What to use


I am not sure if I should say "...to immerse myself in a new language AND the culture behind it" or " "...to immerse myself in a new language OR the culture behind it."

See example:

Thus, this study did not allow me to immerse myself in a new language and the culture behind it.
asked Jan 15 '13 at 05:29 Kathia Fonseca New member

2 answers




First of all, or is more correct than and for a negative sentence like this.  However, I have found a fair amount of disagreement in my grammar reference sources about whether nor is also possible, if not preferred (see that discussion below).


Secondly, there are a couple of other things in your sentence that might need to be changed.  What do you mean by 'study'?  There are 5 main definitions of this word as a noun, according to dictionary.com:


1. application of the mind to the acquisition of knowledge, as by reading, investigation, or reflection: long hours of study.

2. the cultivation of a particular branch of learning, science, or art: the study of law.

3. Often, studies. a personal effort to gain knowledge: to pursue one's studies.

4. something studied or to be studied: Balzac's study was human nature.

5. research or a detailed examination and analysis of a subject, phenomenon, etc.: She made a study of the transistor market for her firm.


Does one of these fit your situation?  If it is #3, studies is more natural than study as a singular noun.  And it should be My studies not This study/these studies.


However, I wonder if you mean something a little different, such as completing a course or workshop?  If it is one of those, as compared to completing a degree (in which case My studies would be quite natural), This course or This workshop would be better to use.  Study goes most naturally with this, which I think only matches meaning #5, but I don't think that is what you mean, do you?


Thirdly, in a new language and culture would be more concise and natural; even better, put the specific language and culture into the phrase; for instance if it is Japanese, write in the Japanese language and culture.


The rest of this answer is a lengthy summary of the unfortunately inconclusive research I've done today on or vs. nor.  Kathia, you might not be particularly interested in wading through it, and please consider any other responses you might get from others on this point - please feel free to skip down to the bottom line advice at the end of this message.  Other Grammarly experts - Patty, Tolley, Lewis, Jeff, I need your input here!  Don't downvote me: add to the conversation, please!  :) 


Summary of nor usage


neither...nor: the most common usage of nor is following neither, and probably most of us can use this construction correctly.  Used with a positive verb, it describes two or more, people, things or qualities that are not true or didn't happen.  Their usage is quite formal, especially in the predicate.  Neither John nor Jim came to my birthday party.  I like neither fish nor fowl.  Shawn is neither intelligent nor particularly handsome. (ouch!)


Your sentence could be rephrased using this construction: Thus, this study allowed me to immerse myself in neither a new language nor the culture behind it.  But to be honest, I think that sounds quite awkward.  Using it with either of the suggested revisions I proposed sounds a little better: Thus, this study allowed me to immerse myself in neither a new language nor its culture.  Or Thus, this study allowed me to immerse myself in neither Japanese language nor Japanese culture.


But, to my ear, this construction would work best with two separate infinitive verb phrases: Thus, this study allowed me neither to immerse myself in a new language nor comprehend the culture behind it.  


nor without neither: When I first read your question I was not at home, and I did quite a bit of web research on my iPhone about how to choose between or and nor without neither.  At first, I thought it was quite straightforward:


(a)  'GrammarGirl' (http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/when-to-use-nor.aspx) opines that "when the second negative item is a noun, adjective, or adverb phrase (4), you should use “or” to continue the negative thought because according to Bryan Garner “the initial negative carries through to all the enumerated elements” (5). For example, when you use the word “not,” the structure “not A or B” is correct. You’d have to say, “He is not interested in math or science”; “He is not interested in math nor science” won’t work."  For the benefit of my fellow experts, here are the sources for the two footnotes:  #4 -  American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, p. 320; #5 - Garner, B. Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 553-4.  I don't have those books in my possession, but I found a back-up reference on Google Books to Byron A. Garner's The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style, here: http://books.google.co.jp/books?id=z_VmtjAU01YC&pg=PA227&lpg=PA227&dq=nor+usage&source=


6VL1UMWhDYbikgXpnIDwCg&sqi=2&ved=0CGwQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=nor%20usage&f=false.  I found other online references that basically agreed with this approach.


