...11 of her colleagues were there and not wearing masks

When Ms Alex, a trainee at a design company, entered her office last week, 11 of her colleagues were there and not wearing masks nor observing social distancing.

Should it be “11 of her colleagues were there, not wearing marks OR observing social distancing” instead?



This is a tricky one. I bet not many native English speakers know the answer. Even experts don’t agree on this one. My opinion is that it should be “or”.

  1. In general, the word nor is very rarely used in casual English. It has a formal and almost elitist sound to it. Language is ultimately developed by the people, not professors at Oxford or any other prestigious college.

  2. Nor is most commonly used with the word neither.

  3. “observing social distancing” does not contain a subject. The word “not” carries through and applies to anything that follows. So you should use or, instead of nor.

  4. Now apply both of the above.
    They were neither wearing masks, nor were they observing social distancing.

In this last sentence you would use the word nor. The word or would be completely wrong.

As the original sentence is written, my opinion is that it should be “or” instead of nor.


How about ‘…and they were neither wearing masks nor observing social distancing.’



That’s horrible. It’s a double negative, a tongue twister and hurts my brain trying to decipher it.


Sorry, I meant to say ‘they were neither wearing masks nor observing social distancing’.


I didn’t think you were serious, but I didn’t want to assume that.

"they were neither wearing masks nor observing social distancing’.

I think that’s OK. Neither and nor usually belong together. That’s the primary test and is a strong indicator that nor should be used.

“They were” carries through, so it’s implied in “[they were] observing social distancing”. The meaning is clear as you wrote it. In this case, adding the subject only makes it slightly more clear. In other cases adding the subject might be more helpful.


It just occurred to me that the following would be possible too:

11 of her colleagues were there and none of them was wearing a mask or observing social distancing.


I’m not sure of the rule on that. I would use or. That would be the most common way of writing it.

The big debate is whether none is plural or singular. In American English, the vast majority of people would use it in the plural. So it would be none were.

Scholars will argue about this. They will get into etymology and go back hundreds of years. They’ll declare, “My favorite English king was better than your favorite English king, and this is the way he wrote it. Therefore I’m right.”

I just know that in American English, it’s usually plural. This might be a case of differences between American and British English. I know words like “band” or “team” are singular in American English, and plural in British English.

The team is
The team are.
(Or so I’ve heard)

This might be true of none also.


You are right. Just found this:


In that example you are comparing countable vs non-countable. But yea, that’s how people would say it.

To somewhat contradict myself about words like team and band:

The band is…
The Beatles are…

The team is…
The New York Yankees are…

I don’t know why it’s done that way. It just is, and it’s very consistent.


According to Prof Randolph Quirk eta, the difference reflects a difference in point of view: the singular stresses the nonpersonal collectivity of the group and the plural stresses the personal individuality within the group.
So, ‘the band is/are’ and the ‘team is/are’ are possible.