is a word that causes endless problems not only for writers but also sometimes for those who wish to guide them. The style manual for the London Times, for instance, states flatly that "neither takes a singular verb, e.g., 'Neither Bert nor Fred has any idea/ "That is true enough, to be sure, for examples involving Bert and Fred or any other two singular items, but what if the items are plural? According to the Times guide, we would have to write, "Neither the men nor the women is dressed yet," which would be irregular, to say the very least. And what if there is a mixture of singular and plural? Again, according to the strictures of the Times Guide to English Style and Usage, as it is formally known, we would have to write, "Neither the farmer nor his fifty cows was in the field," and again we would be grammatically eccentric.
   The rule, as you will gather, is slightly more complicated than is sometimes taught-but not so complicated that it should cause such persistent problems. Briefly put, in neither . . . nor constructions, the verb should always agree with the noun nearest it. Thus, "Neither De Niro nor his agent were available for comment" should be "was available for comment." Since the noun nearest the verb (agent) is singular, so the verb should be singular. However, when the noun nearest the verb is plural, the verb should also be plural: "Neither the President nor his advisers were available for comment."
   When neither is used on its own, without the nor, the verb should always be singular: "Neither of the men was ready"; "Neither of us is hungry."
   In short, more often than not a singular verb is called for- but that singularity is by no means invariable. Try to remember that neither emphasizes the separateness of items. It doesn't add them together, at least not grammatically.
   Finally, note that a neither. . . or combination is always wrong, as here: "[The] movie mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other" (New York Times). Make it nor. The following sentence makes the same error and the additional one of failing to provide a grammatical balance between the neither phrase and the nor phrase: "Borrowing which allows a country to live beyond its means serves neither the interests of the borrower or the financial community" (Times). Make it "serves the interests of neither the borrower nor the financial community." (For a fuller discussion of the balancing problem, see BOTH . . . AND.)

Dictionary of troublesome word. . 2013.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • neither — 1. pronunciation. Both pronunciations, niy dhǝ and nee dhǝ, are about equally common. 2. parts of speech. Neither functions in two ways: as an adjective or pronoun, and as an adverb or conjunction. a) adjective and pronoun. Neither means ‘not the …   Modern English usage

  • Neither — Nei ther, conj. Not either; generally used to introduce the first of two or more co[ o]rdinate clauses of which those that follow begin with nor. [1913 Webster] Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king. 1 Kings xxii. 31. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • neither — [nē′thər, nī′thər] adj., pron. [ME naither, altered (by assoc. with eyther, EITHER) < nauther < OE na hwæther, lit., not whether (see NO1, WHETHER), not either of two] not one or the other (of two); not either [neither boy went; neither of… …   English World dictionary

  • Neither — Nei ther (n[=e] [th][ e]r or n[imac] [th][ e]r; 277), a. [OE. neither, nother, nouther, AS. n[=a]w[eth]er, n[=a]hw[ae][eth]er; n[=a] never, not + hw[ae][eth]er whether. The word has followed the form of either. See {No}, and {Whether}, and cf.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Neither Am I — Studio album by Bell X1 Released October 13, 2000 …   Wikipedia

  • neither — (conj.) O.E. nawþer, contraction of nahwæþer, lit. not of two, from na no (see NO (Cf. no)) + hwæþer which of two (see WHETHER (Cf. whether)). Spelling altered c.1200 by association with either. Paired with NOR (Cf …   Etymology dictionary

  • neither — ► DETERMINER & PRONOUN ▪ not the one nor the other of two people or things; not either. ► ADVERB 1) used before the first of two (or occasionally more) alternatives (the others being introduced by ‘nor’) to indicate that they are each untrue or… …   English terms dictionary

  • neither — nei|ther [ niðər, naıðər ] function word, quantifier *** Neither can be used in the following ways: as a way of showing how a sentence or clause is related to what has already been said: I can t play tennis, but neither can you. as a conjunction… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • neither */*/*/ — UK [ˈnaɪðə(r)] / UK [ˈniːðə(r)] / US [ˈnɪðər] / US [ˈnaɪðər] conjunction, determiner, pronoun Summary: Neither can be used in the following ways: as a way of showing how a sentence or clause is related to what has already been said: I can t play… …   English dictionary

  • neither — /nee dheuhr, nuy /, conj. 1. not either, as of persons or things specified (usually fol. by nor): Neither John nor Betty is at home. 2. nor; nor yet; no more: Bob can t go, and neither can I. If she doesn t want it, neither do I. adj. 3. not… …   Universalium

  • neither — nei|ther1 W3 [ˈnaıðə US ˈni:ðər] determiner, pron not one or the other of two people or things →↑either ▪ Would you like tea or coffee? Neither, thanks. ▪ It was a game in which neither team deserved to win. neither of ▪ Neither of them can cook …   Dictionary of contemporary English