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More on compound subjects: either/or and neither/nor

Posted by Wendy Wood on 18th August , 2021 in Grammar
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As I promised in the last The Write Fit, this time around we’re going to talk about compound subjects connected by “or”. (“Either/or” and “neither/nor” constructions are also included.)

The rule is super easy: your verb always matches the subject closest to it. But what does this mean? Well, if you have two singular subjects connected by “or”, your verb will be singular as well.

So, you would write:
Spaghetti or pizza is on the menu.
            Either my husband or our daughter does the dishes.
            Neither my husband nor our daughter feels like making dinner tonight.

But, as I said in the last newsletter, compound subjects with “or” can sometimes be tricky. If you have a combination of a singular subject and a plural subject in this type of construction, the verb agrees with the noun or pronoun closest to it.

So, you could write:
Spaghetti or hamburgers are on the menu.
            Hamburgers or spaghetti is on the menu.

            Either the bowl or the plates go on that shelf.
            Either the plates or the bowl goes on that shelf.

            Neither the bowl nor the plates go on that shelf.
            Neither the plates nor the bowl goes on that shelf.

Sometimes this rule leads to bumps in the road if “I” is one of the subjects.
            Neither my husband nor I am making dinner.

Though grammatically correct, this sentence sounds awkward. We’ve been taught to always put others before ourselves, but in cases like this it’s best to put “I” first. It will make your sentence “sound” more correct.

            Neither I nor my husband is making dinner.
            OR, better yet, use an “and” construction:
My husband and I are not making dinner.

(Actually, tonight my husband is making dinner. Spaghetti is on the menu!)

Wendy Wood


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