Either vs. Neither: What’s The Difference?

The English language is one of the most complex languages to learn and as a result one of the most exciting and rewarding. When you are able to remember the words that sound the same but are spelled differently and words that are spelled and sound the same but have different meanings, you are already well on your way to avoiding common, cringeworthy English grammar mistakes.

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Definitions of Either and Neither

According to Merriam Webster, both either and neither are a set of words that can become confusing when learning English. Using them in the correct context can take a bit of practice and in conversation, they can sound different, too. 

Either means, ‘any of the two’.

Neither means, ‘none of the two’.

Both either and neither are determiners that be used in the following parts of speech:

  • Adjective – modifies the noun in a sentence
  • Pronoun – substitutes for the noun 
  • Conjunction – joins together clauses, sentences, phrases, and words
  • Adverb – modifies the verb in a sentence

The use of either as an adjective:

  • Being one and the other of two, either/or:
    • flowers blooming on either side of the walk
    • plays either instrument well

Neither as an adjective in a negative statement:

  • Not either
    • Neither hand

The use of either as a pronoun:

  • The one or the other
    • Take either route to get here

Neither as a pronoun:

  • Not one or the other
    • Neither route will get you here

The use of either as a conjunction:

  • Used in tandem with ‘or’ to denote two options
    • It can be used as either a guest room or an office

Using neither as a conjunction:

  • Used with ‘nor’ to show none of two options is available
    • Neither a guest room nor an office

The use of either as an adverb:

  • Used for emphasis as a negative
    • Not smart or handsome either

Using neither as an adverb:

  • Also not or similarly not
    • Neither smart or handsome
    • Me neither

Etymology of the Word Either

Wikitionary identifies either from Middle English, from Old English ǣġhwæþer, from Proto-Germanic, ultimately corresponding to ay (“always, ever”) + whether. It was first used in the 12th C.

Synonyms for the Word Either

  • Additionally
  • Again
  • Also 
  • Besides
  • Furthermore 
  • Likewise
  • Moreover
  • Then
  • Too

Etymology for the Word Neither

Compare to Latin neuter. Alteration (after either) of ‘nauther’, from Middle English ‘nawther’. From Old English ‘nāwþer’, corresponding to no + whether.

Synonyms for the Word Neither

  • None of them
  • Not any
  • None
  • Not either 

What Is the Correct Pronunciation of Either and Neither?

If English isn’t your first language it’s a good idea to pay attention to the cultural cues to determine what phonetics will be used in conversation. The main differences are between American and British english.

In America the pronunciation tends to be:

  • EE-ther
  • NEE-ther

In England the pronunciation is commonly:

  • EYE-ther
  • NEYE-ther

However this is a very general observation and since neither is wrong, either versions could be used in both countries. This is a great example of how confusing English can be. To be truly fluent there are elements of the language that don’t follow any hard and fast rules and must simply be memorized. Don’t let this deter you from trying to become proficient in English or any other language you might choose to learn.   

The Speaking and Writing Connection for Language Learners

A research study conducted by Pamela Rausch for St Cloud University explored the traditional methods of language learning that separates writing, speaking and listening. However, when you take into consideration the nuances of conversational English demonstrated with the varying pronunciations i.e. either and neither, Rausch’s study proved there are benefits to combining writing, speaking and listening and doing so strengthens each of the skills.  

Example Sentences of Either and Neither in Everyday Life

Either and neither are very handy words to be able to formulate sentences, offer opinions in conversation and/or writing and offer instruction to another person by giving two options.

To follow are some sentences where you can fill in the blank. Let’s test your knowledge so far:

  1. She wants to go to                 France or Italy when she finishes school next year.
  2.                 Jack nor Jill like ice cream.
  3. I don’t want to go to school today. Me                   .
  4. You can take               road to get to my house.
  5. Do you prefer cats or dogs?                 .

Answers:

  1. Either. Because it’s France or Italy, the missing word has to be either to follow the grammar rule.
  2. Neither. Because it’s Jack nor Jill, the missing word has to be neither to follow the grammar rule.
  3. Neither. To follow the negative form of the agreement, neither is appropriate in this instance.
  4. Either. This supports the positive form of the verb agreement.
  5. Either or neither. This was a trick question to get you thinking. Depending on your personal preference both are correct. For example: you could say, ‘Either but I prefer dogs’ or ‘Either. I like both.’ Alternately you can say, ‘Neither. I don’t like animals.’ Or, ‘Neither, I prefer goldfish.’

Summary

To learn English or to teach English means grasping all its rules and irregularities — which can be tricky, even as a native English speaker. Either and neither are a great example of that. Hopefully, you can now use both words with a level of proficiency that propels your language courses and grammar tips to a new level of expertise. Keep practicing your English lessons every day so you can get better all the time. 

Sources:

  1. https://thewordcounter.com/i-e-meaning/
  2. https://thewordcounter.com/what-does-daily-grind-mean/
  3. https://thewordcounter.com/blog-common-grammar-mistakes/
  4. “Either.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/either.
  5. “Neither.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neither.
  6. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/either#Etymology
  7. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/neither#Etymology
  8. Rausch, Pamela, “The Relationship between English Speaking and Writing Proficiency and Its Implications for Instruction” (2015). Culminating Projects in English. 34.
  9. https://repository.stcloudstate.edu/engl_etds/34