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KarlGauss 11-25-2009 05:01 PM

Is this sentence grammatically correct?
 
I just came across the following sentence in a book I'm reading:

"The snow fell nor did it cease to fall."

Beyond simply sounding awkward, I think it's also in error grammatically. By that I mean mustn't some form of a 'negative' precede the 'nor'? In other words, shouldn't there be a 'neither' or a 'never' or some other negation before the 'nor'? Or am I simply demonstrating my simple-minded, naive approach to such things?

Indeed, the author is no slouch and I'd be more than a little surprised if he made a grammatical error (although it could be a publisher's typo, I suppose).

What do you think?

Thanks!

KneadToKnow 11-25-2009 05:09 PM

Seems perfectly grammatical, if a little poetic*, to me.

* In the sense that it seems to me to be deliberately calling attention to its unusual construction.

Gary Robson 11-25-2009 05:27 PM

The grammar is fine, although I agree it's an awkward and somewhat pretentious construct.

barbitu8 11-25-2009 05:53 PM

I think it's the author's way to emphasize that the snowfall was steady and of a long duration. It also has a good meter.

KarlGauss 11-25-2009 06:05 PM

Thanks all.

Wow, I have a bad ear for things like that. It sounded so wrong to me. There you go.

You noted that the sentence might be considered "poetic","pretentious", and of "good meter". In fact, it's from The Road by Cormac McCarthy. He could well be described with each of those three characterizations. I'm impressed!

Markxxx 11-25-2009 06:44 PM

Well the word nor is a coordinating conjunction, (or, and, nor, for, but, or, yet, and so). I believe the British have more but those are the ones Americans use

This mean they joing two words or clauses of equal importance.

The difference between "or" and "nor" is they both present alternate ideas but "nor" presents an alternate negative idea

Yet seems by defintion to be better

Yet is used as a coordinationg conjuction to connect words or clauses that are contrary ideas that follow logically.

While it probably would pass a grammar test, to me it's not the conjunction but use of the word "fell" that mucks it up

When one says the snow fell, it implies the snow is over, at least for a bit. If I wanted to say the snow fell, one can infer the snowfall is done with otherwise I'd use the word fall.

If I wanted to use both I'd use "and" as my conjunction

For example, the snow fell all night AND continues into the morning. This says the snowfall was over for the night.

So if it fell it has to be done with in relationship to something else. In totality or in my above example as connected to an event that's over, such as night.

Since something that fell and is now falling again, yet serves that purpose.

That's the nice thing about grammar it's possible to find some kind of fault with most things. :)

Gary T 11-25-2009 07:54 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Markxxx (Post 11819355)
While it probably would pass a grammar test, to me it's not the conjunction but use of the word "fell" that mucks it up

When one says the snow fell, it implies the snow is over, at least for a bit.

I wouldn't say that. It perhaps suggests that it's not snowing now, but that's rather irrelevant to the sentence under consideration. Given that it's in simple past tense, it says that the snow fell and kept falling AT SOME REFERENCE POINT OF TIME IN THE PAST. There's nothing mucked up at all.

Quote:

Since something that fell and is now falling again, yet serves that purpose.
But the sentence does not say it is falling again, or even still. It's not "nor did it EVER cease to fall." It's that it kept falling at the time in the past being referenced.

Chief Pedant 11-25-2009 11:06 PM

The term "error" tends to suggest an absolute where none exists, as far as English is concerned.

Nevertheless this usage is stilted and poor. I like Jack Lynch's common-sense approach (at least where he agrees with me ;) ) and he suggests limiting "nor" to occurrences following "neither." See here: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/n.html

"Nor.

Although there are other possibilities, you can't go wrong if you use nor only after the word neither: instead of "Keats did not write novels nor essays," use either "Keats did not write novels or essays" or "Keats wrote neither novels nor essays." (You can, however, say "Keats did not write novels, nor did he write essays.")"


If one wanted to emphasize the interminable falling of the snow, the sentence you quote is better written:

"The snow fell and it did not cease to fall."

Or, perhaps:

"The snow fell, and continued to fall."

...etc

JustThinkin' 11-27-2009 10:49 AM

To my ear, it sounds archaic. It wouldn't bother me to see it in a book set in the 17th century; it would bother me to see it in a book set in the present.

