"Neither light exposes him Nor darkness hides him"

It's used in an Arabic story, and I want to translate the whole story into English , so I wonder If it is right beacause it is a literal translation ! Is its meaning clear to English readers ? Is there any grammatical error in my translation ?

  • 3
    With the exception that Nor should not be capitalised, it looks fine to me. Oct 24, 2018 at 9:50
  • It sounds like old-fashioned grammar to me (although the meaning is completely clear, and translating an Arabic story with old-fashioned grammar might be appropriate). A more modern rendition would be Neither does light expose him nor does darkness hide him. Oct 24, 2018 at 10:56
  • Yes, this is old-fashioned phrasing. But if this is an old-fashioned Arabic story, or an Arabic story written about times long ago, your phrase would be good. Of course, then you would do the rest of the translation with archaic-sounding phrasing. That could be effective. But it could be difficult to do, unless you often read such things in English.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 24, 2018 at 14:35

1 Answer 1


It's understandable, but it comes over as a very literary form (which might be what you want), for two reasons.

First, "Neither .. nor" can coordinate many different grammatical constructs: noun phrases (I drink neither tea nor coffee.), verb phrases (I neither want nor expect your thanks) and complete predicates (I neither watched TV nor went to the park), but it doesn't usually coordinate whole sentences, as in your example. It can do, but it's uncommon in ordinary speech, and feels literary.

Secondly, when "neither" does stand first in a clause in this way, it tends to behave like other negative-polarity terms, and trigger inversion:

Scarcely had he left the room ... (not Scarcely he had left the room ...)

Never could I imagine that! (not Never I could imagine that!)

So your example would more commonly be

Neither does light expose him, nor does darkness hide him.

This is a tendency, so what you have said is not ungrammatical in the way that Never I could imagine that! would be; but to me it makes it very literary, almost archaic. It does sound better in a poetic sense, though.

  • 1
    I like that. I wonder whether Arabic has the equivalent of the "does <noun> <verb>" grammatical structure, I suspect that it might be pretty much unique to English because of the nature of English infinitives. If Arabic doesn't have that form then your suggestion is a literal translation just as much as the one the OP gives.
    – BoldBen
    Oct 24, 2018 at 16:50
  • Modern English's requirement for "do-support" in negatives and interrogatives is unusual, but similar structures are found in other languages. (It's nothing to do with the English infinitive: it's because English has abandoned the traditional "verb not" except for auxiliaries). I doubt that Arabic has anything that works that way, but there may be other constructions which involve more than one verb: I'm pretty sure there are in Biblical Hebrew.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 25, 2018 at 21:51

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