Neither/Nor: Meaning, Rule & Examples

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  • 0:04 Contrasting Options
  • 0:28 Either/Or, Neither/Nor
  • 1:16 Singular or Plural Verbs
  • 1:48 Practice
  • 2:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Expert Contributor
Marc Mancinelli

Marc is a long-time HS English teacher and has taught at the college level. He has a master's degree in literature and a doctorate in education.

In this lesson, we will learn when to use 'either/or' and when to use 'neither/nor' when comparing two choices. We will also learn about subject/verb agreement when making these comparisons.

Contrasting Options

In George Orwell's Animal Farm, the narrator tells us, ''But still, neither pigs nor dogs produced any food by their own labour; and there were very many of them, and their appetites were always good.'' Have you ever wondered why an author uses the correlative conjunction pair 'neither/nor' instead of 'either/or' when discussing two contrasting choices? Let's find out.

Either/Or, Neither/Nor

How do I know when to use 'either/or' and when to use 'neither/nor'? Both choices are used during comparisons of two things, but the difference is:

  • Either/or is used when making a positive decision between two or more things.
  • Neither/nor is used when the choice is negative or the person wants to say that more than one thing is not true.

For example, look at the following sentence:

  • You may either go to the library or a book store to get a copy of the required reading materials.

In this sentence, the author uses 'either/or' because the choice is between two things, either of which will provide positive outcomes.

Now, take a look at this sentence:

  • You may neither go to the mall nor may you go to the movie theater.

In this scenario, the use of 'neither/nor' indicates that there are two possibilities, neither of which is a viable option for you.

Singular or Plural Verbs

How is the use of 'either/or' and 'neither/nor' affected by whether or not the options are singular or plural?

If both choices are singular, then the verb will be singular. For example:

  • Neither the dog nor the cat wants to go out in this heat.

If both choices are plural, then the verb will be plural. For example:

  • Neither the dogs nor the cats want to go out in this heat.

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Additional Activities


Let's review the relationship between "either" and "or," and "neither" and "nor." First, "either" and "or" are always paired together and "neither" and "nor" are always paired together—that is to say, we would never pair either/nor or neither/or. Second, in a string of items requiring a "nor," be sure to write "nor" before each.

Quick Check

Evaluate whether the following sentences are correct, and write "correct" or "incorrect" next to each.

1) I'd prefer either pasta or fish tonight for dinner.
2) Neither blankets or gloves or hats or my parka could keep me warm enough.
3) When I was young, I wanted to be either a fire fighter or a police officer.
4) Neither Sarah nor Hayley nor Kevin nor Emmanuel said that the commissioner made a good speech.

Make Your Own

Use the following information to practice making your own sentences. Be sure to use either/or and neither/nor correctly.

5) State that you don't like hot dogs and you don't like hamburgers.
6) Tell your friend that you are fine ordering Chinese food and you are fine ordering Mexican food for dinner.
7) Someone's at the door and it could only be one of two people—state who it might be.
8) You didn't see four movies—tell us that you didn't see them, and be sure to list them all.

Practicing Subject-Verb Agreement

When using either/or and neither/nor, be sure to maintain subject-verb agreement. You can do this by making sure that the verb and the noun that is closest to the verb agree with each other. For instance, you might say, "Either Jennifer or the twins are going to be here first." In this case "are" is used since "the twins" is closest. The opposite—though also correct—would be, "Either the twins or Jennifer is going to be here first." In the below items, choose the word to make proper subject-verb agreement.

9) Neither the 5th grade teachers nor the principal (is/are) coming to the meeting.
10) Either the lieutenant or the officers of Car 58 (is/are) going to respond to the emergency.

Answer Key

1) Correct
2) Incorrect
3) Correct
4) Correct

5) (Example) I like neither hot dogs nor hamburgers.
6) (Example) I am fine with either Mexican or Chinese for dinner.
7) (Example) That has to be either Pete or Ace at the door.
8) (Example) I have seen neither Field of Dreams nor Home Alone nor Alien nor From Here to Eternity.

9) are
10) is

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