In English grammar, either and neither are conjunctions used to express a contrast between two alternatives or possibilities. They can be used to join two verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, phrases, or clauses. Despite seeming rather straightforward, both can often cause confusion. This tutorial aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the correct use of either and neither when they are used as a conjunction.
Understanding Either and Neither
Concept of Either
Either is used when referring to a choice between two alternatives. For instance, "either" could be used in a sentence such as "You can either study or play." Here, the user is given the option to choose one of two possibilities: studying or playing.
Concept of Neither
On the other hand, neither indicates a negative situation where both options mentioned in a sentence are not true or not possible. For example, "Neither George nor Paul is to blame." Here, it is asserted that neither individual is at fault.
Rules to be Followed
"Either/Or" and "Neither/Nor" are always used in pairs. Use "either" (for affirmative sentences) or "neither" (for negative sentences) before the first alternative, and "or" or "nor" before the second. For example:
- Either you apologize, or I won't talk to you anymore.
- Neither my dad nor my mom likes sushi.
Verb Agreement Rule
When "either…or" or "neither…nor" pairs are used, the verb agreement in the sentence should correspond to the noun or pronoun closer to it. For example:
- Either John or his friends are mistaken.
- Neither the cakes nor the pie is to be served today.
Specific Uses of Either and Neither
Either when two options are possible
Either can be used to denote that two options are possible. For instance:
- You can either walk or take the bus to school.
- I can either have a fruit smoothie or iced coffee.
Note: The use of “either” in both sentences is optional but doing so emphasizes the fact that two alternatives are available.
Neither to demonstrate zero options
Neither is used when you want to indicate that both options in a situation are not possible. For example:
- She eats neither meat nor fish.
- He speaks neither English nor French.
Errors to Avoid
Remember, "either…or" and "neither…nor" must be used in pairs. One common error in usage involves creating mismatched pairs (e.g. "either…nor" or "neither…or"). Avoid such errors by ensuring that the structure is correct.
Either and neither, as conjunctions, are powerful tools for elucidating choices and possibilities within our speech and writing. They allow for precise, expressive language, making clear whether options are open, or conversely, restricted. With a firm grasp of their usage and structures, you can use "either" and "neither" confidently and accurately to enhance your communication.