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Either-Or, Neither-Nor: How to Use Correctly


  • Have you ever had difficulties knowing when to use either and neither?
  • How about nor and or?
  • If you have, don't worry, you are not the only one.
  • Even native speakers will sometimes get things like this confused!
  • When you learn English, it helps to know little grammar tricks that help you tell the difference between words like these.

Either and neither can be used in several ways: adverbs, determiners, pronouns and conjunctions.

  • While 'either' has a positive connotation, 'neither' holds a negative significance. You will always find them paired up this way: either/or and neither/nor. These are the ways you can find them being used.

Use either-or to affirm the one or the other of two alternatives; neither-nor to negate them.

  • I want either a cupcake or a muffin.
  • You can have neither a cupcake nor a muffin.

Don’t use either to present more than two alternatives, but neither-nor can be used with more than two.

  • I can bake cupcakes, muffins, or pies. Which do you prefer?
  • I can bake neither cupcakes nor muffins nor pies, but I do know how to boil an egg.

Make sure the alternatives are grammatically balanced and parallel in structure.

  • Poor: I either  want a cupcake  or  a muffin .
    Better: I want either  a cupcake  or  a muffin .
  • Poor: You can neither  have a cupcake  nor  a muffin .
    Better: You can have neither  a cupcake  nor  a muffin .

Use subject pronouns like I and they in the subject position, and object pronouns like me and them in the object position.

  • Either Rita or I can eat the muffin.
  • This muffin is for neither Rita nor me.

The verb used should agree with the part closest to it.

  • Either Rita or  her friends  are going to eat all the cupcakes.
  • Either Rita’s friends or  she  is going to eat all the muffins.

Adverbs

When we find them behaving like adverbs, both either and neither become linking words.

               > I don't like spinach. - Neither do I.

               > I don't like mushrooms. - No, I don't like them either.

Determiners

In the case of determiners, either and neither are positioned before the noun.

               > The house has a door at either end.

               > Neither journalist could finish their articles; there wasn't enough time.

Pronouns

For all those instances when either and neither behave like pronouns, the structure of the sentence would be:

either/neither followed by of + noun phrase

When they act as pronouns either means 'one or the other' while neither indicates 'not one or the other'

               > Both these roads go to Rome; you can go either way.

               > Neither of my arms is strong enough to lift that suitcase.

Conjunction

In all the cases in which we find "either" and "neither" as conjunctions, we also find them combined with "or" and "nor".

either/or - They are used together to offer a choice between two things

               > You can either call me at home or at the office.

               > Either mum or dad will come to pick you up.

neither/nor - When they're paired up they negate both parts of a statement.

               > Neither the blue one nor the red is available in size 4.

               > I will neither call you nor send you a message before midnight.

Singular or plural

When using either/or and neither/nor, note the following rules:

1. If both elements are singular, then the verb is singular too.

  • Either the father or the mother has to attend the meeting. (The nouns 'father' and 'mother' are singular; so the verb 'has' is singular too)
  • Neither Leila nor Nancy is going to write the report. ('Leila' and 'Nancy' are singular; so the verb ' is' is singular too)

2. However, if one of the elements is plural, then use a plural verb.

  • Either Sue or the girls are going to prepare dinner tonight. (The noun 'girls' is plural; so the verb 'are' is plural too)
  • Neither the teacher nor the students were in the classroom this morning. (The noun 'students' is plural; so the verb 'were' is plural too)

Either … or

Neither … nor

 

Either… or is a correlative conjunction. We use either … or for connect things which are the same types, phrases, clauses or words.

 

Examples

Either Mark or Samuel will go.

•You can either come with me now or walk home.

•They don’t have enough time. They can either have breakfast or have a shower.

•You can either call me at home or the office.

This structure, “neither … nor”, is used to connect the same kind of word or phrase in the sentence. Neither  makes a negative statement about two people or things.

 

Examples

Neither Mark nor his wife is very tall.

Neither my friends nor the bookstore has the book.

• Neither the employees nor the boss was at work.

•last week is a dentist.

 

 So.neither

 

How to use

  • Use the either-or and neither-nor pairs to refer to the one or the other of two alternatives.
  • Either-or affirms each of two alternatives, while neither-nor simultaneously negates them.

Examples

  • Either my mother or my father will call.
  • Neither the pizza nor the ice-cream is here.
  • Rita wants either a motorcycle or a water scooter for her birthday.
  • Poco likes neither tea nor coffee; he prefers carrot juice.

