How to Use Either and Neither

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6-11-2019, 20:00
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Updated: October 31, 2019 If you have difficulty figuring out when to use "either" or "neither," you're not alone. Proper usage of these words even confuses native English speakers sometimes, but it's all the more difficult to distinguish between them if you're trying to learn English. To make things even more complicated, these two versatile words can be used as 4 different parts of speech: conjunctions, adjectives, pronouns, or adverbs. When used as a conjunction, "either" is combined with the word "or," while "neither" is combined with the word "nor."

Conjunctions

  1. Link two alternative things together with "either" or "neither." When used as a conjunction, the words "either" and "neither" pair with "or" or "nor" to link two distinct things. If you have more than two options, it would not be appropriate to use "either" or "neither." The conjunction "either/or" means that only one of the two things you've listed will happen. "Neither/nor," on the other hand, means that none of the two things listed will happen.
    • Either/or example: "For dessert, we can have either cake or pie." In this example, it is not an option to have both cake and pie – you can only have one or the other.
    • Neither/nor example: "I will neither cook for you nor pick something up." In this example, you don't know for sure what the speaker is going to do, but you do know of two things that they specifically are not going to do.
  2. Place "either" or "neither" after the verb if the actions are similar. If the actions you're comparing share a verb, use "either" or "neither" after the shared verb. Then place the word "or" or "nor" between the two actions.
    • Either/or example: "The restaurant offered either steak or fish as the main course." In this example, you have a choice between steak and fish.
    • Neither/nor example: "Vegans eat neither meat nor animal byproducts." This example explains that vegans do not eat any meat or animal byproducts such as eggs, milk, or cheese.
  3. Move "either" or "neither" to before the verb is the actions are different. "Either" and "neither" can also be used to link two things that each have their own verb. In this situation, the conjunction joins the entire verb phrase.
    • Either/or example: "You can either ride a bike or drive a car." In this example, you have the choice of riding a bike or driving a car, but you can't do both at the same time.
    • Neither/no example: "Chefs neither wash dishes nor serve customers." This example explains that while chefs work in restaurants, they are not responsible for washing dishes or serving food to diners.
  4. Use "nor" only when you use the word "neither." While you often see the word "or" used by itself without the word "either," the word "nor" is only used when the word "neither" also appears in the sentence. Instead of using the word "nor" by itself, either make the verb negative and use the word "or" or add the word "neither."
    • For example, suppose someone wrote: "I fear man nor beast." This would be incorrect. To fix it, you could write either "I don't fear man or beast" or "I fear neither man nor beast."
  5. Choose singular verbs for most "neither/nor" constructions. The "neither/nor" construction means that none of the linked options are available or will happen. A singular verb is usually appropriate unless the last of the linked options is a plural word.
    • For example, you could write "Neither a cupcake nor a cookie sounds good to me." However, you would write "Neither Game of Thrones nor dragons interest me," because the word "dragons" is plural.
    • If both of the linked options are plural, you would also use a plural verb. However, what's important when choosing which verb form to use is whether the last option that precedes the verb is singular or plural.
  6. Match the verb in "either/or" constructions to the noun closest to the verb. When using "either/or," you state that only one of the two options is available or can be chosen at a time. Make the verb you use singular or plural depending on whether the noun that precedes the verb is singular or plural.
    • For example, you would say "Either a burger or pizza sounds good to me." But if you were contemplating ordering several pizzas, you would say "Either a burger or pizzas sound good to me."
  7. Maintain parallelism with alternatives joined by "either/or" or "neither/nor." When using "either/or" or "neither/nor" as a conjunction, the two alternatives presented should have the same or similar constructions. The elements of each alternative thus parallel each other.
    • For example, instead of saying "Passengers were compensated either with food or vouchers," you would say "Passengers were compensated with either food or vouchers." Notice how you move the word "with" before the word "either," so that the two things you're comparing are the same: "food" and "vouchers."

