Neither/Nor and Either/Or

These two–neither/nor and either/or–are known as correlative conjunctions.

Where most people get tripped up in using these conjunctions is in verb tense and pronoun usage.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

Neither my classmates nor I am aware of any upcoming tests.

Neither the students nor the teacher knows her way to the auditorium.

In both these cases, and in all cases involving neither/nor and either/or, the subject of the sentence is always the one appearing after nor/or.  And in both of my examples, the subject is singular.  In the first one, since the subject is I, the verb has to be the first person singular am even though the result may sound weird to the ear.  In the second example, teacher is the subject so both the verb and possessive pronoun have to be singular.

Now, let’s switch things around.

Neither I nor my classmates are aware of any upcoming tests.

Neither the teacher nor the students know their way to the auditorium.

As the subjects become plural, so do the verbs and pronouns.

Clear as mud, right?  Just remember to ignore everything before nor or or before choosing the proper verb and pronoun.  Then the mud will disappear.

9 thoughts on “Neither/Nor and Either/Or

  1. Katy says:

    What if you have this sentence:

    Neither Karen nor Julie has her own pencil.

    Should it be ‘her’ or ‘their’?
    If we change one of the people to a boy, we have to write ‘their’, right?

    Neither Karen nor Joshua has their own pencil.

    Let me know, please! I have a test about this coming up soon!

  2. grammarblogger says:

    The second subject, the one appearing after the nor (or or in either/or) is ALWAYS the subject that determines both the verb and pronoun. In your first example, “…Julie has her own pencil” is correct, not their. If you change Julie to Joshua, it becomes, “Neither Karen nor Joshua has his own pen.” This sounds ridiculous, so you should just get rid of the neither/nor construction and change it to something like, “Both Karen and Joshua lack pencils.”

  3. Pat says:

    Question: What is correct in the following sentence?

    Laura hasn’t written to (either, neither) her nor me.

    Is the correct answer neither because it is followed by nor? Or

  4. Nazeer says:

    what if you have this sentence:

    she likes neither coffee or tea.

    is it correct please reply me soon and give me all the answers possible

  5. Rivendell says:

    Pat,

    Neither/nor already denotes a negative; thus your sentence should read:

    Laura hasn’t written to either her or me.

    Or you could simply omit the “either” altogether and say:

    Laura hasn’t written to her or me.

    Nazeer,

    Your sentence should be

    She like neither coffee nor tea.

    Neither always partners with nor. If you wish to use or, then you’ll have to use either with it. Your sentence will then have to read:

    She doesn’t like either coffee or tea.

    Or again, you may just omit either altogether and just say:

    She doesn’t like coffee or tea.

  6. Rex says:

    Regarding ‘Neither..nor’, and ‘either..or’, I have read so many comments that if one of the subject nouns is plural, then the verb needs to be plural. I tend to think the proximity rule makes more sense but it is really confusing now. Can anyone help ? Thanks.

  7. grammarblogger says:

    The only confusion on this appears to be in your mind, or in your choice of whom you listen to. The rule is quite simple and clear cut: The subject appearing after “or” or “nor” determines the verb. There is no other rule.

  8. rogelio says:

    what if “neither…nor” is connecting two independent clauses like: neither does Jane eat apple, nor do I. (i eat apple). Is it still correct that the two clauses should have their respective subject and verb exchange in position or order since they’re both introduced by “neither and nor”?

  9. ipman says:

    To my ear, that sounds correct. It’s certainly understandable as written.

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