I am correcting a translation for a friend. He wanted to say:

"Don't look for treasure nor earthly pleasure."

This sounds wrong to me. I would say:

"Look not for treasure nor earthly pleasure."

The following would be correct: "Don't look for treasure or earthly pleasure," but he wants to use "nor" for emphasis. I have lived abroad for 35 years and so my grammar has slipped. All I have left to go on is how things sound. Which of these is right?

  • 1
    If Kipling could use "nor" after "don't" (And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise) I don't see why your friend shouldn't be able to, as well. Of course, Kipling was writing poetry. If your friend is writing something that is meant to be in very formal English, it might be a good idea to rephrase it. – Peter Shor Jul 11 '14 at 11:45

Both of the following seem fine:

Look not for treasure or earthly pleasure.

Look neither for treasure nor earthly pleasure.

The following seems odd:

Look not for treasure nor earthly pleasure.

Consider a plain example:

If I have no pen and no pencil:

I don't have a pen or a pencil.


I have neither a pen nor a pencil.

But the negation is perfectly clear in the first example of the two. In fact, that's what we usually say it, right?

I often see sentences such as the following:

I don't have a pen nor a pencil.

I consider this to be maybe a form of hypercorrection. Just a hunch, but people seem to be very apprehensive about the use of "or" recently, perhaps as a result of the growing influence of legalese on regular language.

  • It is not acceptable to say, "I don't have a pen NOR a pencil". It is but acceptable as pidgin. – Blessed Geek Jul 11 '14 at 8:03
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    I don't think that "I don't have a pen NOR a pencil" qualifies as pidgin, not within the usual meaning of the word within linguistics. The sentence hovers beneath total acceptability in good (Br)E but it's entirely comprehensible and doesn't jar too hard on the ear. – High Performance Mark Jul 11 '14 at 8:43
  • I don't have a pen, nor do I have a pencil. ? – Chuckk Hubbard Apr 9 '18 at 0:42

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