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Either…or / Neither…nor

Express one or the other or both

pole vaulter
 

Choice vs. Preference

OR  —  CHOICE

Or joins like elements such as two nouns, two verbs, two adjectives, two adverbs, two phrases or two  clauses (same element). Or expresses "one or the other, not both".             

In school, we can choose gymnastics or track.   (nouns)

In other words, we can dance or run (verbs)

We can choose artistic or aerobic activities.  (adjectives)

We perform subtly or powerfully.  (adverbs)

We choose to use either our creativity or our physical power

We have neither physical weakness nor mental weakness (phrases)

OR — PREFERENCE

Or expresses preference "one over the other". Or joins like words, phrases or clauses. Other expressions with prefer, like and would rather are also express preference.

Do you prefer gymnastics or track?

Would you like to dance or run?

Would you rather do artistic or aerobic activity?

I would prefer dancing to running

I'd rather use my creative side than my brawny side

Practice or you will fail. (Choose practice (success) or failure.)

 

brawn (N) — muscular strength

subtly (Adv) — in a manner that is fine, delicate in meaning or intent; subtle(Adj)

track and field — a sport that includes running, jumping, throwing (discus or javelin)

Related content Whether or not, Prefer X to Y , Adv for Focus (either…or / neither…nor)

When or connects two sentence elements, no comma is used.  When three or more elements are joined, a comma is used.

Also see Both and / Not only…but also  and Pop-Q "Or".

 

 

 

 

And, But not, Or

Conjunction, exclusion, disjunction

track activities
 

 

And v. But not vs. Or

AND—BOTH BUT—NOT ONE OR—NOT BOTH

And expresses one and the other—both. This is conjunction.

Hurdling and pole vaulting are your options.

But not expresses one but not the other. This is exclusion.

Hurdling but not pole vaulting is your option.

Or expresses one or the other—not both. This is disjunction.

Hurdling or pole vaulting is your option.

one and the other

one but not the other

one or the other

and— See And / In addition  ("and" conjunction)

but—See But / But still ("but" disjunction)

 

 

 

Either…or / Or

Examine logic

Nike and Adida running shoes
 

Has Boolean logic influenced our language usage of "or"?

AND OR NOT 

And is the union or overlap of the two fields. X ∧Y.

Or is both fields together. X ∨ Y  (and?)

Not is the complement of the field.

one and the other

one or the other

one but not the other

BOTH ONE OR OTHER NOT X AND Y

I like running and walking X + Y

We can walk or run today. What shall we do?  X ∨ Y

We can not walk and not run today.  We'll sit.

INTERSECTION OF BOTH BOTH SOME BUT NOT X AND Y

Buy shoes good for running and walking. X ∧Y

Buy shoes good for running or walking. X + Y

Buy shoes good for neither walking nor running.  (Buy some other kind of shoe)

See Boolean Operators, Venn Diagrams and Advanced Google Search (which uses "and" +, "not" - , "or".)

 

 
MEANING SENTENCE
POSITIVE VERB  

Or—not both

Or— both¹

That store sells Nike or Adidas. (They have one brand; not both—uncertain which one)

You can buy the shoes at Macy's or Penney's. (One or the other / Both.)

Either…or—not both

Either…or—both

That store sells either Nike or Adidas. (Uncertain which one)

You can buy the shoes at either Macy's or Penney's.  (Uncertain which one / Both)

*Nor

That store sells Nike nor Adidas. (not commonly used alone)

He wants bread nor water.  (Biblical or archaic speech)

Neither…nor—both not

That store sells neither Nike nor Adidas. (Both not carried)

You can buy the shoes at neither Macy's nor Penney's.  (Both not)

NEGATIVE VERB  

Or—both not / not both

Either…or—Both not / not both¹

They don't sell Nike or Adidas.  (Both not / Not both—uncertain which one)

They don't sell either Nike or Adidas.  (Both not / not both—uncertain which brand)

*Nor

*Neither…nor

*They don't sell Nike nor Adidas. 

*They don't sell neither Nike nor Adidas. (not optional either)

CONNECTIVE  

Nor—and not, also not

They don't sell Adidas, nor do they think² it necessary.

They don't sell Adidas; nor do they think it necessary.

They don't sell Adidas. Nor do they  think it necessary. 

They don't sell Adidas. They do not  think it necessary. 

 

brand (N) — manufacturer, marketer that sells a product  e.g., Nike, Adidas, Coca Cola, Ford.

¹ Context and further questioning are needed to understand the intended meaning when two meanings are possible.

² Nor is a coordinator (connective) that requires auxiliary verb support when placed at the beginning of the clause. (S-V inversion)

 

 

 

 

Either…or / Neither…nor

Coordinate two clause elements

 

 

Or vs. Either…or

OR

Or is placed between two like elements (noun phrases, verb phrases, adverb phrases, clauses) to express option or limited uncertainty.  Only one option is the outcome.

