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"Either/or" and "neither/nor" are two tricky pairs of words. We use "either/or" and "neither/nor" whenever we want to express a relationship between TWO things. There are a few rules to remember when you use these pairs:

1. "Either" means "one or the other." "Neither" means "NOT one or the other."

Here are some examples, along with their explanations:

SENTENCE: I like neither hockey nor figure skating.
EXPLANATION: I do not like hockey, and I do not like figure skating.

SENTENCE: Eric is either hanging out with his friends or studying.
EXPLANATION: Eric is hanging out with his friends, or he is studying.

SENTENCE: Neither of my coaches wants to yell at us.
EXPLANATION: Both of my coaches do NOT want to yell at us.

SENTENCE: Either of our vice-principals can suspend students.
EXPLANATION: Both of our vice-principals CAN suspend students.

2. Whenever you use "either," you MUST use "or." Whenever you use "neither," you MUST use "nor." You cannot mix up these pairs. Sometimes it may be acceptable to leave out the "or" or the "nor," but you can never mix up the two. Here are a few examples:

I plan to attend either the basketball game or the soccer game tonight.
Mark does not like either lima beans or meatloaf.
I have been to neither Prague nor Moscow.
Either of the two candidates would do a good job.

3. When using "neither" or "either" alone, you can refer to only ONE of TWO things. If you want to discuss MORE than two things, you must use a word like "any" or "none." Here are a few examples:

WRONG: I could not find either of the five substitute teachers.
RIGHT: I could not find any of the five substitute teachers.

WRONG: Neither of the children in the school likes the cafeteria food.
RIGHT: None of the children in the school like the cafeteria food.

4. When you use "either" or "neither" to describe the subject of a sentence, you need to use a SINGULAR verb. The one exception to this rule is when you are referring to two items that are themselves plural. In that case, you should use a PLURAL verb. Here are some examples:

Neither of my parents lets me stay out late.
Either Mary or Polly is bringing potato chips to the party.
Neither Wuthering Heights nor Jane Eyre takes place in the twentieth century.
Either the Yankees or the Red Sox are the best baseball players.
Neither cats nor dogs are my favorite animals.

5. When you use "either/or" and "neither/nor," the two things you list must be PARALLEL. That means that they need to be in the same form. (For more on this topic, please see the grammar lecture entitled "Parallelism.") Here are two examples:

WRONG: I will either visit my grandmother or going to the movies. (This sentence lists two different verb forms.)
RIGHT: I will either visit my grandmother or go to the movies. (This sentence lists the same verb forms.)

WRONG: Many kids neither read the paper nor the news. (This sentence lists a verb phrase and a noun.)
RIGHT: Many kids neither read the paper nor listen to the news. (This sentence lists two verb phrases.)

6. Since "neither" means "not one or the other," you cannot use the word "neither" along with the word "NOT." If you do this, you are actually saying "NOT not one or the other," and it changes the meaning of the sentence.

If this happens, you have two choices - either take out "not," or change "neither/nor" to "either/or." Here are a few examples:

WRONG: I did not finish neither my math homework nor my science project.
RIGHT: I finished neither my math homework nor my science project.
RIGHT: I did not finish either my math homework or my science project.

WRONG: Without my glasses, I can't see neither the blackboard nor my notes.
RIGHT: Without my glasses, I can see neither the blackboard nor my notes.
RIGHT: Without my glasses, I can't see either the blackboard or my notes.

WRONG: Neither of those two sodas is not good for you.
RIGHT: Neither of those two sodas is good for you.
RIGHT: Either of those two sodas is bad for you.
RIGHT: Both of those sodas are bad for you.

7. SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT:
When "either/neither" denotes the subject of a sentence, the verb must match the subject that comes AFTER the "or" or "nor."

WRONG: Either Janet or her brothers is home.
RIGHT: Either Janet or her brothers are home.
Since the plural "brothers" is the subject closest to the verb, we must use the plural verb "are."

WRONG: Neither my parents nor my teacher were impressed.
RIGHT: Neither my parents nor my teacher was impressed.
In this sentence, the singular "teacher" is closest to the verb. So we must use the singular verb "was."

WRONG: Either Sally or I is going to win the election.
RIGHT: Either Sally or I am going to win the election.
Here, "I" is the singular subject closest to the verb. But although "is" is a singular verb, we must use the singular verb "am." Why? For the same reason you would not say, "I is going to win the election!" We need to use the verb "am" for the sentence to work grammatically with the subject "I."

So, when you are confused about which verb to use, try saying the sentence using just the subject closest to the verb. Singular subjects need singular verbs, while plural subjects need plural verbs.