Irishman 11-27-2009 12:39 PM

It's awkward, cumbersome, and seems wrong.

"The snow fell and continues to fall" expresses the exact same sentiment, and does it much more cleanly and efficiently.

I think why it seems wrong is that the first clause is expressed positively.

"The snow fell." This did something. So the continuation should reflect that. Nor is a negative expression, and should only be used as a conjunction for negative expressions.

"Keats did not write novels, nor did he write essays." See? Keats did not do this, and he did not do that. But you wouldn't say

"Keats wrote novels, nor did he write essays." Wrong conjunction.

"The snow did not fall, nor did it continue to fall," seems redundant, but the conjunction is correct.

"Neither did the snow fall, nor did it not fall." While logically nonsensical, it has the correct structure.

CookingWithGas 11-27-2009 01:22 PM

I think it's a terrible turn of phrase, because "nor" is a form of "or" meaning "only one of these." To me the words as written mean:

"The snow fell or it did not cease to fall."

But in the original sentence, the author's intended meaning appears to be:

"The snow fell and it did not cease to fall."

I think the usage does not communicate clearly what the author is trying to convey. When I first read the OP I read that line three or four times trying to figure out what the author was saying. I don't think that was the intent of the author, so by definition it is poor usage (though perhaps not "incorrect").

Gary T 11-27-2009 01:57 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Irishman (Post 11823679)
"The snow fell and continues to fall" expresses the exact same sentiment...

Typo? Because "the snow fell and continueD to fall expresses what the original sentence said. "...and continueS to fall" would apply if the original were "The snow fell nor has it ceased to fall."

Freudian Slit 11-27-2009 02:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CookingWithGas (Post 11823795)
I think the usage does not communicate clearly what the author is trying to convey. When I first read the OP I read that line three or four times trying to figure out what the author was saying. I don't think that was the intent of the author, so by definition it is poor usage (though perhaps not "incorrect").

Yeah, I have no idea what it's trying to say even now. There's poetic license but in this case it results in the sentence having no real meaning.

Zoe 11-28-2009 03:45 AM

But suppose that before that sentence, the author had been describing the activities of Thanksgiving Day. He had just described the noon meal. And then: "The snow fell nor did it cease to fall."

Wouldn't you have a fairly good idea of what the writer meant? It wouldn't be precise, but I would think that the author was in for a long snowfall lasting at least until well after dark. It could have lasted until about daybreak of the next day. Maybe the continuing narrative would give a clue.

It is grammatical, and although I hesitate at first, the sentence is so beautiful in it rhythm and imagery that I love it and wonder where it's been all these years!

Sofis 11-28-2009 06:42 AM

It seems like a usage error to me. I've never seen "nor" follow a positive statement, only negative ones. It's always (something didn't happen) nor (did something else happen).

Frylock 11-28-2009 07:00 AM

Neither did the snow not fall, nor did it cease to fall.

;)

(But actually, I'm kind with Zoe on this one. The sentence seems fine to me, though oddly worded--but oddly worded in a way that I find pleasing rather than grating. Would depend on the context, though.)

CookingWithGas 11-28-2009 07:49 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Zoe (Post 11825586)
But suppose that before that sentence, the author had been describing the activities of Thanksgiving Day. He had just described the noon meal. And then: "The snow fell nor did it cease to fall."

Wouldn't you have a fairly good idea of what the writer meant?

I don't see how that setup clarifies the meaning. I could understand that sentence only in the sense that I can understand these sentences:

I don't have no money.
Don't be going nowhere without telling me.

Which is to say, I had to make inferences to draw a reasonable conclusion about what the speaker could possibly have meant since the sentence at face value doesn't make sense.

Wallenstein 11-28-2009 08:34 AM

I think it might be a different usage of "nor".

cf. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.


That's seems more like the construction quoted in the OP, but seems equally stilted to my ears (yet is clearly a classic line of prose).

Frylock 11-28-2009 08:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CookingWithGas (Post 11825736)
I don't see how that setup clarifies the meaning. I could understand that sentence only in the sense that I can understand these sentences:

I don't have no money.
Don't be going nowhere without telling me.

Which is to say, I had to make inferences to draw a reasonable conclusion about what the speaker could possibly have meant since the sentence at face value doesn't make sense.

