One of our subscribers recently asked us for a post on either and neither, and it’s easy to see why. These two words look and sound so similar that it’s no wonder students get confused. What’s the best way to teach these two terms?
Either and neither have two main functions in English:
|Function 1||Agreeing with a negative statement|
|Function 2||The negative version of "both" (representing two people or things)|
*See Important Note #3 below for a discussion on singular and plural verb usage.
Either or Neither?
The easiest way for students to figure out which term to use is to look for a negative word in the sentence (usually "not"). If there is a negative word, use either. If not, use neither. Tell them to think of the first letter “n” in neither as replacing "not" or "never."
- I never liked this movie either.
- You don't like cheese? I don't either.
- If you're not registering for this class, then I won't either.
- I don't think either manager is coming to the meeting.
- You don't like watching sports? Neither do I.
- You don't want to go out tonight? Yeah, me neither.
- Neither of my closest friends is coming to my party tonight.
- She told me that neither applicant got the position.
1. Other negative words
Students might get confused by other negative words such as dislike, hate, be sick of, etc. Make sure you point out that if the verb doesn't have a negative adverb (not or never), then the rule above doesn't apply. So even though the meaning of dislike is negative, we have to use me too instead of me neither.
- You hate that book? Me too.
2. Either for choice in affirmative sentences
Either can be used without a negative word. Examples include the formal expression in either case or to indicate a choice where there's no clear preference (either one will do, give me either of them, either…or, etc.).
3. Singular or plural verb?
When used as a subject, either and neither + a singular verb is always correct. For higher-level students, you can explain it in more detail and point out that a plural verb is possible in some cases:
|Rule 1:||Either/Neither + singular noun + singular verb|
|Rule 2:||Either/Neither + of + plural noun + singular OR plural verb|
Note that using a plural verb is considered more informal, and students always want to know the most common, casual way of speaking in English!
There are a few different ways to agree with someone’s negative statement in English.
|Negative Statement:||I don't eat breakfast.|
I usually tell my students that me neither is the most common, informal way of replying. Me neither is especially common in speaking. For a slightly more formal response (and one that is more common in writing), use I don’t either or neither do I.
*Some people say me either while others insist it's incorrect. Personally, I prefer me neither.
So how do we pronounce neither and either? There are two equally common, acceptable ways to pronounce these terms. I tell my students to choose one way and stick to it.
|Neither:||/ˈni ðər/ (nee-thur)|
|Either||/ˈi ðər/ (ee-thur)|
|Neither:||/ˈnɑɪ ðər/ (neye-thur)|
|Either||/ˈɑɪ ðər/ (eye-thur)|
Reassure students that they can’t really go wrong. The only strange thing might be to mix up the two pronunciations in the same sentence (however, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that once or twice in my life!).
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Either…Or Vs. Neither…Nor and Ever Vs. Never.
- Azar, Fundamentals of English Grammar, 2nd ed., Prentice Hall Regents, 1992.
- Collins Cobuild, English Grammar, HarperCollins Publishers, 1990.