33

What is the correct sentence?

Neither Michael nor Albert is correct.

Neither Michael nor Albert are correct.

  • 4
    Neither are is not correct. :D – OneProton 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
34

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:

  • 2
    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
9

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 2,500 results)
neither he nor I am (About 13,400 results)
neither he nor I is (About 743 results)

  • 4
    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
  • 2
    At least there can be no disputing her claim that '. . . research for the "Longman Grammar" (1999) shows that the use of the plural verb is quite common.' – Barrie England Nov 11 '11 at 17:27
  • 2
    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
  • 3
    @Kaiser Octavius: I guess it would have to be if you believe the (to my mind, ridiculous) assertion by Manjima agreement is decided by the noun that is closer to the verb. Noting the number of upvotes for that answer, and the fact that someone has just downvoted mine, I have to wonder if I speak the same language as many of the folk here. Maybe it's just that there are a lot of non-native speakers, plus plenty more who prefer style guides over actual usage. – FumbleFingers Jul 23 '12 at 1:57
  • 3
    @CopperKettle: It's interesting that almost everyone posting/voting on the related ELL question agrees that the idea neither/none are always singular is on a par with not splitting infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions (i.e. - these "rules" exist mainly in the minds of pedants, all but ignored by native speakers speaking "naturally"). But relatively speaking I'm a voice in the wilderness here on ELU (which one might have expected to cater more for users who know real English, not just "how to pass an English exam"). – FumbleFingers Jan 22 '16 at 13:04
8

This is correct:

Neither Michael nor Albert is correct.

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

Either Michael or Albert is incorrect.

  • 2
    Singular subjects so joined do. Cf: "Neither the Jones nor the Smiths are correct." – vanden Aug 17 '10 at 18:41
  • 6
    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
  • 2
    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
0

Your first version sounds like it's the answer to a question like, "Which is your real name? Albert, or Michael?"

The second sounds normal to a native speaker :o)

-2

Rephrase it:

Not one of them is correct.

as opposed to:

Not one of them are correct.

QED :)

  • 8
    -1 As it avoids the problem, but only by avoiding the question. – vanden Aug 17 '10 at 18:40
  • 3
    @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
  • 5
    That kind of "proof" just doesn't work in linguistics. – Pitarou Nov 20 '13 at 5:40
  • 2
    In addition to what the others have mentioned, this sentence is not interchangeable with the exemplified one: You are assuming that the antecedents of the pronoun are known without enough context to make that determination. Even if I posit the likelihood of both of these names being mentioned, what if the purpose of this sentence is to remove two invalid options a list of three or more, where one of the options is correct? It would not work in that case, because you would be suggesting that all of the options are incorrect. – Tonepoet Oct 20 '17 at 16:42

protected by tchrist Oct 20 '17 at 16:57

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