Neither-nor and the Freedom of Choice

I am having so much fun today I can hardly stand it. It’s the 4th of July, and I am celebrating the precious freedom to spend my time as I choose.

What does freedom of choice have to do with neither-nor, a pair of correlative conjunctions? It relates to a rule of grammar I described a few days ago. Here’s an excerpt from this rule as it appears in The Chicago Manual of Style:

Correlative conjunctions are used in pairs, often to join successive clauses that depend on each other to form a complete thought. Correlative conjunctions must frame structurally identical or matching sentence parts . . . each member of the pair should immediately precede the same part of speech. Examples:

Neither Sarah nor Sam plans to attend the concert.

Either George or the twins are going to bring the sushi.

In The Copyeditor’s Handbook, author Amy Einsohn explains that while grammatical formalists “insist that a pair of singular nouns joined by neither . . . nor is singular . . . notionalists allow the pair to be treated as singular or plural, depending on the emphasis desired.” Einsohn offers the following example:

Neither the president nor the secretary was at the meeting . . .

But . . .

Neither the president nor the secretary were at the meeting.

Are you a formalist or a notionalist? The choice is yours. It may be a small matter: But small choices make up much of our lives and so determine the extent of our freedom.


Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio


About 123clear

I translate foggy information into plain English.
This entry was posted in correlative conjunction, number, parts of speech, word usage. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Neither-nor and the Freedom of Choice

  1. Tim says:

    Formalist! Though I wouldn’t make much of it in spoken English …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s