Friday, July 15, 2011

Both, either, neither

We use both, either and neither when we are talking about two things.

Both is used with plural nouns to mean “the two” or “the one as well as the other”.
Either can have two pronunciations: / ˈiːðər/ (mainly in American English) and / ˈaɪðər / and means “one or the other”.
Neither can also have two pronunciations: / ˈniːðər/ (mainly in American English) and /ˈnaɪðə(r)/ and means “not one nor the other.
Both of us at the surf beach, San Sebastián - Donostia, Spain

This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: San Sebastion – Spain
Both of us at the surf beach

These words can be used as determiners or pronouns. When they are determiners, they are followed by nouns:
Both books are very good.
I didn't like either book (not the one or the other)
Neither book is very good.
They can also be used with the preposition of. In this case, they can be followed by:
  • The + noun: Both of the children were late.
  • These /those + noun: Neither of these students will pass.
  • Possessives (my, your...) + noun: Has either of your sisters visited you?
Both can be used with or without of in the three cases stated above:
Both the children were late.
Both is used without of if there is no article, possessive or demonstrative before the noun:
She was operated on both eyes.
But it's impossible to use it without of before personal pronouns:
Both of them were born in France. (*Both them is not possible).
The same holds true for either and neither:
Either of you could do it. *Either you is not possible.
Neither of us lives here. *Neither us is not possible.

Both is always used with a plural verb, whereas either and neither are usually used with singular verbs. However, in an informal context, the plural verb can be heard, and this is specially so when used with the preposition of:
Both children want to play football.
Neither of them speaks French. Neither of them speak French (informal)
Either of them is OK with me. Either of them are OK with me. (informal)

If both refers to the subject of the sentence, it can also be put with the verb (after the verb to be or auxiliary verbs and before main verbs):
We are both tired. (after to be)
We both live in Spain. (before main verbs)
We have both studied at university. (after an auxiliary verb in compound tenses).
Neither of us
Image: 'IMG_0343'

Both, either and neither can also be used as pronouns, that is, they go without a noun:
I'll take both.
“Which one do you want?” “Either, I don't mind”
“Are they British or American?” “Neither. They are Canadian”.

In order to connect ideas, you can use these paired conjunctions:
  • Both...and...
Both Tom and Peter are my friends.
  • Either...or...
You can either drive or walk to school
  • Neither...nor...
He neither smokes nor drinks.
  • Not only...but also.... is similar to both... and...., but the verb accords with the last element:
Not only my sister, but also my brother lives with my parents.
Both my sister and my brother live with my parents.

Either and neither can be used instead of also or too to express agreement in negative sentences:
“I don't like smoking” “I don't either” / “Neither do I”
Notice that both structures have the same meaning but one is used with a negative verb while the other, being already negative, is used with a positive verb. Notice also the inverted word order of the last sentence. The word nor can be used instead of neither in this context, being nor slightly less formal:
He can't sing and nor/neither can I.
“I am not going” “Nor /neither am I”.
And now some exercises for you to check what you have learnt:


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