- For Teachers
'Either...or', meaning 'this one OR that one', and a counterpart in:
'Both...and', meaning 'this one AND that one.
As you can see, each has its own different use. You must choose which you want.
The way English is going, these distinctions will soon be lost and you'll be able to say anything!
I don't accept this statement just because you've written it. Many such claims would, I believe, turn out to be just the writer's opinion, rather than facts. And there's a lot more to knowing how language is used than asking a number of experts for their opinions. In any case I'm mindful of the adage: '30 million people can be wrong.'
This question came up in another thread in which I was recently involved. As it's a tub I seem to be thumping a lot these days I propose to start a new thread in the General Language Discussions forum, in order to open it up to debate. Not that that will save the world. :- So watch that space!
By the way, my jokey comment in the last post has an actual basis. Those distinctions are already breaking down, with either, neither, and, or and both all becoming interchangeable amongst a minority of people. That minority will soon become a majority...
Last edited by The Dude; 20-Mar-2011 at 01:03.
"Neither all of the cookies nor all of the fruit ____ been eaten yet."
Most of the 'rules' that one reads on this subject are based on logic or opinion - or both - rather than on everyday usage. Even in a straightforward utterance such as "Neither the cookie nor the apple ___ been eaten yet", some people would use "have", and many would not even notice the 'mistake'.
An example such as the one in bold at the top of this post is one that few people in real life would ever utter anyway, so the argument is academic, and of little value to most learners. To put a question on this in a test seems to me to be pointless.
After reading the thread I couldn't help but check what some of my books say on neither. Here's what I've found:
1) Source: Longman Dictionary of Common Errors, 1994
Neither teacher is coming.
Neither of the teachers is/are coming.
When neither is used with a singular noun, it is followed by a singular verb. Note that in informal English neither of . . . and neither . . . nor . . . are often followed by a plural verb, although this would be considered incorrect in formal writing.
2) Source: Grammar and Vocabulary for Cambridge Advanced and Proficiency, 2002
Neither of them is/are particularly nice.
Either is/are fine by me.
After neither and either a singular verb is usual, but plural verbs are often used in spoken English.
I was also taught that neither . . . nor . . . takes a singular verb.
Neither Jack nor Mary has arrived.
However, in less formal situations you could adjust the verb to the noun in its immediate proximity. And an example follows where you have mixed nouns, singular and plural.
Neither Jack nor his sisters have arrived.
Your final example takes us back to the real point at issue. My guidance is clear: The verb is singular if both nouns are singular. If either noun is plural, the verb is plural.
I now have a stronger feeling that the difference of opinion here is indeed one of N. American/British English usage. I feel that my guidance is not only the 'rule' in GB, but also very common usage indeed. I would accept it as normal to see in a British English report "Neither the players nor their manager know what to do" or to hear someone say "Neither my parents nor sister are coming."
I have no problem with this at all, by the way, and will just add it to the list of perfectly reasonable Am/Br variations. Vive la difference!
*** I'm not a teacher ***
It's going to be lengthy so grab a coffee! Here's what I've found in Quirk, Randolph, S. Greenbaum, G. Leech, and J. Svartvik. (1985).A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.
1) I wouldn't know about the actual usage but Quirk supports the idea that neither cannot be used for more choices than two:
In addition to singular and plural number, we may distinguish dual number in the case of both, either, and neither (cj5.16) since they can only be used with reference to two. Both has plural concord (cj6.50); either and neither have singular concord (46.59fl).
2) Further, when it comes to concord he distinguishes between formal and informal situations saying that plural concord is more common in speech:
The rules for the negative correlatives neither. . . nor are the same as for either. . . or in formal usage. In less formal usage, they are treated more like and for concord. Thus,  is more natural in speech than :
Neither he nor his wife have arrived. 
Neither he nor his wife has arrived. 
This preference is probably connected with the use of the plural verb with neither as a determiner or pronoun (cf10.42), but it may also reflect notional concord in that logically 'neither X nor Y' can be interpreted as a union of negatives: 'both (not-X) and (not-Y)'.
3) Since he mentioned that the rules for the negative correlatives neither . . . nor are the same as for either . . . or in formal usage, I'll throw in his either examples to picture the situation with neither when two nouns don't agree in number. If an asterisk appears after a verb, it means the option's incorrect.
So in cases like  and  where the nouns are of mixed number, we match the verb to the number of the noun in its immediate vicinity.Either the Mayor or her deputy [is/ are*] bound to come. 
What I say or what I think [is/ are*] no business of yours. 
Either the strikers or the bosses [has*/have] misunderstood the claim. 
Either your brakes or your eyesight [is/ ?are] at fault. 
Either your eyesight or your brakes [are/ ?is] at fault. 
Grammatical concord is clear when each member of the coordination has the same number: when they are both singular (as in  and ), the verb is singular; when they are both plural (as in ), the verb is plural. A dilemma arises when one member is singular and the other plural (as in  and ). Notionally, or is disjunctive, so that each member is separately related to the verb rather than the two members being considered one unit, as when the coordinator is additive and. Since the dilemma is not clearly resolvable by the principles of grammatical concord or notional concord, recourse is generally had to the principle of proximity: whichever phrase comes last determines the number of the verb, as in  and .
4) However, he does point out that speakers may still not be comfortable with those structures and so, decide to go for a safer option:
If the number alternatives for the verb are both felt to be awkward, speakers may avoid making a choice by postposing the second noun phrase or sometimes by substituting a modal auxiliary (cf10.44):
Either your brakes are at fault or your eyesight is.
He hasn't arrived, nor has his wife.
Either your brakes or your eyesight may be at fault.
Last edited by nyota; 21-Mar-2011 at 12:24.