Either, or, neither, nor, and both - what do these very similar sounding words mean – and what are they used for?
All of the words listed above are used when you are talking about two different things. But which words you use will depend on the relationship between the two items – and what you are trying to express.
Read on to find out exactly how to use these!
“Either” is used when you are describing a choice between two different items. You might want to choose one of the objects or the other, but you cannot have the two of them together.
“You can either have cake for dessert, or ice cream.”
When you are presenting the choice of two different things, you can use both words “either… or” – with each item after the two words.
Another way of using “either” is to express that you are happy with the two options, and you don’t mind which of them takes place.
“Would you like coffee with or without sugar?
Either – I don’t mind how you make it.”
Another way of using the word is in the phrase “either way” – this is often used to show that the difference between two choices isn’t that significant, and their impact will be the same.
“It doesn’t matter if you drive or take the train, either way it will still take you all day to get there.”
Unlike “either”, “neither” is a negative statement about a choice between two things. Instead of choosing one of them, you can use the word “neither” to show that you do not want one or the other.
“I don’t want the dress or the trousers. Neither of them fit me properly.”
You can also use “neither” to make a negative statement about two things.
“Neither of my parents came to my wedding.”
You can also use the word “nor” to connect two different choices. It can be used to emphasise that you do not want to choose either of them.
“Neither my friend nor his partner told me the truth about what was happening.”
You can also use “not either” to express a negative statement – you can use this to say “also not”.
“She hasn’t heard back about her job application yet. I haven’t, either.”
Either or and Neither of
An important point to note about “either” and “neither” is that they are only used with singular nouns.
But if you are describing plural nouns, you can add the word “of” before them.
“Neither of the cats ate their food today.”
“We cannot go to either of the cinemas in town today, as they are both closed.”
When you want to say something about the first item and the second item, you can use the word “both”.
“Both his son and his daughter go to the same school.”
You can use “both” to make a positive statement, but you cannot use it to make a negative statement.
For example, this is correct:
“She had both the salad and the main course at dinner.”
But it would be incorrect to say:
“She did not eat both of her meals.”
Instead, you can use “neither” or “either”:
“She ate neither of her meals.”
“She did not eat either of her meals.”
These words can be a little confusing at first, but the best way to get familiar with them is with lots of practice. Why not try writing short phrases to describe the different choices and activities you come across every day?