I know the correct statement is "He likes neither apples nor oranges", but I also know that we can say "He does not like apples or oranges" and this puts the negation before the verb and it sounds better to me like that, with a negation before the verb. Therefore, for me, "He neither likes apples nor oranges" sounds better than "He likes neither apples nor oranges". Logically, I see it as a shortcut for "He neither likes apples nor likes oranges", the second "likes" being implicit.

My question is: in day to day usage among native English speakers does putting neither before the verb in this sentence sound OK or does it sound weird? I don't care about rules. I care about how it sounds and that ordinary people can understand.

  • 1
    He neither likes apples nor eats them. The neither goes before the verb when there are two different verbs. Otherwise it does not. – Lambie May 3 at 14:06
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    The ordering of your sentence is a bit off. You are saying, He likes neither apples nor [does he like] oranges. The ordering in your sentence, however, is better suited for a sentence such as, He neither likes apples nor dislikes apples. – EllieK May 3 at 14:06
  • Lambie I made it clear that I know the rule that you stated. Elliek, are you saying that "He likes neither apples nor oranges" is also incorrect? I don't get it. We can use the neither-nor combination with nouns. – Dominic108 May 3 at 14:15
  • I don't see it as "incorrect" at all. Merely a variant. It certainly doesn't affect understanding, – James K May 3 at 14:26
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    From Good English: The mechanics of composition (1918) - The following sentences are incorrect : I neither like him nor his father. He not only asked him to go but also to take his luggage with him. Here they are corrected, I like neither him nor his father. He asked him not only to go but also to take his luggage with him. It is a rather pedantic position, though. – FumbleFingers May 3 at 14:36

Firstly, both of your constructs will be correctly understood by your audience. With that in mind, I would not use incorrect to describe either of them. This answer is directed at determining which construct is pedantically better.

Neither/Nor is negation (neither) coupled with the associated negative conjunction (nor). The location of Neither in relationship to the sentence's subject or verb determines what is being negated and both sides of the Nor must balance (i.e. describe the same thing).

In sentence #1, He likes neither apples nor oranges, neither comes before apples and negates apples. The nor must then also apply to negating something similar, in this case any noun will do (oranges, onions, buzzards).

In sentence #2, He neither likes apples nor dislikes apples, neither comes before likes and negates likes. It does not negate apples. Since we have negated like we need to balance our Nor statement with something that can be compared to likes (i.e. dislikes, loves, hates). You could technically use any verb, He neither likes apples nor swims rivers, but such usage would apply to specific, contextually understood situations.

Negate two nouns or two verbs or two adjectives or two adverbs but do not mix your negations. That's the whole point.

He condescends neither leisurely nor casually. It's all business.

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    My pedantic version would never be He likes neither apples nor oranges, because I don't want to negate apples and oranges. I want to negate likes , because it conveys more directly the feeling. So, my pedantic version would be He neither likes apples nor likes oranges. Seen that way, I feel the non pedantic version has a logical purpose, which is to avoid a repetition that the audience does not need. – Dominic108 May 3 at 21:31
  • @Lambie - I know they will understand because there is only one way to understand. Answer updated with nod to the two verb bit. – EllieK May 4 at 12:19
  • @user135315 You and EllieK are misusing the word pedantic. You can't imagine how funny it sounds to a native ear as used here. – Lambie May 4 at 13:33

neither and nor have to precede the parts of speech or phrases to which they apply so that there is parallelism in the sentence:


  • He likes neither apples nor oranges.
  • They played neither waltzes nor mazurkas.


  • They neither sweep the floor nor clean it.
  • We neither fund those parties nor support them.
  • You have been neither seeing those people nor communicating with them.
  • Alternate wording: You have neither been seeing those people nor been communicating with them. (Here, the second been is often left out in speech.)


  • She is neither rude nor polite.
  • Though that was an intentional mistake, it was neither funny nor amusing.


  • The man spoke neither well nor badly.
  • The machine whirred continually and loudly.

Neither/nor is generally associated with somewhat formal speech and writing in standard speech or grammar. Generally, a speaker who is not trying to be formally emphatic, will use a negative verb and forgo neither/nor in favor of either/or.


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