Either This or That…or Else

Recently, I overheard this one-liner (which caused me to giggle internally): “Either you or my sisters or my mother want to go.”

I’m sure they do want to go, but don’t let that deter you from being insanely interested in grammar.

When using the word pairs either/or OR neither/nor, ensure that the subject closer to the verb agrees with the verb. Since either or neither implies a pair of individuals or an individual and a group, don’t use three people (or three groups of people) with these words. In the following correctly written sentences, please notice not only that the noun closer to the verb agrees in number with this verb but that [n]either in the last bulleted item implies only two boys but means not either one:

Either you or my sisters or my mother wants to go.
Neither John nor his parents are going to the party.
Neither of the boys wants to go. (“of the boys” is a prepositional phrase, so boys is not one of the subjects of the sentence)

You’re welcome.


My English Quarters
Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English