The meaning and use of “weder… noch…”

Hello everyone, high five smileys

and welcome to our German Word of the Day Tag Team Special.
This time we will have a look at the meaning and grammar of a really important combination. Say hello to:

weder… noch…

 

Suppose you have a bad day and you are grumpy as hell. People might offer you things to make you feel better and yet this is just making you even grumpier. If you know what I mean, then you will find lots of joy with weder… noch… . They’re every true nay-sayer’s dream and they will make your rejections sound much more definite.

  • “Hey, wir gehen ins Kino, willst du mitkommen.”
    “Neeeeeee, keine Lust.”
    “Willst du lieber was trinken?”
    “Neee… WEDER Kino NOCH Bar!”
    “Ok, ok… schon gut.”

Even without translation, you might have guessed it from context… weder… noch is the German version of neither… nor. So it’s the perfect answer to entweder … oder… (either … or) – well, if you don’t like either of the alternatives. And as far as structure goes, weder noch works pretty much the same as neither nor. So we can use it to negate two nouns like here:

  • I want neither coffee nor tea.
  • Ich will weder Kaffee noch Tee.
  • Das hat weder Hand noch Fuß. (idiom)
  • There is neither rhyme nor reason in that.
  • Lit: That has neither hand nor foot.

But it also works for negating two full sentences, like here:

  • Neither have I any idea who drank your beer, nor is there anything in my room that could help you find this person.
  • Weder habe ich eine Idee, wer dein Bier getrunken hat, noch ist da irgendwas in meinem Zimmer, das dir helfen könnte, die Person zu finden.

And if you look closely at the last example, you will actually see something REALLY strange. Both languages are using the same sentence structure here. And actually, it’s the GERMAN version. Like… in German, the verb always comes in position two, no matter whether we’ve already had the subject or not. English is different in that you usually put the subject before the verb.

  • Gestern habe ich…
  • Yesterday, I have

But not in case of neither… nor. Instead of saying this:

  • Neither, I want to… nor, I can to… NOPE

English says this:

  • Neither do I want to… nor can I…
  • Weder will ich… noch kann ich…

​So it puts the verb second (or add the helper “do” there).
And in German, both weder and noch count as position 1 and the verb comes after.
That’s actually different to entweder … oder, where it’s up to us.

Cool.
So now we know what the combination weder noch means and that it’s pretty much the same as neither nor. That doesn’t apply to the words by themselves, though.
Noch is actually super common by itself and quite the range of uses. I’ve got an entire article about it and it’s really really really long. I’ll leave a link below if you want to see something really long and hard… ahem…
Weder
kind of makes up for noch’s complexity because by itself it means… nothing.
“Wait, so it doesn’t actually mean neither?”
Exactly. You will only see weder in the combination with noch. And the big question now is how to translate neither.

How to translate “neither”

Shut up, headline. I just said said that.

So, the English neither as a standalone can be boiled down to two concepts.
The first one is about “joining a negation”. The best example is “me neither‘” which is basically “Me also not“. And that’s exactly how it is said in German. We say auch nicht.

  • “I don’t like Rosé.”
    “Me neither.”
  • “Ich mag keinen Rosé.”
    “Ich auch nicht.”
  • Maria didn’t do her homework. Neither did Tom.
  • Maria hat ihre Hausaufgaben nicht gemacht. Tom auch nicht.

And while we’re at it… this is also how German says “not either”. Which expresses the same stuff basically.

  • “Ich mag auch keinen Rosé”
  • “I do not like Rosé either.”
  • Tom hat seine Hausaufgaben auch nicht gemacht.
  • Tom has not done his homework either.

Cool.
The other idea of neither is a negation of two (or more) things in one go. An example is ‘neither of us’ and in German, this neither is translated to keiner. Or keine. Or keines. Or keinem. Or keinen. Or keiner… oh wait, we already had that. So yeah… we have to go through the motions of gender and case with these endings…

  • I tried both types of beer in that bar and neither one was tasty.
  • Ich habe beide Biersorten in der Bar probiert, und keine war lecker.
  • Come on! Neither one of us likes to do the dishes but one has to.
  • Komm schon! Keiner von uns wäscht gerne ab. Aber einer muss.

And that’s pretty much it. Well, actually, let’s look at a few more examples for weder … noch. Just as a recall.

  • Ich mag weder Schokolade noch Eis.
  • I like neither chocolate nor ice cream.
  • Weder will ich Fußball gucken, noch habe ich Appetit auf Bier.
  • Neither do I want to watch Soccer nor do I feel like drinking beer.

I guess we should also mention that weder noch can be used as a standalone answer. Like here:

  • “Gehst du zur Arbeit oder zur Universität””
    Weder noch. “
  • “Are you going to work or to university?”
    Neither of the two.”

Oh and should you ever feel the need to reject more than two things simply add nochs to your sentence:

  • Ich mag weder “Star Wars Episode 1”, noch “Der Weiße Hai 2”, noch “Matrix 2”, noch “Matrix 3”, noch….

