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Either/or versus neither/nor

If you’re deciding between using either/or or neither/nor in a sentence, first consider the purpose of the sentence. Either/or is a positive construction and indicates that one or the other noun will be doing the action of the verb: “Either John or Steve will attend the meeting”. Neither/nor is a negative construction and indicates that neither the first noun nor the second noun will be doing the action of the verb: “Neither Alice nor Michael answered the phone”.

Once you’ve decided on which approach you’re using in the sentence, you can then decide the correct verb tense. To do so, look at the noun closest to the conjugated verb:

  • Either Alex or Frank will play tonight in the hockey game. (“Frank” is singular, therefore “play” is correct)
  • Neither Janice nor the twins think that's the right answer. (“Twins” is plural, therefore “think” is correct)

Questions? Please contact the Writing Centre.

Theresa Bell
Writing centre coordinator 

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