But "nor" has more Google results. So I'm confused.

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Could you show us exactly what you mean by "more Google results"? –  Pitarou Aug 1 at 14:58
This google.com/… vs this google.com/… –  janoChen Aug 1 at 15:04
Uh, I think there's something wrong in that search. –  janoChen Aug 1 at 15:09
As the sentence stands, I would use or. Now, if there were to be a period connecting the two parts as different sentences, then nor would be a better fit: I wasn't forcing myself to say anything. Nor was I trying to be funny. –  Manish Giri Aug 1 at 16:50
@ janoChen: Those Google searches are pointless. The particular word anything has no relevance whatsoever to the grammar of your example - it could just as well have been forcing myself to say something, but it wouldn't make any difference to the grammar if you'd had some completely different activity there, such as "I wasn't trying to impress the other people, or..." –  FumbleFingers Aug 1 at 16:50

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Garner in his Modern American Usage (p571) would recommend or in Op's sentence. As Garner states:

When the negative of a clause or phrase has appeared at the outset of an enumeration, and a disjunctive conjunction is needed, or is generally better than nor. The initial negative carries through to all the enumerated elements-e.g:

"There have been no bombings nor [read or] armed attacks by one side against the other." William D. Montalbano, "Links to IRA Seen in Rash of Violence in Northern Ireland," L.A. Times 12 Jan 1996.

Peters, in the Cambridge Guide to English Usage (p378) has a more nuanced discussion:

The use of nor is probably declining, even in its core domain of coordinating two negative phrases. Compare:

  • The gallery will not be open on Sundays or public holidays.

  • The gallery will not be open on Sundays nor public holidays.

Both sentences are perfectly acceptable English, but the first shows that nor is not really needed to extend the negation over to "public holidays". Rather it may seem to overdo the expression of the negative for the purposes of a single announcement. This use of nor for the second coordinate underscores the parallelism of the two phrases, and in the context of fine writing, with more extended coordinates, it would seem to have its place. For example:

"The word universal is never the name of anything in nature, nor of any idea or phantasm found in the mind ... "

Substitute or for nor in that sentence, and the structure and meaning are still perfectly viable. The negative scope of never carries over to the second coordinate. But the use of nor helps to reaffirm the negative after a complex phrase, and to lift the latter part of the sentence.

The last point that Peters makes above endorses what FumbleFingers says in his or her answer.

Note of course that nor is mandatory if the sentence continues with a new clause:

I wasn't forcing myself to say anything, nor was I trying to be funny.

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It's entirely a stylistic choice whether to use nor or or here, but my guess is the vast majority would opt for or. If we consider a simplified version (still using "continuous" verb participles, but without the syntactically-irrelevant adjunct clauses)...

I wasn't shouting or arguing

...I think almost no native speakers would use nor. To my mind, the only real justification for using nor at all in such contexts is when the first activity (shouting in my example, forcing myself to say anything in OP's) is such a long phrase the reader might need "reminding" of the continuing negating effect of the initial wasn't when he finally reaches the point in the text where the other thing that I wasn't doing is reached. And I don't think that need particularly applies here.

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That was the rule which I was trying to remember. But I would still use 'nor' in the OP's example, just sounds more natural to my ear. –  WS2 Aug 1 at 16:55
+1. I don't think I agree about it being entirely a stylistic choice, but the rest of the first paragraph I agree with, and it sure beats @WS2's answer, IMO. I also wonder about the purported use of nor to "remind" listeners etc. That sounds pretty far-fetched to me. –  Drew Aug 1 at 16:59
@Drew: If you don't think it's a stylistic choice, presumably you have some grammatical rule in mind that would require either nor or or here. I'd be truly fascinated to hear more about how this rule works. I'm being facetious, obviously - I think there is absolutely no possibility of any such rule. (But by all means please surprise me! :) –  FumbleFingers Aug 1 at 17:03
Your "presumably" does not follow logically. I am not convinced of the stylistic choice claim; that's all. I have no rule to prove that it is not a stylistic choice. And I agree with you that almost no native speakers would use nor. My guess is stronger: that there would be none who would use nor here. But guesses about 100%/0% are often inaccurate. –  Drew Aug 1 at 17:16
@Drew: I don't understand. Obviously WS2 (a native speaker) actually prefers nor in this exact context. And it's easy to construct shorter or longer versions of the same basic construction, which steer us more definitively towards or or nor respectively. If the first "denied action" had been, for example, "wasn't forcing myself to say anything that would make them think I was a great fan of opera", I myself would probably lean more towards nor (because I'd definitely want to restate the implied main verb "...nor was I trying to be funny" after that long gap!). –  FumbleFingers Aug 1 at 17:30

Either is potentially possible: it essentially depends on where you want to place the "not" in the imaginary structure of your sentence. You can have a single negative ("not"/"n't") that negates both constituents:

wasn't ( .... or ....)

or a negative for each constituent:

was (not ... nor ....)

I would concur with FumbleFingers that, of the two choices, the first is probably more idiomatic in everyday native speaker usage.

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I would use 'nor' in this instance.

It wasn't Jane who told me, nor was it Samantha.

I have never been there on a Saturday, nor on a Sunday.

he didn't expect to win a gold medal, nor, for that matter, a silver or bronze.

In this last example I feel sure it should be 'or' between silver and bronze, but I am struggling to recall the rule which determines that.

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I wasn't singing nor dancing? –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 1 at 15:23
@EdwinAshworth - you're going to the wrong places then... –  SW4 Aug 1 at 15:30
I don't buy that "correct" assertion. Here are 234 written instances of the syntactically-identical "not breathing or moving" in Google Books. There's not a single instance of "not breathing nor moving", which doesn't surprise me in the least. In OP's context, nor is slightly more "justifiable", but personally I still much prefer or there too. –  FumbleFingers Aug 1 at 16:32
@EdwinAshworth In that example I might use either depending on the specific nuance. Let's say I was trying to emphasise how quiet I had been. Whilst admitting I had made some noise, I might add - 'I wasn't singing or dancing'. However if I were supposed to be taking part in a talent competition and discovered that they had failed to enter me for anything I might complain, 'I wasn't singing, nor was I dancing. Why did they bother to invite me?' –  WS2 Aug 1 at 17:01
@FumbleFingers I agree absolutely. One sees the value of these threads. –  WS2 Aug 2 at 15:48

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