44

Given these facts:

  1. The tool cannot be found in the kitchen.
  2. The tool cannot be found in the bathroom.

Which is the correct sentence to represent the situation above?

  1. I can find the tool neither in the kitchen nor in the bathroom.
  2. I cannot find the tool neither in the kitchen nor in the bathroom.
  3. I cannot find the tool, neither in the kitchen nor in the bathroom.
  • 6
    I can find the tool neither in the kitchen nor in the bathroom or I cannot find the tool in either the kitchen or the bathroom – snumpy Jun 16 '11 at 13:45
  • 10
    Educated people in normal speech use "nor" all the time. – The Raven Jun 16 '11 at 15:48
  • 2
    Another variation, that sounds good to me, is "I cannot find the tool in the kitchen nor in the bathroom." Not submitting it as an answer since I'm not sure. – Henrik N Jun 16 '11 at 18:01
  • 4
    I am a person of questionable education and stature, yet I use 'nor' all the time. – horatio Jun 16 '11 at 19:48
  • 1
    Neither MikTeX nor TeXLive seem to have a converter from PDF to EPS. Does such a tool actually exist in either package, and if not, where would I find one? – mplungjan Jun 16 '11 at 19:50
47

The neither/nor combination expresses negation all by itself. Therefore it should be used with a positive statement. The following is correct.

I can find the tool neither in the kitchen nor in the bathroom.

  • 14
    Is it just me or is it also true for a native speaker that the following example: "It is neither in the kitchen nor in the bathroom." sounds much more natural than "I can find ... neither ... nor"? – Unreason Jun 16 '11 at 13:41
  • 2
    @Unreason: I think that sounds more natural because it's a simpler sentence. But "I can find ... neither ... nor" is unexceptionable. – Robusto Jun 16 '11 at 13:42
  • I certainly agree with ...it should be used with a positive... I'm not 100% sure, but I think the corollary 'neither' should not be used with a negative is also true. But the great lexical unwashed can't never get enough negation, so doubtless they do it all the time. – FumbleFingers Jun 16 '11 at 17:30
  • To me, this sentence sounds strange, but changing the word order makes it sound normal. I would say "I can neither find the tool in the kitchen nor in the bathroom." I'm not sure if other people would agree. – neil Sep 23 '11 at 12:34
  • @neil: You have neither governing the verb; this is a misusage. You either have to nave nor govern another verb or else switch it back to the noun, the way I had it. Neither is a conjunction that works with the correlative conjunction nor to address two like objects or actions. – Robusto Sep 23 '11 at 12:39
20

Or for simplicity you could just leave out the neither/either

I can't find the tool in the kitchen or the bathroom

is perfectly understandable.

This also has the advantage of working when talking to computer programmers who would look confused if you had searched for a single tool in the kitchen AND the bathroom.

  • 3
    +1 because even though technically speaking both @Robusto and @Martha are right on the grammaticality issue, you're far more right in terms of what it would be more desirable to actually say. – FumbleFingers Jun 16 '11 at 17:34
  • @FumbleFingers ultimately the point of language is to get the idea across - unless you're a lawyer or a philosophy major. – mgb Jun 16 '11 at 17:35
  • You're getting me worried now. I was all fired up for philosophy.se beta - but I shan't like it if verbosity rules there! :) – FumbleFingers Jun 16 '11 at 17:52
  • 2
    It feels like a case of emphasis. This form tends to emphasize that you can't find the tool, whereas the neither/nor form tends to emphasize where you can't find it. – edA-qa mort-ora-y Jun 16 '11 at 20:06
17

You need to either use a negative verb ("cannot"), or use neither/nor. Using the two together, like what that editor did to your post in TeX, is incorrect.

I can find the tool neither in the kitchen nor the bathroom.

I can't find the tool either in the kitchen or the bathroom.

I can't find the tool neither in the kitchen nor the bathroom.

I do want to note that, unless the context leads the reader to expect a negative, the "can find ... neither" version can be confusing. Thus, "can't find ... either" is in most cases the better choice.

9

I know this has been answered, but I couldn't resist chiming in anyway.

Think of it this way:

  • Neither = not either
  • Nor = Not or

I cannot find the tool not either in the kitchen not or in the bathroom.

Cannot + not = Can => I can => not what you're trying to express

  • @Kitḫ not a mnemonic -- that is the etymology, I believe. – Kris Jan 19 '12 at 12:27
  • @Kris Whether or not it is the etymology, it can still be a mnemonic. – Kit Z. Fox Jan 19 '12 at 13:09
3

I can find the tool in neither the kitchen nor the bathroom.

I don't think you need two ins. And as has been suggested you don't need a not if you're using a neither.

0

Another way to think about it is to consider the sentence:

I have neither the time, nor the patience to deal with you today.

It wouldn't make any sense at all if the word haven't was inserted in place of have.

0

Strictly speaking, only the the first sentence is unambiguously correct:

I can find the tool neither in the kitchen nor in the bathroom.

But what's intriguing to me is the third sentence in which a comma has been introduced. Without that comma, the sentence is unequivocally wrong. But a comma can be used to separate two independent clauses. Combine that with the concept of elision, and the third sentence could actually be interpreted as:

I cannot find the tool, it is neither in the kitchen nor in the bathroom.

I dislike that punctuation and I would either use a semicolon or make it two sentences. But if the sentence is interpreted that way then it only has a minor punctuation issue, while the use of 'neither' and 'nor' is actually correct.

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