ONE OR THE OTHER—NOT BOTH

Bob or Jay will race today. (uncertain)

Bob will race or rest today. (V or V)

Bob and Jay will race earlier or later than you. (Adv or Adv)

EITHER…OR

Either may be added to or for focus or emphasis on the items being considered (not both).                                                                                                                                      

ONE OR THE OTHER—NOT BOTH

Either Bob or Jay will race today.  (N or N) 

Bob will either race or rest today. (V or V)

Bob and Jay will race either earlier or later than you. (Adv or Adv)

 

 

 

 

Nor vs. Neither…nor

NOR

Nor does not occur alone. It occurs only as a paired coordinator. 

BOTH NOT

*Bob nor Jay will race today.

*Bob will race nor rest today.

EITHER…OR

Neither…nor expresses "not one nor the other".  Both Not

BOTH NOT

Neither Bob nor Jay will race today.  (Both not racing) 

Bob will neither race nor rest today. (Both not happening) 

 

Search for usage in the COCA database.

A comma is optionally placed before or and the final item in a series of items.

Also see Negatives.

Some linguists include either and neither as a focusing adverbs and others do not. See Grammar Notes below.

(Huddleston 388)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or Coordinates

Coordinate singular or plural items

shoes or shirt
 

 

Or—Verb Agreement with Coordinated Nouns

SINGULAR

Because or involves a choice of one thing or the other, the verb is usually singular in agreement.

COORD ITEMS SINGULAR

A hoodie or a T-shirt

is in the bag.

Some shoes or a T-shirt

are/is in the bag.

 

 

PLURAL

However, if one or both elements is/are plural the verb is plural in agreement.

COORD ITEMS PLURAL

A hoodie or shoes

are in the bag.

Some shoes or a T-shirt

are/is in the bag.

Shoes, a hoodie, or a T-shirt.

are in the bag.

 

(Huddleston 508)

 

 

Or / Nor —Verb Agreement with Coordinated Personal Nouns

SINGULAR

When or coordinates two subject nouns, the verb tends to agree with the closest noun.

COORD ITEMS SINGULAR

Either Jill or Jack

Neither Jill nor I

has the bag.

am right.

Either you or she

Neither you nor she

has the bag.

is right.

Either they or she

Neither they nor she

has the bag.

is right.

PLURAL

The verb agrees with the closest noun

COORD ITEMS PLURAL

Either Jill or I

Neither Jill nor we

have the bag.

are right.

Either she or you

Neither she nor you

have the bag.

are right.

Either they or we

Neither they nor we

have the bag.

are right.

 

(Garner 564)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

*You can either take a break or a short lunch. (VP or NP)

*He didn't like vanilla nor chocolate!

 

*He doesn't want neither of the boys to run.

He wants neither Bob nor Jay to run.

*Either the boys will run.

SOLUTION

You can take either a break or a short lunch. (NP or NP)

Place either before two parallel (like) elements.

He didn't like vanilla or chocolate.

He liked neither vanilla nor chocolate.

He doesn't want either of the boys to run. (double negative)

He wants neither Bob nor Jay to run. (OK double negative)

Either will run (pronoun)

Either boy will run (determiner)

Either or the boys will run (quantifier)

Either the boys will run or not. (correlative coordinator)

 

*Yellow highlighted words are examples of incorrect usage.

 

 

 

 

 

► Show Grammar Notes and Works Cited ▼ Hide Grammar Notes

Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions

 

 

 

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions

TRADITIONAL GRAMMAR

A conjunction and a coordinating conjunction differ in that a conjunction joins grammatically alike subclausal elements, whereas a coordinating conjunction joins grammatically alike clausal elements. (Azar 16-4)  (Swan 510.1-2)  compound sentence– the joining of two independent clauses

CONJUNCTION

and, but, or
conjunction
— is/was a term for a word that joins two like elements, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, or phrases (and in some grammar descriptions, clauses).
  He walks and talks constantly. [subclausal elements / clausal elements]

COORDINATING  CONJUNCTIONS

for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so  ("fanboys")
coordinating conjunctions— join independent clauses and the resulting construction is a compound sentence. He is walking around, and he doesn't seem to know where he is going. [clausal elements]
both…and, not only…but also
paired conjunctions — (Azar 16-3)

AGREEMENT

Neither…nor  "This construction takes a singular verb when the alternatives are singular or when the second alternative is singular."  (Garner 564)

The verb agrees with the closest noun. 

Neither the radiator nor the water pump leaks. [sing.+sing.]

Neither the airlines nor the FAA was willing to settle. [pl.+sing.]

