2

Is one of these correct two versions and the other incorrect, or are they both correct?

  1. Those on the bottom had neither the ability nor the opportunity to get to the top.

  2. Those on the bottom did not have the ability nor the opportunity to get to the top.

Are they both grammatically correct, or can you never use nor without having neither next to it?

Is “not this nor that” a grammatical construction in English, or must it only ever be “neither this nor that” or else “not this or that”?

When can you use nor?

3

(I suspect this is not actually a case of — nor one of , either. Maybe.)

It might sound a little bit old-fashioned or formal, but yes, your second sentence is certainly allowed. See here. I might well use your sentence, at least in writing or formal, crafted speech.

It’s a pernicious myth that nor cannot be used without having been preceded by *neither. It’s up to the writer and their preferred style for that sentence, not some imagined rule grammar:

  1. Those on the bottom had neither the ability nor the opportunity to get to the top.
  2. Those on the bottom did not have the ability, nor the opportunity, to get to the top.
  3. Those on the bottom did not have the ability or the opportunity to get to the top.
  4. Those on the bottom did not have the ability or opportunity to get to the top.
  5. Those on the bottom hadn’t the ability or opportunity to get to the top.
  6. Those on the bottom had no ability nor opportunity to get to the top.
  7. Those on the bottom had no ability to get to the top, nor the opportunity.
  8. Those on the bottom had no ability to get to the top, nor had they any opportunity to do so.

I have seen broken software try to tell you that only one or two of those are allowed, but that’s just a bug in the limited experience with real English by the misdesigner of that software.

  • 2
    You'd know the terminology better than me, but is it not the case that nor is / requires a "negative polarity", and that the idea it must be paired with neither is simply a false / gross oversimplification? – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Nov 20 '16 at 18:40
  • It's not a myth. In most (institutional) style guides for most academic institutions or formal writing, they would probably want neither/nor. That said whatever the people she want, the people she can get. But that is a separate issue. Can you wear shorts to a black-tie dinner? Sure. But your hosts might quickly disinvite you too. Why does everybody get bogged down in moralism? There is The Way of the World, and then, there are our thoughts about that. – Lambie Nov 20 '16 at 18:50
  • @Lambie Says who? Imprecise words like "most" and “probably" simply do not cut it when such extraördinary claims are presented, for these always demand extraördinary evidence in equal measure. To that end, I entreat you to present concrete, documented examples to back up this wild assertion. – tchrist Nov 20 '16 at 20:09
  • I think you're right about "unpaired nor" being a "little bit old-fashioned or formal". I just checked NGrams for have not the time nor and not you nor. They both show a significant decline over the past century. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Nov 21 '16 at 13:34
  • The problem with any language opinion is that it is not like an opinion in science. Nevertheless: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_English I make no value judgment. I am a LINGUIST. That said, I follow what my clients want. There is nothing extraordinary about my claim. – Lambie Nov 21 '16 at 15:16
1

Many people in current times try to make an easy rule that the word "nor" must be used only after using the word "neither."

The history of good use of the English language doesn't make such a strict rule.

In the original instance, either sentence is fine and its style has been applied many times in the English language.

0

Agree with 1 alternatives to 5."Neither...nor" is preferable.

I disagree with dropping the "the" (ability) in alternatives 6.7. and 8. Dropping the "the" changes the meaning. The meaning is not that they have no ability (at all), but do not have the (required) ability.

Two "not"s is correct but would be clumsy, as it would require alternatives two distinct phrases: "Those on the bottom did not have the ability and (moreover) they did not have the opportunity to..."

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