Either-or VS Neither-nor

I think we all have some words or expressions that we don’t like in the languages we speak, and also some others of which we cannot get a hold. In the case of words, it can be because they sound similar to some others in our mother tongue, or because we associate them with bad experiences; for example, I tend to use the word present instead of gift (now a little bit less,) because there was a horror film called The gift, and I cannot associate the positive thought of a present to that word. When we struggle with sentences, grammar turn, and so on, it may often be because they are too different from those used in our native language.

Something with which I still struggle in English is the use of either-or and neither-nor. I honestly know that it should be easy, because I know the rule, and because it is a quite straightforward construction in this language (which is not something too common.) Despite this, I still have to stop and think, and often avoid it. The fact that plenty of native speakers have the same problem, does not make me feel better.

Today then, instead of complaining about something that I saw or heard and that disturbed me, I am going to try something else: let’s see if, by putting it here, in writing, I can finally get over this obstacle, and I can kill two birds with a stone, and help those of you who have the same problem.

The rule is as easy as the title of this post says:

Either… or… / Neither-nor

Either… or… is used when there are two possible options, but only one can be chosen:

Ex. “I will go on holidays either to Berlin or to Portugal”

(I have the two options, but I have to choose one of them)

Neither-nor, instead, links two ideas that are equally excluded:

Ex. “Neither Paul nor Neil is available for the dinner”

(None of them is available)

In the case of another negative in the sentence, neither-nor cannot be used, and either-or has to be used instead:

Ex. “I have not invited either Paul or Neil to the dinner”

I have not invited neither Paul nor Neil to the dinner

As we have seen from the previous examples, if all the elements in the sentence are singular, the verbs is conjugated in singular. If, instead, one of the elements is plural, the verb will also be in plural:

Ex. “Neither Paul nor his brother is invited to the dinner”

Neither Paul nor his brothers are invited to the dinner”

Either/Neither should go near the part to which it refers, noun or verb, and not wander about in the sentence:

Ex. “I have seen neither Marc nor Tim lately,” and

“I have decided to either study in Spain or England”

I have either decided to study in Spain or in England

Was this useful? At least, I will have a clear page to which to refer when in doubt!

Until next and… Keep being naughty, Knotty surely will!

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