 

LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

In linguistic description, "coordination is the relation between elements of equal syntactic status, and as such contrast with subordination [unequal syntactic structure]."    (Huddleston  "Properties of prototypical coordinators"  15 §2.1)   

(FUNCTION TERM)

conjunction — is a logic function of A + B "both";   ("and" and sometimes "or") Caffeine is found in coffee and tea. Caffeine is found in coffee or tea. ("both").
disjunction — is the logic function of  A / B "one or the other, but not both", "either"; ("or" / "nor") Would you like coffee or tea?  ("one not the other")

COORDINATORS

and, but, or, nor
coordinators — join a variety of syntactically alike structures both subclausal (NP, VP, AdjP, Adv, etc.) and clausal.

either, neither
adverbs (Huddleston 6 §6)

either…or, neither…nor
correlative coordinators (Huddleston 15 §2.3)

neither / either
focusing adverb (Swan 175, 373)

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Biber, Douglas, and Stig Johansson, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English. Pearson Education, 1999.
  • Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). Brigham Young U, 2013, corpus.byu.edu/coca.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.
  • "Boolean algebra." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2016, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boolean_algebra.
  • ———. "Track and field." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2016, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Track_and_field.

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Track and Field Options

 

 

 

Complete the sentence with  or, nor, either…or, neither…nor or verb agreement.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 1-10" button.

 

1.

2.

hurdlinghigh jump

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Understanding the Concept of "Choice"

talent show contestants
 

 

Read for Errors

If you offer cupcakes to a child and say, "Choose one," the child will probably reach out with two hands. We can guess that either the child does not understand choice or does not understand limitation.

With some children, you can say, "Take either the yellow, the brown or the purple cupcake," and the child will pause, consider and then select one.

With other children, you can say, "Take one," and the child will look at you, the person offering the cupcakes, rather than at the cupcakes. It is hard to tell if the child does or does not understand the concepts of choice or limitation.

A child who looks over the cupcakes wants a either tasty, large or colorful one. The child will either choose his favorite color, flavor or size. The child is applying critical thinking skills and evaluating the cupcakes. This child understands choice.

A child who looks at you, the person offering the cupcakes, wants neither a tasty or colorful cupcake. He¹ wants a bonus or a better deal. He wants to know if either you can be won over or are flexible.

For this child, making a choice is neither appealing nor is it interesting. He would rather change or remove the limitation. This is to say, accepting limitation either would hurt his ego ("If you love me, you'll give me all of them.") or keep him from pushing boundaries ("I wonder if 'one', really means 'one'.")

Exploring boundaries and limitations is an important part of learning to make choices. Some children may accept boundaries more easily because they understand the practical and social reasons behind the limitations. Other children will need to work their way through the process or encounter roadblocks. By remaining firm, teachers and parents can help children achieve this goal more rapidly.

GLOSSARY

apply (V) — using in a practical sense

bonus (Adj) — extra reward or treat

boundaries (N-pl.) — real or imaginary lines that mark the edges of an area or concept

choice (V) — selection

concept (N) — an idea of something formed by mentally combining all its characteristics or particulars; a construct

critical thinking — clear reasoned thinking

ego (N) — the opinion one has about oneself

evaluate (V) — determine what is good or bad about something; find its worth

encounter (V) — meet, hit

 

good deal (N) — good value; a bargain

firm (Adj) —  not bending, not yielding, or not giving in

flexible (Adj) — bending, yielding (giving in on rules)

limitation (N) — having boundaries or restrictions that one cannot go beyond

look over (phrasal verb) — examine, look carefully at something

pause (V) — stop moving for a brief time

practical (Adj) — advantages and disadvantages

roadblock (N) — obstacle, something that stops movement in a particular direction

win over (N) — to gain the support or consent of (someone)

roadblocks (N) — obstacles, walls, things that stop forward movement

¹ he is commonly used for both genders   Gender & Pronouns

 

 

 

 

Determine whether the use of or or either…or is correct in the sentence.

  1. Select your response correct or incorrect.
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 11-15" button.

 

11.
If you offer cupcakes to a child and say, "Choose one," the child will likely reach out with two hands. We would guess that either the child does not understand choice or does not understand limitation.

   

12.
With some children, you can say, "Take either the yellow, the brown or the purple cupcake," and the child will pause, consider and then select one.

   


13.
With other children, you can say, "Take one," and the child will look at you rather than the cupcakes. It is hard to tell if the child does or doesn't understand the concepts of choice or limitation.

   

14.
A child who looks over the cupcakes wants a either tasty, large or colorful one.

   

15.
This child will either choose his favorite color, flavor or size.

   

16.
A child who looks at you, the person offering the cupcakes, wants neither a tasty or colorful cupcake.

   

17.
He wants a bonus or a better deal. He wants to know if either you can be won over or are flexible.

   

18.
For this child, making a choice is neither appealing nor is it interesting. He would rather change or remove the limitation.

   

19.
This is to say, accepting limitation either would hurt his ego ("If you love me, you'll give me all of them.") or keep him from pushing boundaries ("I wonder if 'one', really means 'one'.").

   

20.
Some children may accept boundaries more easily because they understand the practical and social reasons behind the limitations. Other children will need to work their way through the process or hit several roadblocks.