3 Cases of Faulty Parallel Structure of Negation

By Mark Nichol

The following three sentences, each followed by a discussion and a revision, illustrate the problem with setting up a “neither . . . nor” construction or similar phrasing without careful attention to grammatical integrity.

1. “Data coming from third-party sources can neither be made to comply with the organization’s security guidelines nor can its authenticity be trusted.”

The grammatical confusion in this sentence is akin to that in a sentence in which the wording of a phrase including “not only” and “but also” is incorrectly ordered. (Search “not only . . . but also” on this site for multiple posts about frequently erroneous construction of sentences that include those phrases.)

A “neither . . . nor” construction is not valid when a repeated verb (such as can) follows it; use it (with neither moved after the verb phrase “made to”) only if a single instance of a verb will serve both phrases: “. . . can be made to comply neither with the organization’s security guidelines nor its (something else).” But for this sentence, let cannot take the place of “can neither”: “Data coming from third-party sources cannot be made to comply with the organization’s security guidelines, nor can its authenticity be trusted.”

2. “He does not represent neither goodness nor kindness.”

Here’s another misuse of the “neither . . . nor” construction. Here, it is redundant to not; use one or the other: “He does not represent (either) goodness or kindness” (either is optional) or “He represents neither goodness nor kindness.”

3. “Smith wasn’t lamenting the view, but the decision by Yosemite National Park to change the names of some of the world’s most beloved destinations.”

As with the first example, this sentence’s problematic grammar resembles that often seen in the erroneous construction of a “not only . . . but also” statement. Here, the verb lamenting should split the contraction wasn’t so that the contrast is clearly stated in “not (this) but (that)” form: “Smith was lamenting not the view but the decision by Yosemite National Park to change the names of some of the world’s most beloved destinations.”

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