'Grammar Girl' adds that it is up to the writer to decide which is better, or or nor when "the second part of the negative is a verb phrase—not a verb clause".  She gives the examples:  “Santa will not permit naughty behavior or even consider bringing presents” or “Santa will not permit naughty behavior nor even consider bringing presents” as both being equally correct, and up to the writer to choose from.  She doesn't explicitly deal with whether or or nor is correct with a verb clause, but the implication is that nor is best, which seems to agree with Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, below - yet she doesn't stipulate the inversion that they, I think correctly, do...


If everyone agrees with this (Patty?  Tolley?  Lewis?  anyone?), then my initial opinion should be correct: or is the correct word to use, not nor.




(b) When I got home from work tonight, I checked my first go-to reference, Michael Swan's Practical English Usage, 3rd edition.  (I always check it first, but I find that it doesn't usually weigh in on the most interesting grammar questions I get.)  Swan screwed everything up for me; he takes a fairly wishy-washy perspective on it.  I am paraphrasing, but on page 348 of his entry on Negative Structures he maintains that, when it refers to "two or more verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc." (thereby contradicting 'Grammar Girl' and other online sources by including verbs in the list), not...or is correct but not...nor is more emphatic when (and he is obviously referring to spoken English) it is used "after a pause, to separate and emphasise a second verb, adjective, etc.; for example, "Our main need is not food, nor money.  It is education." (Apparently, you're supposed to insert a pause before nor.)  I haven't found any other references to this spoken pause as making the difference, or [or should it be nor?] references that include verbs alongside nouns or adjectives, and so I don't quite know what to make of it.  (Any thoughts, Patty, Tolley, Lewis, Jeff?)


I assume that Kathia's sentence is part of a written rather than a spoken text, so perhaps Swan's commentary that pertains mostly to spoken English is not particularly helpful.  But it threw me off in an interesting way...


(c) Marianne Celce-Murcia and Diane Larsen-Freeman's The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher's Course, 2nd edition, opines on page 464 that nor is a special case, requiring "subject-operator inversion".  That is a mighty impressive and difficult phrase to swallow, much less comprehend, but here are two examples:  "John will not stay at his job, nor will he leave town permanently" and John did not stay at his job, nor did he leave town permanently.  As you can see, the clause after nor takes question order: verb + subject. I found a few other internet references to this inversion.  It sounds really formal, but also correct: it would sound incorrect to write/say John did not stay at his job nor did not leave town permanently, right?


But Celce-Muria and Larsen-Freeman (what a mouthful!) do not weigh in on which of the shortened sentences John will not stay at his job nor/or leave town is correct, nor do they [there I go again] weigh in on nor with a noun, adjective, nor [yet again!] adverb phrase, nor [ahem!] the Michael Swan pause...


Bottom line for Kathia on the or/nor debate:  Unless you hear better advice from others, I think you are basically okay to use or in your sentence, alongside my other suggested revisions.


To paraphrase what I said in a different post on Grammarly today, if the grammar books and dictionaries disagree on a particular grammar point, the controversy is probably of interest only to grammar geeks like Tolley, PattyLewis, Jeff and me.  Please stay tuned for my esteemed colleagues to weigh in, though.


I hope this has been of some help. I am completely exhausted now.  LOL.   

link comment edited Jan 15 '13 at 15:45 Shawn Mooney Expert

My first impression of the word 'study' in this sentence is Shawn's number 5, research or a detailed examination and analysis of a subject, phenomenon, etc. However, a study would not disallow you to do something; you can just ignore it. So, I wonder about what this word means to Kathia.


Shawn composed several variations using a positive, 'the study allowed...;' to reach a negative, neither immerse... nor...

I would put the negative emphasis on the study, rather than the results. As I understand it, the study is what is deficient, not the writers ability to learn. My choice would be:


Thus, this study did not allow me to immerse myself in a new language or the culture behind it.


I, like Shawn, would like to see the specific language and culture mentioned. If it is designated in a previous sentence that is close enough to eliminate any confusion, that might be adequate.


Kathia, the important thing to take from these two answers is the importance of style. A sentence written two ways, both of which are grammatically correct, can vary in style. The style you choose should be the one that is most comfortable for you, and still gets your meaning through without making the reader dig too deeply.


This thought came to me a bit later. Distilled to its essence, the sentence could read:


It doesn't allow this or that.


It allows neither this nor that.


You would use 'and' if it's positive.

It allows this and that.

link comment edited Jan 15 '13 at 16:33 Lewis Neidhardt Grammarly Fellow

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