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Which is correct: "Neither Frank nor Germaine spoke French or German" or "Neither Frank nor Germaine spoke French nor German"?

The idea we are trying to get across is that Frank speaks neither French nor German, and Germaine speaks neither French nor German

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The first is correct. The second is questionable. Please forgive me for a long-winded explanation.

Neither A nor B = Not A and Not B = “None of A and B”. “French or German” is a noun phrase; call it C. So we have “None of A and B” spoke C. Not one spoke French; not one spoke German. This is what you want to say. Your first version is therefore correct.

“Nor” commonly follows “neither”, but not across a verb as in your second version, which uses it to connect Frank and Germaine in the subject, and then attempts to connect them with languages in the object. It may be used (sometimes stylistically) if there is a preceding reference. For example: “We called. All was still. Nor any answer came.“ Neither of these cases fits your second version, which is best regarded as questionable, or even wrong. If you replace the last nor by or, it is correct because the subject (Neither F nor G) and object (French or German) become clear.

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  • Does parallelism apply here though? "French [nor/or] German" is as you say a noun phrase, and parallelism applies across both phrases and clauses. Aug 29 '20 at 1:35
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    You could also use "Frank and Germaine speak neither French nor German".
    – Peter
    Aug 29 '20 at 4:36

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