I have plenty of American clients. We communicate formally via emails and on calls. I have never seen them using neither-nor in the past 3 years.

I am stuck in a sentence where I feel I should use neither-nor but there is little hesitation.

So, the question is do they like seeing neither-nor in written/verbal English? Is it popular? I don't want to sound funny or ancient. If Yes, what can I use instead?


I will neither call you nor send you a message before midday.

  • 3
    Whether popular or not, it comes over like an ultimatum... perhaps use I won't be able to call or message you before midday. – Weather Vane Dec 17 '20 at 20:42
  • You're unlikely to get any definitive answers because the question is too ambiguous (who, specifically are "they"; what does it mean to "like seeing" a phrase; popular compared to what). But I (an American English speaker and email reader) can tell you that there is probably no instance where you couldn't use another phrasing. If you're at all concerned, use a more common phrasing: I won't call you or send you a message, I won't call you and I won't send you a message, Don't expect a call or a message before midday, I'll call or message you by midday at the earliest, etc. – Juhasz Dec 17 '20 at 20:43
  • Your example is weird. – Hot Licks Dec 17 '20 at 20:46
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    We understand it, but we don’t use it much except in formal writing such as legal documents. “not ... or” is usually good enough for informal writing or speech where some ambiguity can be tolerated. – StephenS Dec 17 '20 at 22:51

Yes, this expression is used, but it is a special-purpose expression.

It is used to emphasis that the thing named is unacceptable. It can be used to sternly forbid someone to do something:

In future you will neither remove nor deface any part of the apartment.

It can also be used to firmly refuse to do something one finds morally repugnant:

I will neither offer up the incense nor say the words acknowledging the divinity of the emperor!

Or to take a firm position in a dispute:

I will neither accede to your demands nor renounce my claims!

It may also have mundane uses, though it is considered more formal and comes across as emphatic:

Sorry, we have neither cream nor sugar for your coffee.

Ordinarily we would use "don't" as a negative auxiliary verb and phrase that as:

Sorry, we don't have any cream or sugar for your coffee.

The neither, nor construct can also be used to emphasis impossibility. For example, the unofficial motto of the US Postal Service:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Your example is weird because it implies one of two things:

  1. Your client has told you that it is extremely important that you not contact them before midday. You are using this special construction to show that you fully understand that contacting them before midday would be absolutely unacceptable to them and that you will be very careful not to do so.

  2. Your client has repeatedly demanded that you answer before midday, but you refuse, and now you are using this construction in a last attempt to convey to them that you consider these demand unreasonable and offensive and will not comply.

  • 2
    Looking at ecenglish.com/learnenglish/lessons/either-or-neither-nor it doesn't seem that strong... – Laurent S. Dec 17 '20 at 21:40
  • You gave good examples. The example that I shared wasn't the sentence that I wanted to write to client, just random sentence. But your answer helped me to understand and shape up my sentence now. – paul Dec 17 '20 at 21:41
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    It can be strong, since it's more formal than usual, but it doesn't have to be. It's definitely more formal than casual business communications, and may be more of a style thing. – Tim Dec 17 '20 at 21:47

It is often useful to reduce ambiguity. "Neither A nor B" clearly means "not (A or B)". "not A or B" can be ambiguous between "not (A or B)" versus "(not A) or B". If you ever get into the situation of needing to say something more complicated, such as "not( (A and B) or C)", then saying "Neither both A and B nor C" is much clearer than "not A and B or C". This decrease can somewhat be achieved with just "nor", however.

In my personal opinion, this increase in clarity outweighs it being a lesser used feature. Perhaps your using it will encourage your audience to take it up.

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