Style Matters #27: We should remember ‘neither’ has its limits


It’s pretty sad when our Prime Minister hasn’t got his head around the correct use of the word neither. Sadly, he’s not alone.

Yesterday, the PM was criticising his opposite number and about an unfortunate remark the latter had made in relation to a female candidate.

As reported in The Age, Mr Rudd listed a number of characteristics he thought were not acceptable in a potential prime minister, saying: ”In modern Australia neither sexism nor racism nor homophobia has any place whatsoever and I believe people look to their national leaders to set that sort of example.”

Of course, neither – which is the shortened form of not either – means not one nor the other of two people or things. Which means that you should not use the word neither with lists that have more than two items or people.

While we are thinking about neither, it’s good to remember that the word is a negative. So, when setting up a comparison between two persons or things, this word needs to be paired with nor rather than or. The latter should be paired with either.

And, even though you will be discussing two things when using neither or either, the verb that will follow them should be singular:

Neither he nor she are going to come with us.

Neither he nor she is going to come with us.

Either the Premier or her deputy are going to speak at the opening.

Either the Premier or her deputy is going to speak at the opening.


If you like what you’ve read here, you can see reporting4work’s similar posts at Style Matters

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