Adjectives

  1. Place "either" or "neither" immediately in front of the noun it modifies. You don't always need to combine "either" and "neither" with "or" or "nor." If you want to present two alternatives that are essentially the same thing, use a single noun combined with "either" or "neither."
    • Either example: "You can choose either kitten." In this example, there are exactly two kittens, and you can have one of them (but not both).
    • Neither example: "Neither kitten is for sale." In this example, you are being told that there are two kittens but you can't have them.
  2. Use "either" or "neither" as a determiner for the noun. When used as an adjective, "either" and "neither" are determiners that clarify the noun for your reader or listener. With "either," you're saying that the statement is true for only one of two alternatives. With "neither," there are two alternatives and your statement doesn't apply to them.
    • For example, if you say "Neither candidate was prepared for the debate," you are telling your listener that there are two candidates participating in the debate, but they were not adequately prepared to discuss the questions posed to them.
    • On the other hand, if you say "Either kitten can be adopted," you are telling your listener that there are two kittens left in the litter, but only one of them is available for adoption.
  3. Replace "either" or "neither" with alternate expressions. If you're not certain if you're using "either" or "neither" correctly, you can express the statement differently by making the noun negative or using a different noun phrase. If the alternative expression communicates what you intended, you've used the word correctly.
    • Instead of saying "You may adopt either kitten," you could say "You may adopt one of the two kittens."
    • Instead of saying "You may adopt neither kitten," you could say "You may not adopt one and you may not adopt the other of the two kittens," or "You may not adopt either of the two kittens."

Pronouns

  1. Follow "either" or "neither" with the word "of" and a noun phrase. "Either" and "neither" can also be used as pronouns that stand for two specific things that can be described using the same noun. If you use "either," you're saying that the statement is only true for one of the two things. With "neither," the statement isn't true for either of the two things.
    • Either example: "Either of the kittens can be adopted." In this example, you're saying that only one of the kittens can be adopted but not both of them.
    • Neither example: "Neither of the kittens is up for adoption." In this example, you're saying that there are exactly two kittens but they are not available to be adopted.
  2. Use a singular verb when "either" or "neither" is the subject of the sentence. When using "either" or "neither" as a pronoun, you may be tempted to use a plural verb since the noun immediately preceding the verb is plural. However, the verb should agree with "either" or "neither." Since "either" always means one thing and "neither" means no things, a singular verb is appropriate.
    • Either example: "Either of the desserts comes with your meal."
    • Neither example: "Neither of the desserts is sugar-free."
  3. Substitute alternate expressions to check your usage. You can make the verb negative or add additional words to say the same thing without using "either" or "neither." This can be a good way to double-check and make sure you're using the correct word.
    • Instead of "You can adopt either of the kittens," you could say "You can adopt one or the other of the kittens" or "You can adopt one of the kittens or you can adopt the other kitten."
    • Instead of "You can adopt neither of the kittens," you could say "You cannot adopt either of the kittens," or "You cannot adopt the one kitten and you cannot adopt the other kitten."

Adverbs

  1. Use "either" to mean "in addition." As an adverb, "either" is always combined with a negative statement. It combines two statements about one thing, but instead of meaning that only one of them is true, it means that both of them are true.
    • For example, if you said "The apartment's rent is affordable and it's not small either," you would be saying that the apartment was affordable and also not small.
  2. Use "neither" if you want to eliminate all options presented. When used as an adverb, the word "neither" means "similarly not" or "also not." Neither creates a negation that may indicate agreement with the other statement or completely rule out both things offered.
    • For example, if someone says to you "I don't think I want to go to the concert tomorrow night," you might reply "If you don't go, neither will I." You're telling the person that you're only interested in going to the concert if they're going too.
  3. Indicate a link with the previous statement made. "Either" and "neither" are frequently used as adverbs when someone says something to you and you want to express agreement with what they said or otherwise express your preference. The key difference is that "neither" eliminates all options presented.
    • Either example: "
    • Neither example: "Would you like coffee or tea?" "Neither."

Tips

  • In American English, "either" and "neither" are pronounced with a long E sound in the first syllable. In British English, however, the long I sound is preferred. Both pronunciations are correct, but if you use the British pronunciation when talking to Americans, you might come across as pretentious.
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