Learn English – neither . . . nor . . . or


Consider the following excerpt:

For several generations, my father's family has owned a cottage on California's North Coast, in Mendocino County. Valley Inn is the name it was given, which is unfortunate, as it neither lies in or near a valley nor operates (has ever operated) as an inn.

The structure of the last independent clause of the second sentence seems to be

It neither [VERB 1] nor [VERB 2] or [VERB 3],

where [VERB 1] is "lies . . ." [VERB 2] is "operates," and [VERB 3] is "has ever operated."

My claim is that the author has left out, but implied, an "or" between "operates" and "has ever operated." (In addition, the author has placed "has ever operated" in parentheses.)

So I read the excerpted sentence above as logically equivalent to

. . . neither lies in or near a valley nor operates or has ever operated as an inn.

Is it grammatical to embed a "[VERB 2] or [VERB 3]" expression within a "neither [VERB 1] nor [VERB X]" expression, to make

neither [VERB 1] nor ([VERB 2] or [VERB 3])?

I'm looking for an explanation in addition to a "yes or no" answer.

One might also comment on whether the sentence uses good style.

In addition, consider this adjustment:

. . . neither lies in or near a valley nor operates (indeed, has ever operated) as an inn.

Best Answer

Let's simplify the sentence. I think this is the root version of the part you are interested in:

...neither lies in a valley NOR operates as an inn.

Your question is about the insertion of the parenthetical "(has ever operated)." Could it have an "or" in front of it? Should it have an "or" in front of it?

It is a little unusual, but not against any rule I know of, to have an "or" subclause nested inside a larger "NEITHER-NOR" structure --in fact this very same sentence has one earlier ("in OR near"). It has the potential to make things confusing, but in this case the parentheses would help eliminate the ambiguities.

Should it have an "or"? In this case, although the final meaning is the same, I would read the author not as eliding the "or" but as using the parenthetical as a direct modification of the meaning of "operated." Again, it's an unusual choice, but not technically a "wrong" one. I personally find the passage stylistically acceptable but a little old-fashioned. Modern style prefers simpler sentence structures. This older style, with more convoluted sentences, is a little baroque, but it does give a distinctive character to the author's voice.