And that’s all for today. Hooray.
This was our look at the meaning and use of weder noch. If you want to check how much you remember and if you’ve understood everything, you can take the little quiz we have prepared. Well, you will be able to take it once I’ve finished it. It is Friday, the 17th of January 2020, Emanuel is sitting at his desk working. Grinding the Germ… oh wait, it’s actually finished :).
And of course, if you have any questions about weder noch, just leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to clear things up.
Hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

further reading:

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david
david
2 years ago

Hi Emanuel, so I have noticed that the sentence structures of “Entweder…oder…” and “Weder…noch…” are quite different from each other. You wrote in the example of “Enteder..order..” both of the following sentences are okay:
“Entweder gehe ich heim oder ich trinke ein Bier.”
“Entweder ich gehe heim oder ich trinke ein Bier. ”
but if we rewrite the sentence in “Weder…noch…” format, then it can only be:
“Weder gehe Ich heim noch trinke ich ein Bier.” (right?)
I am a little bit confused about why the verb positions are so different from each other. Is there a reason behind it? Please enlighten me! Thx a lot :)

alokgarg47
6 years ago

What would be the right way to express the english short answer “Neither!”
Something one would answer for a question asking whether I want this or that?

Dict.cc gives one translation of Neither (thanks) to Weder noch (Danke).

Thanks

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I just read your noch article and came back to this one i read earlier. Now i have noch a question. Based on the additional sense of noch.
Is the noch here like: I like neither/weder this and ADDITIONALLY/noch this… etc.
(I reject this and additionally i reject this too)
Or am I totally imagining things.

Shofi Nisa
7 years ago

Hello, I just started to learn German and find your article was really helpful :D
As my teacher said that “weder” take the first position, so instead of “Ich mag weder Schokolade noch Eis”, we have to say “Weder mag ich Schokolade oder Eis.”
Where we actually put the “weder “? Is it on the first position or anywhere before the “something” we want to emphasise? Is this rule strict?
Vielen Dank!

berlingrabers
7 years ago

This is a little tangential to the post, but how good does something have to taste to be “lecker”? I think I was taught that “lecker” was similar to “delicious” (looooong ago, so it might not actually be a teacher’s fault), but it seems to me that the bar is a little lower for “lecker.” “Tasty” seems more like it, but the example you give (and I think I’ve seen and heard others like it) makes it seem like “lecker” is almost a baseline description of something worth eating/drinking. Just curious about that – it’s one of those places where I feel like there’s a cultural difference even though the meaning isn’t that hard to translate.

Also, I agree with Jo about pretty much everything in her comments.

Jo
Jo
7 years ago

Hi Emanuel! I keep coming back and re-reading these posts over and over – they’re so useful! Especially for the tricky words like noch and doch… I’m surprised there are only a couple of comments on this one – you usually get heaps, especially for funky words like noch. So even though the post is like over a year and a half old, I figured I’d comment, hope you don’t mind!

One interesting difference between English and Deutsch I notice with your examples is that “neither” can only be used if there are only two possibilities. So we don’t say, “I tried three types of beer in that bar and neither one was tasty.” You could say “Can you believe that bar only had two kinds of beer?! I tried both types, and neither (one) was tasty.” If there’s more than two, you’d have to say something like “none of them were tasty”.* Likewise, the dishes example is fine, but just be aware that saying “neither of us” implies only two people involved, otherwise you’d say “none of us”.
(*As an aside, here I would say “none of them were” rather than “none of them was”, but if you want to check out a big online argument, Google “none of them were none of them was”…)

This applies equally when neither is in a neither-nor construction. So your last example with the form “weder-noch-noch-noch…” doesn’t translate directly. The following does not work: “I like neither “Star Wars Episode 1″, nor “Der Weiße Hai 2″, nor “Matrix 2″, nor “Matrix 3″, nor…”. In this case, we’d just say “I don’t like “Star Wars Episode 1″, or …” (Note that usually I’d use “or” if I wasn’t using “neither”. There’s nothing wrong with “nor”, as in “I don’t like A, nor B, nor C…” and it’s probably a regional thing as to whether “or” or “nor” is used. It sounds a bit quaint to me – I’d probably only use “nor” here if I wanted to sound kind of poetic or dramatic or literary.)

Jo
Jo
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Hum! Ok, I thought I’d better double-check my assertion online, and it seems to be one of those things that people argue about, and say that it’s just prescriptivism gone mad, so I guess don’t worry about it. (I heard that some English speakers suddenly decided around about the 19th century to go crazy with making up English grammar rules, but a lot of the rules are of dubious necessity or even authenticity. Things like not ending sentences with prepositions.) But if you’re ever in a situation where you need to use formal written English, maybe better off avoiding a structure with more than 2 options for either “neither-nor’ or “either-or”. (Recursion unintended!) That’s how I learnt to do it in school, so it does sound a little odd to me to add more options, but probably lots of people use it that way and it’s not a big deal – the meaning is clear anyway.

Janet
Janet
8 years ago

Your English is correct! You can also, and perhaps more logically, say “I go neither to work nor (to) University”. Both work for me. The “to” is optional at least in speech, but gives a nice emphasis and balance to the sentence.

One correction though. As “neither” is already negative, you omit “don’t” and say “I like neither chocolate nor ice cream.” The Japanese, who are very literal with yes (agree to sentence content) and no (disagree) may otherwise think you do like both!

Cheers.

Manni
Manni
9 years ago

Emanuel, what does “Willst du lieber was trinken?” mean?

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago
Reply to  Manni

It means, do you want something to drink.
Do you love something to drink.

Baconeta
Baconeta
2 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

I would say prefer, not love