Those sentences at face value make perfect sense. It takes inferential work to understand why someone would think they don't make sense.

-Frylock, mindreader

Frylock 11-28-2009 08:44 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Wallenstein (Post 11825773)
I think it might be a different usage of "nor".

cf. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.


That's seems more like the construction quoted in the OP, but seems equally stilted to my ears (yet is clearly a classic line of prose).

A ha! I've been looking on google for a parallel usage but couldn't find anything. Thanks for noticing this one.

CookingWithGas 11-28-2009 09:22 AM

I guess you can compare grammar and usage from a 1798 poem to a 2006 book, but things have changed a bit over that time span.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Frylock (Post 11825781)
Those sentences at face value make perfect sense. It takes inferential work to understand why someone would think they don't make sense.

They are grammatically incorrect with double negatives when only a single negative is intended. At face value the first one literally means "I have money" but in context most of us know that this is a common ungrammatical usage to mean "I have no money." We also might know the second means "Don't go anywhere" if we are used to that ungrammatical usage (or dialect, depending on your school of thought).

In the case of the OP's quote most people have never seen such a usage, well at least I haven't. I'm not a literary scholar but I do read a lot and I just didn't get it.

KarlGauss 11-28-2009 09:44 AM

I having nothing more to add except my thanks.

I really do appreciate all the thought that's gone into your answers. Much obliged!

(Now that his novel sentence construction has been analysed, maybe I should start a thread on McCarthy's use of vocabulary. Reading him makes me feel like English is my second language!)

Frylock 11-28-2009 09:52 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CookingWithGas (Post 11825845)
I guess you can compare grammar and usage from a 1798 poem to a 2006 book, but things have changed a bit over that time span.

And no one ever uses archaic grammar for connotive effect, either. Ever.

Quote:

They are grammatically incorrect with double negatives when only a single negative is intended. At face value the first one literally means "I have money" but in context most of us know that this is a common ungrammatical usage to mean "I have no money." We also might know the second means "Don't go anywhere" if we are used to that ungrammatical usage (or dialect, depending on your school of thought).
I guess I didn't know what you mean by "face value."

Zoe 11-28-2009 06:36 PM

CookingWithGas, the sentences you gave as examples have clear meanings but are grammatically incorrect. The sentence in the OP is grammatically correct. I agree with Gary T that the meaning is: "the snow fell and continued to fall," but I like the way the original author said it better. The explanation that I gave was just an example of situation in which that sentence would make sense.

You are not the only one who prefers the more common way of saying it.

CookingWithGas 11-28-2009 09:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Zoe (Post 11827060)
The sentence in the OP is grammatically correct.

I'm not sure that anything in this thread establishes that it is correct and there are posts that take the opposite view with some explanation to back it up. I still can't understand why it is correct to use "nor" in that sentence.

Boyo Jim 11-28-2009 09:35 PM

We all know that Catholic grade school nuns are the ultimate arbiters of proper grammar, and they would have taken points off for the OP sentence. The rules I learned would say the sentence is incorrect.

But it turns out the nuns tried to teach me a lot of bullshit, and now that I'm an atheist it may be that the sentence is correct.

Frylock 11-29-2009 08:54 AM

Several more examples can be found here.

All of them are from before WWI, but at least we can see that the usage is part of some sensible and respectable version of English. ;)

KarlGauss 11-29-2009 10:29 AM

Frylock: Wow! Thank you, thank you!

duncanmkz 11-29-2009 11:00 AM

"The snow fell nor did it cease to fall."

It is grammatical, but it needs a comma after "fell".

It means - "the snow fell, and it did not cease falling."

casdave 11-29-2009 11:03 AM

I have seen this type of construction in a book published around 1890-1910, where it is repeated several times throughout - its a short historical guide book.

'The Romance of Old Leeds' A Mattison & W Meakin.

Quote:

The river was not considered by the old literary wanderers unworthy to rank with Yorkshire streams which are now more famous than the Aire........

> snip<

It was no uncommon occurrance, for instance, for the Mayor, in his corporate capacity, to await the arrival of a cargo of wheat and purchase it in order to prevent any cornering operations.

