Despite being just a single letter apart from each other, the two words either vs. neither have completely opposite meanings. This underscores just how important it is to use the correct word, since failing to do so could drastically change the meaning of a sentence.
What is the Difference Between Either and Neither?
In this post, I want to go over the uses of these two words. I will go over their functions, their definitions, and their pronunciations, as well as the popular phrases that use each word.
After reading this post, you shouldn’t ever confuse neither vs. either again.
When to Use Either
Either can be used as four distinct parts of speech. It can be used as a pronoun, conjunction, adjective, and adverb. The meaning of either in the first three forms is the one or the other and in the case of its adverbial form likewise; also.
- Either one of the candidates would make a fine president. (Pronoun)
- This is a list of people who gave either money or time during the campaign. (Conjunction)
- You can take either car to the movie tonight. (Adjective)
- If you aren’t going to the show tonight, I won’t either.* (Adverb)
A distinctive feature that separates either from neither is that either is positive. It does not create a negation of both options.
In the examples above, either is used to indicate one or the other. It is not meant to eliminate all possibilities or options presented. That said, constructions similar to the fourth example above are best avoided or replaced with the word neither.
- If you aren’t going to the show tonight, I won’t either.
– is better stated –
- If you aren’t going to the show tonight, neither will I.
When to Use Neither
Neither can also be used as four distinct parts of speech: adjective, pronoun, conjunction, and adverb. The first three forms carry the meaning not one or the other, and the adverbial form carries the meaning similarly not; also not.
- I’m not sure. Neither shirt fits me very well. (Adjective)
- Neither of the speakers has arrived yet. (Pronoun)
- After the fight, he neither called nor wrote. (Conjunction)
- If you don’t want to go to the concert, neither do I. (Adverb)
As mentioned above, neither creates a total negation, which cannot be said about the word either.
How to Pronounce Either and Neither
How to pronounce either: In American English, ee–ther is the preferred and more common pronunciation. The pronunciation i–ther is not incorrect, just sometimes considered pretentious in American English. The i–ther pronunciation is dominant in British English.
How to pronounce neither: In American English, nee–ther is the traditionally preferred pronunciation, with ni–ther being considered mildly pretentious.
In British English, however, ni–ther is considered normal.
Me Either or Me Neither?
There are quite a few different phrases/idioms that use both either and neither.
- Either Way: Whichever of the two given alternatives be the case.
I’m not sure whether his name is Greg or Joe, but, either way, address him as sir.
- Me Neither: Nor do I.
– I don’t want to leave the city tonight.
– Yeah—me neither.
Number of Elements When Using Either or Neither
Whether you are using either or neither, you can only frame two alternatives/elements.
- Either this or that.
- Neither this nor that.
It is possible to find examples in print or on the web where these words are comparing many alternatives, but this should be avoided whenever possible.
- I had neither considered your offer, the location, nor the position yet.
- We can make either hotdogs, hamburgers, or BBQ. Your pick.
It’s best to omit neither or either in sentences like those above.
- I had not considered your offer, the location, or the position yet.
- We can make hotdogs, hamburgers, or BBQ. Your pick.
Is Neither/Either Singular or Plural?
When acting as the subject of the sentence, neither and either both take singular verbs.
- Either of the two offers was better than my current job.
- Neither of the coupons was a good one.
Singular/Plural When Using Neither… Nor Constructions
When you have sentences that take the neither… nor construction, the verb that follows should be singular when the alternatives are singular or when the second alternative is singular. For example,
- Neither the engine nor the fuel tank leaks any fluid.
- Neither the fuel lines nor the fuel tank leaks any fluid.
– but –
- Neither the fuel tank nor the fuel lines leak any fluid.
In the first example, both alternatives are singular, so a singular verb follows. Similarly, in the second example, the second alternative is singular, so a singular verb follows.
The third example has a plural second alternative, so the verb that follows the construction is plural.
Singular/Plural When Using Either … Or Constructions
Nouns that are framed by an either … or construction take a singular or plural verb, depending on which noun is closest to the verb. For example,
- Either she or they need the recipe.
- Either they or she needs the recipe.
The first sentence has the plural they closest to the verb need, so the verb is plural.
The second sentence has the singular she closest to the verb needs, so the verb is singular.
Parallelism When Using Either and Neither
When you are using either and neither, you should be sure to keep the elements of you sentences parallel syntactically. For example,
- The audience was reimbursed either with vouchers or food.
– should read –
- The audience was reimbursed with either vouchers or food.
In the first sentence, the two elements do not match each other. Consider another example,
- The donations have neither been disclosed nor accounted for.
– should read –
- The donations have been neither disclosed nor accounted for.
Remember the Difference
A great way to remember the difference between these two words has to do with the first letter of the word neither.
Neither creates a negation and starts with the letter “N.” Neither means not one of the given options.
If you can remember this trick, you’ll be all set.
Both of these words have multiple functions within a sentence, but knowing when to use either or neither is very important since they have near opposite meanings.
Either means one or the other.
Neither means not one or the other.