Either Or, Neither Nor

It doesn’t matter if you pronounce either with a long (ee-ther) or a long I (eye-ther). Depending on your region of the country, one may be preferred, but either pronunciation is correct. However, it is important that you know when and how to use these words and their partners or and nor correctly.

Either and neither are comparison words. They are used to compare two alternatives or options—not more than two.

  • When John met with the dean he was told, “Either apply yourself to your studies or drop out of college.”

The dean might have given John more than two options, but if he did, he wouldn’t use either.

Here’s one way you can write multiple choices:

  • The dean told John to pick one of the following options: apply himself to his studies, hire a tutor, or drop out of school. (Either would not be correct in this instance.)

Either is always paired with or; neither is always paired with nor.  Use either-or to compare two possibilities.

  • We can either eat before the movie or afterward.

Use neither-nor to compare things that are not true.

  • Neither students nor their professors were alerted to the early dismissal.

It’s possible to state the negative in another way:

  • The administration did not alert either the students or their professors to the early dismissal.

Notice that neither-nor becomes either-or in that case, because you wouldn’t want to use a double negative.

Nor can be used without neither if it is the continuation of a negative thought. In the following example it functions as and not or or not.

  • I do not speak French. Nor do I know Greek.

Here’s something else to keep in mind when you use either-or or neither-nor. If both alternatives are singular, use a singular verb.

  • Either Mary or Jane will make the favors for the party. (Mary and Jane are both singular so the verb is singular.)
  • Neither the bride nor the groom was at the church on time. (Bride and groom are each singular; use a singular verb.)

But if one of the subjects is plural, use a plural verb.

  • Either Mary or the bridesmaids are going to make the wedding favors. (bridesmaids is plural; use a plural verb.)
  • Neither the groom nor his parents were invited to the bridal shower. (Parents is plural, so the plural verb were is correct.)

And finally, pay close attention to the placement of either. In the following example, both things are wanted, so either comes after the verb:

  • Incorrect: He either wanted to go to Hawaii or Europe on the honeymoon.
  • Correct: He wanted to go to either Hawaii or Europe on the honeymoon.

If, however, the action is different in regard to the things being compared, it is correct for either to come before the verb.

  • She will either spend her bonus on a vacation or pay off her car.

Either you understand these rules now or you don’t.

3 Responses to “Either Or, Neither Nor”

  1. Curtis May 16, 2014 at 8:27 am #

    I think it may be possible to mix these. Tell me what you think of this:

    “Mary wasn’t showing up on time for her appointments, and she wasn’t being truthful, either. Nor was she calling to reschedule.”

    I know this could be rearranged, but is this example legit?

    • cslakin May 16, 2014 at 8:33 am #

      Sure, that’s correct. You’re basically saying “she wasn’t doing this, nor that.”

    • SUSAN CARTER May 20, 2014 at 1:02 am #

      In this case, you’re not using either to compare anything. So it’s a different situation.

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