>snip<

The river was solidly frozen for a month, and during the whole of that time a rollicking old English fair was carried on, show booths were erected, and ox roasting on the ice formed no unimportant part of the carnival

This book quotes heavily from early 18thC writings of various types, but only the second quotation from the book is actually of this period and the other two seem o have been written in a way to partly mimic the style - or at least give the whole book a coherence without jarring the reader from one period of written language to another.

In other words its a late 19thC idea of what early 18thC writings were like but it is not done anything like as well as the earlier writings, it is, effectively, an attempt at rustication.

I wonder if the rest of the book is written in in manner. I have looked it up on Wiki, and a quote from it suggests this is the case.

One could imagine the reasons behind this manner of writing, it would take the story out of modern speech patterns and reinforce this as a differant time.

Frylock 11-29-2009 11:11 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by casdave (Post 11828523)
I have seen this type of construction in a book published around 1890-1910, where it is repeated several times throughout - its a short historical guide book.

'The Romance of Old Leeds' A Mattison & W Meakin.



This book quotes heavily from early 18thC writings of various types, but only the second quotation from the book is actually of this period and the other two seem o have been written in a way to partly mimic the style - or at least give the whole book a coherence without jarring the reader from one period of written language to another.

None of the three quotes you gave contain the construction we're talking about. None of them even include the word "nor".

Wendell Wagner 11-29-2009 05:12 PM

This thread is now being discussed at Language Log, a message board for linguists:

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1929#more-1929

CookingWithGas 11-29-2009 06:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Wendell Wagner (Post 11829597)
This thread is now being discussed at Language Log, a message board for linguists:

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1929#more-1929

Thank you so much for posting that link. That is a really interesting discussion with very well-informed posts on both sides of the issue. I hereby retreat from my intransigent position that the line is flat out incorrect, but I do love the post in that thread by Sid Smith.

KarlGauss 11-29-2009 09:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CookingWithGas (Post 11829914)
Thank you so much for posting that link. That is a really interesting discussion with very well-informed posts on both sides of the issue. Sid Smith.

Er, that's the same link that Frylock had posted eight hours earlier (and about which I exclaimed, Wow!")

The Seventh Deadly Finn 11-30-2009 07:45 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by duncanmkz (Post 11828515)
"The snow fell nor did it cease to fall."

It is grammatical, but it needs a comma after "fell".

It means - "the snow fell, and it did not cease falling."

I agree with this 100%. The sentence looks assy not because it contains an unusual usage of "nor" (though it does), but because it's missing the comma. When the comma is inserted, the sense of the archaic usage is awakened:

"The snow fell, nor did it cease to fall."

This sounds highfalutin, likely as intended, but not jarring. The less-common sense of "nor," in my opinion, is a red herring in our discussion-- one which I freely admit took me in as well, until duncanmkz struck the scales from my eyes.

CookingWithGas 11-30-2009 09:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by KarlGauss (Post 11830311)
Er, that's the same link that Frylock had posted eight hours earlier (and about which I exclaimed, Wow!")

I overlooked Frylock's link because he referred merely to "examples," nor did I need to see more examples. The link I clicked on was advertised as a discussion. Er.

KarlGauss 11-30-2009 09:43 AM

Sorry, I wasn't trying to be snarky (although now, in retrospect, I see how the "er" may have been so construed). My only point was to give credit to Frylock who, in addition to providing the link, may also have been the person who drew the thread to the attention of the good folks at 'languagelog' in the first place.

CookingWithGas 11-30-2009 04:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by KarlGauss (Post 11831832)
Sorry, I wasn't trying to be snarky (although now, in retrospect, I see how the "er" may have been so construed). My only point was to give credit to Frylock who, in addition to providing the link, may also have been the person who drew the thread to the attention of the good folks at 'languagelog' in the first place.

Sorry, I wasn't trying to be snarky either. Well, actually, I was trying to be snarky, but I'm sorry I was snarky. Anyway, I give Frylock due credit for being first to bring the thread to light, but my explanation for not clicking on it stands.

John DiFool 11-30-2009 09:31 PM

Now, for any SAT/ACT students out there, both tests will nail you if you fail to put the "neither" in the sentence, even if the alternate usage seen here is quasi-legal.

Serenata67 12-01-2009 09:13 AM

I know there's nothing technically grammatically wrong with it, but it just grates on me. In my head it sounds a little like nails on a chalkboard...

