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Using ‘either-or’ and ‘neither-nor’: Going back to the basics

either or neither nor

It is not uncommon to get stuck on the simplest of words while writing or editing. At times, we keep staring at our screens trying to remember the spelling of a word – was it double ‘t’ or double ‘e’? How could I forget this?! Other times, we wrack our brains trying to remember the correct usage of certain words. As beautiful as they are, words can be tricky too and one improper application can alter the meaning of a sentence completely.

Some of the most common mix-ups comprise the words ‘either,’ ‘neither,’ ‘or’ and ‘nor.’

‘Either’ and ‘neither’ can be used as adverbs, determiners, pronouns, and conjunctions. While ‘either’ implies something positive, ‘neither’ is used for something negative. Confused? Let’s dive a little deeper.

 

Application as adverbs

As adverbs, both ‘either’ and ‘neither’ become linking words.

I am not fond of milk. Neither am I.

I don’t like the color red. No, I don’t like it either.

 

Application as determiners

If used as determiners, ‘either’ and ‘neither’ are placed before the noun in a sentence.

This lane has a good eatery at either end.

Neither teacher could explain the theorem in a way in which the students could understand.

 

Application as pronouns

Consider the following sentences:

Both these bottles contain purified water – you can pick either.

Neither of the food items was good enough to get featured on the Top 10 list.

As pronouns, ‘either’ means one or the other, and ‘neither’ means not one or the other.

 

Application as conjunction

As conjunctions, ‘either’ is always used with ‘or’, and ‘neither’ with ‘nor’.

‘Either/or’ implies a choice between two things.

You can opt for either the red or the yellow dress.

‘Neither/nor’ is used to disprove both parts of a statement.

Neither this shoe nor that one is available in the size he wants.

 

Affirmative/negative sense

‘Either/or’ conveys a sense of affirmation when there are two possibilities.

You can either choose the window or the aisle seat.

‘Neither/nor’ conveys a negative message when two or more things are not true.

Neither Spain nor Argentina could make it to the Football World Cup final this year.

 

Singular/Plural

There are two thumb rules that must be kept in mind:

  1. If both elements are singular, the verb will be singular too.
  2. If one of the elements is plural, the verb will be plural.

So for example, when using a singular verb:

You must convey the message that either the child’s father or mother has to attend the committee meeting.

Neither father nor mother is going to attend the committee meeting.

Plural verb:

Either the class teacher or the parents are going to complain tomorrow.

Neither the class teacher nor the parents were willing to report the incident. 

Now that you have a fair understanding about the usage of either/or and neither/nor, you can write on without any hitches. Happy writing!

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