Copyright

When to Use Either or Neither

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

In English, you will often encounter words that sound similar, yet have different meanings. It is important to use them correctly in both writing and speaking. This lesson will discuss one pair of similar sounding words: either and neither.

Choices

Think about a time when you have made choices. Maybe you were choosing where to go, what to eat, or what to buy. The words either and neither are both used in the context of having options or choices between two or more objects.

When we talk about choices, we can mean offering suggestions, or we can mean accepting or rejecting suggestions. Sound confusing? Let's follow Kelsey and Peg on a trip to the mall to see how they use the words either and neither.

Offering Suggestions

Either can be used to offer suggestions. When the speaker uses either, the listener is usually expected to choose only one of the suggestions offered.

1. Kelsey told Peg that she wants to go to either the pet store or the shoe store first.

  • Kelsey has given Peg two options, and she expects Peg to pick one of those options.

2. At the pet store, Peg and Kelsey can either pet the puppies or watch the birds.

  • Peg and Kelsey have been given two options. It is not stated in the sentence who is giving them the options, but the implication of the sentence is that they will choose one of the options.

Responding to Suggestions

Both either and neither can be used to respond to suggestions that are offered.

1. Peg asked Kelsey if she wanted to eat burgers or wraps. Kelsey said either one sounds good.

  • By using either to respond to the selections offered, Kelsey indicates that she will accept one of the choices. She will probably let Peg choose.

2. Peg asked Kelsey if she wanted lemonade or soda. Kelsey told her that neither of those is a nutritious option. She wants water.

  • By using neither to respond to the selections offered, Kelsey rejects both options.

Either and neither are used to offer and respond to choices.
either neither

Descriptions

When either and neither are used to describe something, there are two or more options present. Either is used in a positive description. Neither is used in a negative description.

1. Kelsey looked at a toy drum and a puzzle. Either toy would make a good birthday present for her brother.

  • The two options present are the drum and the puzzle. The use of either means that the rest of the sentence should be seen in a positive light - both toys are good birthday presents, and Kelsey will probably pick one.

2. Kelsey looked at a toy drum and a puzzle. Neither toy would make a good birthday present for her brother.

  • The two options are still the drum and the puzzle. When the word neither is used, the sentence is now negative. The drum and the puzzle are not good presents for her brother, and Kelsey will probably not buy them.

Either/Or and Neither/Nor

Sometimes either and neither appear in a sentence as part of a pair of correlative conjunctions. Either can be paired with or, and neither can be paired with nor. Correlative conjunctions are pairs of words that work together to connect two equal sentence parts in a way that shows the relationship between the two parts.

1. Either the red shoes or the tan shoes will match that outfit.

  • In this sentence, the correlative conjunction pair either/or connects the red shoes and the tan shoes and shows their relationship - both are positive options, and one will be selected.

2. Neither the red shoes nor the tan shoes match that outfit.

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