The Ground Hog: Either/Or Neither/Nor

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Mrs. Ramsey, my 5th grade grammar teacher, used to tell us either is always paired with or, and neither is always paired with nor.   Ah, if only grammar was that easy.

I can follow most grammar rules.

I was fortunate to have parents who insisted that I “speak like you are educated.” But there are some word combinations that just trip me up; some combinations that make me have to stop and think.

Take Punxsutawney Phil and his Ground Hog Day predictions.

The ground hog either  sees his shadow or  he doesn’t.

 Simple, right? The two words, either and or, are positive conjunct-tions that fit together. We’ll either have an early spring or we won’t.

Now let’s throw some negativity into our sentences.

The town’s folk neither care nor believe in the Ground Hog’s prediction.

That sentence wasn’t too hard, was it? The two words, neither and nor, are negative conjunctions that fit together. The two negatives agree; the people don’t care and they don’t believe.

So far, I think I have it. 

I don’t usually have much difficulty with these simple straightforward sentences.  It’s when someone slips an extra negative into the sentence that things start to get confusing. Just like in math, stick a negative into the statement and it throws everything askew.

If there is another negative somewhere else in the sentence, we have to change neither into either and change nor into or.

———————————————————————————————————

For example. . .

The town’s folk neither care nor believe in the Ground Hog’s prediction.

Now add a negative and change to either:

NONE of the town’s folk either care or believe in the Ground Hog’s prediction.

———————————————————————————————————

Let’s try another one. . .

The lady saw neither the ground hog nor his hole.

Now add a negative and change to either:

The lady DIDN’T see either the ground hog or his hole.


Still with me so far? 
These are called correlative conjunctions.

Correlative conjunctions are two-part connecting words such as both . . .and; whether. . .or; and not only. . .but also. Perhaps yourdictionary.com does a better job at explaining this nuance in English grammar “Correlative conjunctions are sort of like tag-team conjunctions. They come in pairs, and you have to use both of them in different places in a sentence to make them work.”

 – – – – – – NOW THE TOUGH STUFF – – – – – –

What if we tried to use NEITHER in a short conversation?

This is where we have to think about negatives.  Our base sentence below contains the negative — the word “don’t.”  To agree with the statement,  our response must also contain a negative.   But remember the old rule about double negatives being a no-no.  We choose to use  either or neither by paying attention to whether there is another negative in the statement.   If we want to agree with the basic statement, our response must also have a negative word.

I don’t believe the ground hog’s predictions. (Single negative with word “don’t“)

  • Possible response 1:  Neither do I.  (Single negative with the word “Neither.“)
  • Possible response 2:  I don’t either.  (Single negative with work “don’t“)
  • Possible response 3:  Me neither (Single negative with word “neither.”)
Let’s try another one. . .

I can’t wait for spring.  (Single negative with word “can’t“)

  • Possible response 1:  Neither can I.  (Single negative with the word “Neither.“)
  • Possible response 2:  I don’t either.  (Single negative with work “don’t“)
  • Possible response 3:  Me neither (Single negative with word “neither.”)

 

 

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