Neither or either: How to use them

Neither or either: How to use them

by Leona Quigley

Updated November 10, 2022

One of the features of the language that makes English grammar a bit tricky to learn is the large number of words that sound very similar but have different or even contradictory meanings. This is precisely the case when it comes to ‘either’ and ‘neither’, which can be used individually or as part of the two-part conjunctions ‘either… or’ and ‘neither… nor’. To add to the confusion, there are two different pronunciations for these words and both are equally acceptable (/ˈnaɪðə(r)/ or /ˈni:ðə(r)/ ).  But never fear, once you read the following explanation and start to incorporate these words into your everyday life, you’ll start to use them naturally and enrich your language. 

So what are the either/neither grammar rules? Here’s everything you need to know.

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How to use either and neither individually

‘Either’ and ‘neither’ can be used as ‘determiners’ before the first of two or more alternative options.

‘Either’ is usually used in a positive sense when referring to a choice between two options. It means that any one of the options presented is acceptable. ‘Neither’ is used in a negative sense. In other words,  none of the options (people, places or things – countable nouns) are acceptable. If you remember ‘neither’ and ‘negative’, the two ‘ns’, you will get it right!

So if your friend asks if you would like to have Indian or Chinese food tonight, you might say:

  • Either works for me” (if you are happy with both suggestions). 
  • Or: “Neither, I’m not hungry” (which means none of the options are acceptable – for tonight at least). 

Here are some other examples:

When asked, “Which candidate do you think will make the best leader?” you could reply:

  • Neither, both are terrible” (meaning you don’t think any of the candidates are suitable for the job)
  • Or: “I don’t support either of the candidates” (which communicates the same idea in a different way) 

If asked, “Which of these two sweaters do you prefer?” you could respond with:  

  • Personally, I don’t like either sweater ( or I like neither of them) 

In addition, ‘either’ and ‘neither’ can also be used as pronouns, adjectives or adverbs. For example:

  • “Do either of you speak German?” In this sentence, ‘either’ is a pronoun.
  • Neither shirt fits me properly.” In this sentence, neither is an adjective.

They can be used as adverbs as follows:

“I don’t know where we can find the restaurant he recommended.”

Neither do I.” (I don’t know either).

This dress doesn’t suit me either.  (Meaning that one or more other dresses didn’t suit). Neither (of the dresses) suits me.

“Martin doesn’t play cricket.”  “Neither does Paul” or “Paul doesn’t either.”

He didn’t pass the exam and neither did I. Neither of us passed (the exam). Edel didn’t (pass it) either.

Both ‘either’ and ‘neither’ are also commonly used as two-part conjunctions, ‘either … or’ or ‘neither … nor’ to connect two or more alternatives as shown below.

Phrases with either… or

The choice can be between two or more nouns, verbs, adjectives, phrases or clauses. An example of each is given below: 

  • Nouns: “We could go to either Paris or Amsterdam for our Summer holiday.”
  • Verbs: “To get to Berlin, you could either drive or fly, whichever you prefer.”
  • Adjectives: “I’m not sure where this recipe is from. It’s either Greek or Turkish.”
  • Phrases: “You could stay either in the Hotel Visionaire or at the hostel.”
  • Clauses: “We can either go home tonight or we can stay with my friend Benji.” 

Phrases with neither… nor

Again the alternatives can be between two or more nouns, verbs, adjectives, phrases or clauses. An example of each is given below:

  • Nouns: “Neither Lauren nor Vincent would attend the protest march.
  • Verbs: “Maurice can neither sing nor dance. He is not a party animal”.
  • Adjectives: “The recipe is neither Greek nor Turkish. It’s Lebanese”.
  • Phrases: “I’m staying neither at the Hotel Visionaire nor at the hostel. I’m staying at Benji’s”.
  • Clauses: I’m neither going home nor staying with Benji. Can’t we just stay here until morning?

It should be noted though that ‘neither… nor’ sentences can sound very formal and a bit stilted in spoken English. If you wanted to avoid this, you could construct your sentence like this:  “Lauren didn’t attend the march and Vincent didn’t either”.  

(N)either, thanks

Using ‘either’ and ‘neither’ correctly can be one of the particularly tricky parts of learning English, especially if there is no equivalent formulation in your native language. Nevertheless, if you take note of the tips above, practice regularly and pay attention to how native speakers use these words and conjunctions, you will soon know when to use either or neither intuitively.

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Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.

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