Either-or and neither-nor constructions act as conjunctions: they connect two things with each other.

Examples

  • Either salad or soup will be served for lunch.
  • I want neither the salad nor the soup.
  • Maya is neither happy nor sad about this.

Such constructions can also occur in relative clauses or be used to describe a noun.

Examples

  • Poco, who is neither qualified nor experienced, is now our manager.
  • Any bread, either white or brown, will do.

As conjunctions, either-or and neither-nor can join clauses in a sentence.

Examples

  • Either he wants the job, or he doesn’t.
  • Either you like chocolate, or you don’t.
  • Neither does she care, nor does she pretend to care.

Either-or and neither-nor are called correlative conjunctions. Other correlative conjunctions, which come in pairs, include both-andnot-but, and whether-or.

Examples

  • Both coffee and tea are available.
  • I don’t know whether I want coffee or tea.
  • Rita wants to drive not the car but the truck.

 

Parallel structure

  • Either-or and neither-nor constructions must be parallel in structure: the two parts joined by or or nor should be grammatically balanced.

Examples

  • Incorrect: Lulu either  wants a hat  or  an umbrella  for her birthday.

    (Lacks parallel structure.)

    Correct: Lulu wants either  a hat  or  an umbrella  for her birthday.

    (We have parallel structure: both either and or are followed by noun phrases (“a hat” and “an umbrella”).

  • Incorrect: Either  poor Farley is foolish  or  unlucky .
    Correct: Poor Farley is either  foolish  or  unlucky .
  • Incorrect: We should either  call , or  we should email  them today.
    Correct: We should either  call  or  email  them today.
    Correct: Either  we should call , or  we should email  them today.
  • Incorrect: I’ve neither  received an email  nor  a message  from them.
    Correct: I’ve received neither  an email  nor  a message  from them.
  • Incorrect: You have to neither  pay , nor  do you have to sign anything .
    Correct: Neither  do you have to pay , nor  do you have to sign anything .

Parallel structure brings balance to a sentence and improves readability. In formal texts, use parallel structure across elements of equal importance.

Example

  • Incorrect: You can  call ,  message , or  you can send us an email .
    Correct: You can  call ,  message , or  email  us.

More than two alternatives

Use an either-or formulation to present two possibilities. In informal usage, more than two possibilities are sometimes presented, but this is generally avoided in formal writing.

Examples

  • You can have either cake, ice-cream, or lizard legs.
  • We could either watch a movie, go out for dinner, or play a board game.
  • Either Anita, Poco, or I will call you.

To emphasize that there are numerous alternatives, we sometimes use the word or multiple times in a list, but either is omitted before a list with more than two alternatives.

Example

  • You can either read a book or watch a movie or go out for dinner or play a game or call a friend or bake a cake: there are lots of things you can do on a Saturday.

Neither-nor constructions, on the other hand, may be used with more than two possibilities to emphasize the simultaneous negation of all the alternatives presented.

Examples

  • Neither Anita nor Poco nor Nesbit is qualified to operate on people.
  • Neither rain nor snow nor hail nor sleet can stop us now.

Omitting either and neither

When two alternatives are presented, either can generally be omitted without loss of meaning.

Examples

  • Either Anita or Poco will send you the report.

    or

    Anita or Poco will send you the report.

    Both sentences mean that one of them will send the report.

  • You can have either pizza or cake.

    or

    You can have pizza or cake.
Using either can emphasize the exclusive nature of the options: you can choose either pizza or cake, but not both. Linguistic authorities are divided in their opinion: in general, you can use either-or or just or, whichever you prefer.

However, when nor joins two words or phrases, neither shouldn’t be omitted.

Examples

  • Incorrect: Tumkin nor Maya has a cat.
    Correct: Neither Tumkin nor Maya has a cat.
  • Incorrect: Poco drinks coffee nor tea.
    Correct: Poco drinks neither coffee nor tea.

Pronoun usage: I or me?

Whether you use “I” or “me” with or and nor depends upon whether you are referring to the subject or the object in a sentence. The pronoun “I” goes in the subject position, while “me” fits in the object position in a sentence.

Examples

  • Either you or I/me can solve this problem.

    For the subject, use “I,” not “me.”

  • This cake is for neither you nor I/me.

    In the object position, use “me,” not “I.”

Use subject pronouns like Iheshe, and they when an either-or or neither-nor construction is the subject in a sentence.

Hope you like it !

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

 

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