It’s basic grammar that the duplicative aŭ…aŭ, nek…nek, and kaj…kaj forms change a simple “or”, “nor” or “and” into “either…or”, “neither…nor” and “both…and”, respectively. (There are more kombinitaj vortetoj, including ĉu…ĉu, jen…jen, and the non-duplicative ju…des.)

But that section of the PMEG doesn’t, as far as I can tell, address the question of a series of three or more alternates.

In some languages, this construction is productive into arbitrary lists (and can even be mixed, like

*both the first and the second nor the third

either both the first and also the second, or, not the third

which would connote that the first and the second imply the third but the third can also occur independently.)

But in other languages—including English in formal register—it’s not permitted to chain these at all; one must switch from

either the red or the green


one of: the red, the green, or the blue.

My intuition is that Esperanto should allow chaining into nek…nek…nek and so on, but not mixtures like kaj…nek…kaj.

This gut feeling arises from the ju…des case, where one can say ju pli…des pli or ju malpli…des pli or ju pli…des malpli and so on. This is a case that:

  • explicitly allows for per-item negation (the first, second, or both can have the mal- following it)
  • semantically only allows two items
  • and uses two different words rather than the same word twice.

It feels like the fact that these semantics go hand-in-hand with the only case that uses two different introducing conjunctions implicitly suggests that the other cases, with their duplication of introducing conjunctions, should allow for a chain.

So, my question is in three parts:

  1. Am I right that these chains are allowed?
  2. If yes to #1, can you mix conjunctions in a chain?
  3. If yes to #1, can you replace the second through penultimate conjunctions with commas? (e.g., kaj la ruĝa, la verda kaj la blua)

2 Answers 2


That section of PMEG specifically says for all repeated kombinitaj vortetoj, that they can be used pluroble. Such multiple times repeated words can have different meanings (e.g. repeated ĉu can indicate indifference instead of question).

  • The first sentence, Iuj vortetoj aperas pare aŭ pluroble kun specialaj signifoj. suggested to me that multiples had special meaning vs. pairs... I read, “pare (kun kutima signifo) aŭ pluroble kun specialaj signifoj”. So that was where I went wrong, I think...
    – Trey
    Dec 27, 2019 at 22:55

In La Tekstaro, a search for \bnek\b.*\bnek\b.*\bnek\b returns (as its very first result!), Zamenhof’s

La vera stilo Esperanta estas nek slava, nek germana, nek romana, ĝi estas – aŭ almenaŭ devas esti – nur stilo simpla kaj logika.

(“…neither Slavic, nor Germanic, nor Romance…”)

so—this seems like pretty definitive confirmation!

Except, in English, substituting “neither…nor…nor” for “none of” is more acceptable (according Oxford American, at least) than “either…or…or” for “one of” and “both…and…and” for “all of”. And there are other languages that allow chaining of some combining conjunctions and not others.

Yet La Tekstaro has examples of kaj…kaj…kaj (including from Zamenhof), and aŭ…aŭ…aŭ, as well as nek…nek…nek.

So I think

  1. Chaining the same combinative conjunction is fine.

  2. Mixing them, like nek…aŭ…kaj, is not.

    (A La Tekstaro search for \baŭ\b[^.]*\bnek\b[^.]*\baŭ\b turns up results, but I could only see ones where the nek is subordinate to the aŭ…aŭ, not in a chain with it.)

But as for #3: can you use commas for the intervening conjunctions?

This question about using the Oxford comma in Esperanto links to Section 1.2 of PMEG, which says

Komo estas uzata … anstataŭ la vortoj kaj kaj en elnombrado de pluraj aferoj.


A comma is used… instead of the words kaj and in listing of several things.

This sounds like the answer is yes—at least specifically in the cases of kaj and , but that's just an implicature. This is hard to search La Tekstaro for (unless there's a cleverer way I haven't found!).

  • I've wondered this myself and I have seen the example you found: nek slava nek germana nek romana (note, that I prefer not to use commas between). If nothing more it surely show a style, that can be considered acceptable, i.e. jes, you can chain more than two, but with repeating the same kombinita vorteto. Dec 27, 2019 at 11:41
  • Incidentally, the “neither... nor... nor” being possibly more acceptable is framed by noting that in English, nor can be used independently of neither, e.g., “He wanted not for food, nor for water, nor for shelter”. Of course, and can be used independent of both, so I don’t think it’s a great explanation!
    – Trey
    Dec 27, 2019 at 18:43

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