"The significant effects proposed by the 5 packages do not agree --neither with each other nor with the book."

Is this really wrong? I know the rule about using neither/nor only with affirmative statements, but it just feels so right.

I'm proofreading a text and wanted to add this. But the grammar check insists that it's incorrect (I know, not always reliable). I was hoping that setting it apart with the double-hyphen would separate it sufficiently from the affirmative verb.

  • 1
    I'd say even putting it as a sentence fragment would require either ... or. The 'significant results' promised in the documentation accompanying the 5 packages do not agree. Either with each other or with the book. (I changed the example as I feel it sounds strange to talk about proposing effects.) – Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '14 at 9:56
  • I wonder if this is a question of prescriptive versus descriptive rules. My example sounds right to me, and I suspect people actually speak that way. It could be argued that "neither/nor" here adds more emphasis, in a similar way as adding an unnecessary auxiliary verb (e.g., "The packages do not calculate the effects, but they do identify outliers.") Double and sometimes even triple negatives exist correctly in other languages as intensifiers, and are still attractive to English speakers for this use, despite a protracted war against them. – Matt Feb 27 '14 at 11:55
  • A Google Ngram seems to indicate that it's not a commonly used construction. Why use a construction you're not sure about when there's a perfectly acceptable and widely-used alternative? – Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '14 at 12:05

Here is what I think sounds best (total opinion = the presence of the punctuation in this case doesn't change the grammar).

In the negative case, I would use either/or with a comma (or dash).

  • "The significant effects proposed by the 5 packages do not agree, either with each other or with the book."

In the positive case, I would use neither/nor but without punctuation.

  • "The significant effects proposed by the 5 packages agree neither with each other nor with the book."
  • The comma is optional in your first version but would be incorrect in the second. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '14 at 10:14
  • sometimes my opinion agrees with the rules :) – philshem Feb 27 '14 at 10:23
  • Some would disagree, but I believe that grammar often does change with punctuation. "Let's eat Bob" is famously a different construction from "Let's eat, Bob". So if you say '...the presence of the punctuation doesn't change the grammar', this is untrue in the second version. The comma makes the sentence ungrammatical. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '14 at 11:24
  • good point - I added "in this case" – philshem Feb 27 '14 at 11:59

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