Consider the following excerpt:

For several generations, my father's family has owned a cottage on California's North Coast, in Mendocino County. Valley Inn is the name it was given, which is unfortunate, as it neither lies in or near a valley nor operates (has ever operated) as an inn.

The structure of the last independent clause of the second sentence seems to be

It neither [VERB 1] nor [VERB 2] or [VERB 3],

where [VERB 1] is "lies . . ." [VERB 2] is "operates," and [VERB 3] is "has ever operated."

My claim is that the author has left out, but implied, an "or" between "operates" and "has ever operated." (In addition, the author has placed "has ever operated" in parentheses.)

So I read the excerpted sentence above as logically equivalent to

. . . neither lies in or near a valley nor operates or has ever operated as an inn.

Is it grammatical to embed a "[VERB 2] or [VERB 3]" expression within a "neither [VERB 1] nor [VERB X]" expression, to make

neither [VERB 1] nor ([VERB 2] or [VERB 3])?

I'm looking for an explanation in addition to a "yes or no" answer.

One might also comment on whether the sentence uses good style.

In addition, consider this adjustment:

. . . neither lies in or near a valley nor operates (indeed, has ever operated) as an inn.


2 Answers 2


Let's simplify the sentence. I think this is the root version of the part you are interested in:

...neither lies in a valley NOR operates as an inn.

Your question is about the insertion of the parenthetical "(has ever operated)." Could it have an "or" in front of it? Should it have an "or" in front of it?

It is a little unusual, but not against any rule I know of, to have an "or" subclause nested inside a larger "NEITHER-NOR" structure --in fact this very same sentence has one earlier ("in OR near"). It has the potential to make things confusing, but in this case the parentheses would help eliminate the ambiguities.

Should it have an "or"? In this case, although the final meaning is the same, I would read the author not as eliding the "or" but as using the parenthetical as a direct modification of the meaning of "operated." Again, it's an unusual choice, but not technically a "wrong" one. I personally find the passage stylistically acceptable but a little old-fashioned. Modern style prefers simpler sentence structures. This older style, with more convoluted sentences, is a little baroque, but it does give a distinctive character to the author's voice.

  • 1
    good point about the author "using the parenthetical as a direct modification." it's like the author wants to replace "operates" with "has ever operated."
    – abcd
    Jun 11, 2015 at 20:31
  • 1
    I think that's right. He wants you to read it once with "operates" and then he immediately intensifies it with "has ever operated." It's more of a rhetorical trick you'd expect to hear out loud that something you would typically write. Jun 11, 2015 at 20:54

To recapitulate: Clause one

Valley(!) Inn(2) is the name...

clause two describes the name as inept;

...which is unfortunate, as...

Now, neither .. nor explains why neither Valley nor Inn are 'fortunate'/ apt

as it lies neither (1) in-or-near a valley nor (2) operates (has ever...) ...as an inn.

An extra nor, or an extra or, would destroy the Valley: 1 Inn 2 :: neither 1 : nor 2 balance. He can get away with this by treating the phrase 'in or near' as a compound preposition. Noah Webster gives be-fore as an example and compares it to the French 'aupres' - at or near.'A Dictionary of the English Language'

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.