History of Neither Nor – Negative Meaning with Negative Verb Structure

I know that neither–nor yields a negative meaning if used in a sentence that has a positive verb structure. That is, when we say:

Neither George nor James goes to school.

we mean:

George does not go to school and James does not go to school.

By positive verb structure, I mean the usage of go rather than not go. Since neither negates the positive go, this sentence gains a negative meaning. This is very clear to me. What I am wondering is the history of this rule. At some point in time in history, did the usage of

Neither George nor James does not go to school.

exist to yield a negative meaning, i.e.:

George does not go to school and James does not go to school.

Why I am asking this is that my native language is Turkish, and we have the same rule: Ne a ne b (Neither a nor b) must be accompanied by a positive verb to yield a negative meaning. But the rule doesn’t really sound logical to many (even highly educated) people, hence they make a mistake of using a negative verb and assuming a negative meaning.

Besides that, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, an eminent author, used that very now-incorrect usage in his first page of Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü, a super-central book in Turkish literature. It was the year of 1961 when he did that. Another example is the phenomenal poem titled “Sessiz Gemi” (“Silent Ship”), circa 1920, in which the prominent poet Yahya Kemal Beyatlı wrote

Neither a handkerchief nor a hand is not waived at that departure.

So I am wondering whether the usage of neither–nor with a positive verb has a pretty solid and stable history, or it was indeed used with a negative verb as well, some time in the past.

Just a resource I’d like to include: “A note on the history of either” by Hotze Rullmann at the University of Calgary, on page 11, shows the negative verb usage with neither only, but I am looking for negative verbs with the full neither–nor.

Update: For the sake of inclusiveness, here is the stock of neither not negating the verb, taken from the aforementioned article:

  1. Shakespeare wrote “Be not too tame neither”, to mean “Don’t be too tame” but today we’d say “Be not too tame either” to mean that. So “neither” did not negate the “Be not too tame” to yield a meaning of “Be too tame”.
  2. Defoe wrote “You don’t know that neither”, to mean “There are things you don’t know, and also, you don’t know that particular one as well”. Neither did not negate “You don’t know” to yield a meaning of “You do know”. The right form today must be “You don’t know that either”


To answer your question, as far as we know, there was no time in history when

  • *Neither George nor James doesn’t go to school.

meant the same thing in English as

  • Neither George nor James goes to school.

Logically, Neither P Nor Q means                   [¬P ⋀ ¬Q]   (Not P And Not Q),
which is equivalent by DeMorgan’s Law to   ¬[P ⋁ Q]       (Not [P Or Q]).

Source : Link , Question Author : FatihAkici , Answer Author : John Lawler

Leave a Comment