Freudian Slit 12-01-2009 09:17 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Serenata67 (Post 11836139)
I know there's nothing technically grammatically wrong with it, but it just grates on me. In my head it sounds a little like nails on a chalkboard...

I still don't see that it is grammatically correct. AND it grates on me. It's like the person's trying to be clever and failing.

Frylock 12-01-2009 09:36 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Freudian Slit (Post 11836146)
I still don't see that it is grammatically correct. AND it grates on me. It's like the person's trying to be clever and failing.

The argument is that it's grammatically correct according the rules of an archaic dialect of English, and that it's pragmatically okay to use that dialogue in certain contexts for its connotative value.

Irishman 12-02-2009 05:20 PM

Gary T said:
Quote:

Typo? Because "the snow fell and continueD to fall expresses what the original sentence said. "...and continueS to fall" would apply if the original were "The snow fell nor has it ceased to fall."
Not a typo, debatable point. Did the author wish to convey that the snow started to fall and fell for some really long time, at some distant time in the past that is now over? Or did he wish to convey that the snow started to fall and has not yet stopped falling? I submit that that his statement easily means the latter as much as the former.

But that's really his fault for using such a contrived sentence structure.

Gary T 12-02-2009 06:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Irishman (Post 11842301)
Did the author wish to convey that the snow started to fall and fell for some really long time, at some distant time in the past that is now over? Or did he wish to convey that the snow started to fall and has not yet stopped falling? I submit that that his statement easily means the latter as much as the former.

I respectfully disagree. It's in simple past tense which is not normally used to convey the latter.

Quote:

But that's really his fault for using such a contrived sentence structure.
Again I disagree. Reading "nor" as "and not," we can rewrite the sentence as "The snow fell and did not stop [falling]." The unusual sentence structure does not change the tense.

The meaning you suggest is normally conveyed by the present perfect tense ("The snow fell and has not stopped.") or the present tense ("The snow fell and still falls.").

The whole point of these different tenses is to accurately express the different concepts involved. "Did not stop" doesn't mean the same thing as "has not stopped," and I'm not aware of people using the former when they mean the latter.

Irishman 12-04-2009 05:33 PM

How am I supposed to fucking know what the author fucking intended? He used fucking "nor" in a fucking strange way. His fucking sentence structure is fucking contrived by that very fucking use.

But hey, if you want to split hairs over my understanding of what he was not saying clearly, go right ahead. I'm sure you know better what I thought he meant than I do.

"The snow fell, and not did it cease to fall."

That's how I would substitute "and not", but that's just me. Doesn't read so well, does it?

To me, it doesn't have style or appeal or elegance. It is awkward and contrived. I'm willing to concede it could be grammatical, but it is also archaic and stilted.

Contrapuntal 12-04-2009 05:38 PM

McCarthy is as innovative and elegant a prose stylist as I have ever seen. He definitely has an unusual voice, and it is hardly fair to him to take a single sentence out of context and criticize it for the way it sounds.

Here's the passage.

CookingWithGas 12-04-2009 05:53 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Contrapuntal (Post 11851158)
McCarthy is as innovative and elegant a prose stylist as I have ever seen. He definitely has an unusual voice, and it is hardly fair to him to take a single sentence out of context and criticize it for the way it sounds.

Here's a critique of that author with a broader view of his work (look for the section heading "'Muscular' Prose"), thanks to Sid Smith in a discussion from a link provided earlier in this thread by Frylock.

KarlGauss 12-04-2009 06:09 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Contrapuntal (Post 11851158)
Here's the passage.

Are you sure? Unless I'm overlooking it on the page, it doesn't seem to be there.

The Seventh Deadly Finn 12-04-2009 06:30 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CookingWithGas (Post 11851210)
Here's a critique of that author with a broader view of his work (look for the section heading "'Muscular' Prose"), thanks to Sid Smith in a discussion from a link provided earlier in this thread by Frylock.

That's a great essay; thanks for linking it. It confirms my suspicion that McCarthy is willfully affected (and, apparently, allergic to commas).

LilyoftheField 12-04-2009 06:58 PM

i'm pretty sure it's actually illegal to use the word 'nor' unless it has been preceded by the word 'neither'.

you should probably contact the authorities...


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