By Marina Pantcheva
If you are unsure how to use either and neither, do not worry much – many native English speakers are frustrated by the same problem. On this page, you can read about how to use them in negative sentences, in combination with or and nor, and on their own.
Either and neither in negative sentences
Either and neither are used in negative sentences to mean “too.”
(1) I can’t come to the party.
I can’t either.
Neither can I.
Although either and neither are both used as a “negative too”, they follow different rules:
- Either is combined with a negative verb and comes last in the sentence.
(2) Mary did not pass the exam. John did not either.
- Neither is combined with a positive verb and comes first in the sentence and is followed by the verb. The subject comes third.
(3) Mary did not pass the exam. Neither did John.
It is wrong to combine neither with a negative verb.
(4) John did not neither. [incorrect!]
(5) Neither did not John. [incorrect!]
It is wrong to use too or as well in a negative sentence.
(6) John did not too. [incorrect!]
(7) John did not as well. [incorrect!]
Either and neither used on their own
When used alone, either means “any of the two.”
(8) I need to find a car to move house. My uncle has two. Either will suit my purposes.
When used alone, neither means “none of the two.”
(9) I have two cars, but neither is big enough.
Do not use either/neither when there are more than two things involved. Use any/none in such case.
(10) My uncle has many cars. I can borrow any of them.
(11) I have three cars. None has enough space for a refrigerator.
Use the singular form of the verb when either and neither stand alone.
Either … or and neither … nor
Either … or means “one of the two, but not both”
(12) Either Mary or John will pick you up at the airport.
Mary will pick you up, or John will pick you up.
Neither … nor means “none of the two”
(13) Neither Mary nor John will pick you up at the airport.
Mary will not pick you up, and John will not pick you up.
Either is always combined with or, neither with nor. The following sentence is wrong because neither is combined with or.
(14) Neither the Dean or the Chancellor wanted to accept the new regulations. [incorrect!]
With either … or and neither … nor, the noun closest to the verb determines the agreement on the verb.
(15) Either my uncle or his sons have a big truck. [plural have becauseof sons]
(16) Does either my uncle or his sons have a big truck? [singular does because of my uncle]
These few short rules will help you next time you wonder about either and neither.
- In negation: either comes last and combines with a negated verb; neither comes first and combines with a positive verb.
- Alone: either means “one of the two”; neither means “none of the two.” Use a singular verb.
- Either combines with or; neither combines with nor.