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Still, dislike him as they might, Abu-'Ali's neighbours and kinsmen also held him in fear. The children of the hamlet were always careful to be discreet when they mimicked him: they would look up and down the lanes to make sure that neither he nor his burly eldest son, 'Ali, were in sight...

My question is how is might used here? Wouldn't it be better to say instead disliked him as they might have because the writer is talking about the past here? Also, shouldn't it be was there instead of were?

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    It's fine. Why would you doubt the grammar of a competent author whose work would have been checked by a copy editor? – BillJ Feb 6 at 8:52
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    Neither-nor NPs with singular coordinates can take either singular or plural agreement, cf. "Neither Mary nor John is/are here yet". – BillJ Feb 6 at 8:59
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In your example, might indicates what is or was expected.

Still, dislike him as they might, Abu-'Ali's neighbours and kinsmen also held him in fear. The children of the hamlet were always careful to be discreet when they mimicked him: they would look up and down the lanes to make sure that neither he nor his burly eldest son, 'Ali, were in sight...

This might is confusing because it brings to mind the idiom try as one might, which means to make a great effort but still be unable to do something.

Wouldn't it be better to say instead disliked him as they might have because the writer is talking about the past here?

No, not at all. That structure would be ungrammatical. Furthermore, might have can indicate the non-occurrence of an action or state.

If Mike had fallen, he might have gotten hurt.

Also, shouldn't it be was there instead of were?

You are right. From the book on English grammar that I have written:

Neither/nor is used to join two negative ideas. For example, Neither the players nor the coach is wrong about which days are off.

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  • Thanks. "the noun clause is compound" means what? I thought neither... nor takes a singular verb when both the items are singular, as here. – user40475 Feb 6 at 6:37
  • And what about dislike him as they might have? Is it ungrammatical too? Why? – user40475 Feb 6 at 6:39
  • That is still quite a bit off-center. Try this: While disliking Abu-'Ali strongly, his neighbours and kinsmen also held him in fear. – Patriot Feb 6 at 6:50
  • Ok. What about the neither-nor bit? – user40475 Feb 6 at 6:51
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    "...dislike him as they might have..." is not ungrammatical, but it is ambiguous. Consider that something can be grammatical and awkward or just plain wrong at the same time. – Patriot Feb 6 at 7:22

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