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What is the correct sentence?

Neither Michael nor Albert is correct.

Neither Michael nor Albert are correct.

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2  
Neither are is not correct. :D –  Armstrongest Aug 18 '10 at 17:24
    
IMHO neither are incorrect, but I admit it sounds a bit odd to say that neither is always correct in the same sentence! –  FumbleFingers Nov 11 '11 at 17:35

4 Answers 4

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Neither Michael nor Albert is correct — this is the correct version per prescriptive rules.

Based on my understanding of grammar lessons,

  • When connecting singular nouns, use a singular verb:

    Neither Jacob nor Jane is coming to the party.

  • When connecting plural nouns, use a plural verb:

    Neither the Jones nor the Smiths are coming to the party.

  • When combining singular and plural nouns, the agreement is decided by the noun that is closer to the verb:

    • Neither the boys nor Susan is coming to the party.
      ⇑ Verb determined by Susan.

    • Neither Susan nor the boys are coming.
      ⇑ Verb determined by the boys.

    (Some books say it's better to put the plural noun closer to the verb and use the plural form of the verb.)

References:

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I think the term is a "partitive conjunction" - ie it joins the two words together, but it analyses as being the separate parts for verb agreement - it's like "each" in that sense. –  Richard Gadsden Oct 16 '10 at 8:54

This is correct:

Neither Michael nor Albert is correct.

Subjects joined with or or nor take singular verb agreement, so you also say:

Either Michael or Albert is incorrect.

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2  
Singular subjects so joined do. Cf: "Neither the Jones nor the Smiths are correct." –  vanden Aug 17 '10 at 18:41
5  
Good point -- and it gets sticky when one is plural and one is singular. "Neither the Smiths nor Michael are/is correct." No idea on the prescriptive rule, but I think people often go for whichever one is closest to the verb (often without thinking about it). –  Kosmonaut Aug 17 '10 at 19:05
1  
Although "Neither M nor A is correct" doesn't mean the same as "Either M or A is incorrect". In the first phrase both people are wrong, the second phrase means that one of them is wrong and the other is right. –  Vinko Vrsalovic Oct 27 '10 at 18:12

I disagree with existing answers confidently claiming that Neither X nor Y is always singular. Assume for the sake of argument that you (reading this) are "you"...

Neither you nor I is likely to use the singular in this (self-referential) construction...

...which for my money suggests that around 1850 some pedantic grammarians started proposing that the singular should always be used, but the native speakers of English still aren't listening.


Here's another example from Google Books where the supposedly ungrammatical version dwarfs "correct" usage. Grammar is the codified description of what people actually say; it makes no sense to claim that what the overwhelming majority of native speakers prefer is "wrong".

neither he nor I are (About 11,800 results)
neither he nor I is (About 2,080 results)

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Pam Peters agrees, as you may have seen from my answer to Fran's question 'Neither is or neither are' earlier today. –  Barrie England Nov 11 '11 at 16:17
    
@Barrie: It's not at all clear to me what Peters means there by saying The singular verb seems to particularize while the plural one generalizes, so perhaps you can enlighten me. I was prompted to post this answer because having remembered this earlier question, and flagged the other as a dup, it just dawned on me that there's a real issue involved here. I have no special opinion of what's "correct", or whether "it depends on context", but the answers here do seem to fly in the face of accepted usage for some constructions. –  FumbleFingers Nov 11 '11 at 16:41
2  
Pam Peters’s comments are as much words on the page to me as they are to you, but ‘Neither director nor producer has much experience’ might be rewritten as ‘The director doesn’t have much experience and nor does the producer.’ That particularizes. ‘Neither director nor producer have much experience’ might be rewritten as ‘The director and the producer don’t have much experience’. That generalizes. –  Barrie England Nov 11 '11 at 17:15
    
Well I applaud your efforts there, but I'm afraid neither you nor Pam has/have managed to drum any understanding of the difference into me! :) –  FumbleFingers Nov 11 '11 at 17:24
1  
I'm certainly not going to dispute the claim, even though I can't access either her text or the research. But I do find the "sudden" appearance of the singular in my NGram to be somewhat suspicious. It really does look like what Steven Pinker is pleased to call the language mavens –  FumbleFingers Nov 11 '11 at 17:46

Rephrase it:

Not one of them is correct.

as opposed to:

Not one of them are correct.

QED :)

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5  
-1 As it avoids the problem, but only by avoiding the question. –  vanden Aug 17 '10 at 18:40
2  
@vanden, I think what Skilldrick means is to rephrase it as an exercise, and then choose "Neither Michael nor Albert is correct" on that basis. –  Tony Andrews Aug 18 '10 at 12:22
    
@Tony, yes, that was what I was going for, thanks. –  Skilldrick Aug 21 '10 at 13:20
1  
That kind of "proof" just doesn't work in linguistics. –  Pitarou Nov 20 '13 at 5:40

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