There are instances when I have difficulties with the agreement between the subject and the predicate. Which of these should I say:

  • Neither you nor I am to blame
  • Neither you nor I are to blame.

marked as duplicate by tchrist, MetaEd, Kris, FumbleFingers, Jon Hanna Feb 23 '13 at 23:57

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  • 1
    See this answer. – tchrist Feb 22 '13 at 18:21
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    I'm sure this has been discussed here forever. But everybody discovers it sooner or later. The answer is that there's no standard rule; it's a bug in the syntax. And it turns out that when there's a bug, everybody makes up their own patch for it. Eventually one of them becomes standard and there's no more problem. Until then, we cope. Mostly by avoiding disjoining subjects that have different numbers. Though the patch that @tchrist suggests is a common one, not everyone has installed it yet. – John Lawler Feb 22 '13 at 18:23
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    Launching off of John's comment, avoid the clumsiness by restating: "Neither of us is to blame." – Kristina Lopez Feb 22 '13 at 19:23
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    @John Lawler: ' Eventually one of [the structures] becomes standard and there's no more problem.' I feel that's an over-simplification. For instance - to quote Michael Swan: '... structures where usage is divided (some standard speakers use less with plurals, some use fewer)' ( mikeswan.co.uk/elt-applied-linguistics/all-about-grammar.htm ) – Edwin Ashworth Feb 22 '13 at 20:56
  • Of course it's an oversimplification. I didn't even mention sociolinguistic factors, not to mention sound symbolism, taboos, or borrowings. This is ELU, not Language. – John Lawler Feb 22 '13 at 21:45

Though this is apparently a duplicate of this question answered by tchrist, I figure I should just give OP a response in case he or she feels the need to accept an answer:

The correct way to say it is

Neither you nor I am .....

The same rule applies to "or". The one before the verb determines if it is singular or plural.

[And as suggested by Kristina, Neither of us is to blame is indeed a better way to express it.]

When you are not certain if certain expression is grammatically correct, you can always check with CoCA.

  • Do they guarantee the pedigree of their samplees? – Edwin Ashworth Feb 22 '13 at 20:46
  • @EdwinAshworth I don't think so. I checked the entire website and they haven't mentioned anything about that. But I think the contents can be trusted to a certain extent. – Archy Will He Feb 23 '13 at 11:38

I like the simplicity and consistency of the Nearer (or Nearest) Subject rule, as expressed by yhcra, but I can't ignore the problem that popular usage has never gone along with that rule in dealing with "neither you nor I ['to be' verb]" constructions.

Not only has "neither you nor I are" been more common than "neither you nor I am" during all but four of the years between 1840 and 2005 (the exceptions are 1844, 1861, 1942, and 1955) in Ngram Viewer results (see http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=neither+you+nor+I+are%2Cneither+you+nor+I+am%2Cneither+you+nor+I+is&year_start=1840&year_end=2005&corpus=15&smoothing=0&share=), but "neither you nor I is" has been more common than "neither you nor I am" in a substantial number of the years between 1862 and 2005, including most of the years from 1988 forward (see http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=neither+you+nor+I+am%2Cneither+you+nor+I+is&year_start=1862&year_end=2005&corpus=15&smoothing=0&share=).

Since these results have occurred across many years, including many in which a background of strict prescriptivist education in English grammar prevailed, and since the population that Google draws its samples from is heavily weighted toward copyedited writing, I must conclude that most people writing in English have never submitted to using the Nearer Subject rule in instances involving "neither you nor I ['to be' verb]."

That being the case, I have to agree with John Lawler that no generally accepted rule applies in this particular situation.

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