Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

In the last week or so, I’ve encountered more than one instance where these word pairs were misused. More specifically, I read sentences where the author paired “either” with “nor,” which really isn’t the way you should go about using these words.

If you are making a comparison and you start with using “either,” then the corresponding word should be “or.” As an example:

I can’t decide what I want to eat. I’m ordering either the beef tenderloin or the roast duck.

In much the same way, “neither” should be paired with the word “nor,” and this is when you are describing something in a negative context:

I have neither the time nor the patience to deal with this problem right now.

Just as there is much confusion over the difference between e.g. and i.e., the proper use of either/or and neither/nor can be confusing too. They shouldn’t be mismatched, but you should also be careful about where you place the words too.

Incorrect: I am either taking the train or the bus.

Since the verb (taking) is involved in both choices, it should come before “either.”

Correct: I am taking either the train or the bus.

If there are two separate verbs for the two separate options, then “either” should come before the first verb.

To balance his budget, he can either increase his income or decrease his expenses.

What’s interesting is that “either” and “neither” should always be followed with their corresponding partner (“or” or “nor”), but “or” and “nor” do not necessarily need “either” or “neither” to be used correctly.

Will you be drinking beer or wine this evening?

I don’t want beer, nor do I want wine. I’d rather drink water.

How you choose to use these words can drastically change the overall meaning of the sentence, just like how comma placement can completely alter how a sentence is interpreted. It’s not just about choosing the right words; it’s about putting those right words in the right places with the right punctuation.

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