Is it correct to use "were" or "was" in the following?

whenever either of two somethings [were/was] applied [...]

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of “Are either of you free?”.
    – RegDwigнt
    Mar 28, 2011 at 11:40
  • @RegDwight: I saw the question you are referring to, but couldn't really conclude with regards to this question from that.
    – Eyvind
    Mar 28, 2011 at 11:59
  • The accepted answer for that question applies also in this case.
    – apaderno
    Mar 28, 2011 at 12:37

2 Answers 2


it's contentious, but I would lean towards "was", since it is acting up the individual "either".

  • Thanks, that was my gut feeling too, but I would love to hear from others as well.
    – Eyvind
    Mar 28, 2011 at 12:13

It should be "either of [...] was," in the same way it is "they have a mortgage that will be repaid if either of them dies."

The meaning of either is "one or the other of two people or things." It is then referring to a single person/thing, and the verb should be singular.

  • 1
    The verb should be singular to agree with the singular alternatives to "either" in this case, but nothing says that the alternatives have to be singular. "Either the Smiths or the Joneses bake the cake," to give a slightly artificial example (because I can't think of a better one right now).
    – user1579
    Mar 28, 2011 at 15:40
  • That is why I didn't say "it must be."
    – apaderno
    Mar 28, 2011 at 15:48
  • sorry, I just thought that your answer could be misread as meaning that either always refers to singular things.
    – user1579
    Mar 28, 2011 at 15:55
  • @Rhodri: It's better to precisate than to implicitly say something. I was referring more to the question asked; that is why I given that definition of either. In general, I should have said it refers to one or the other of a group of people/things too.
    – apaderno
    Mar 28, 2011 at 16:00
  • What if it's in a question format? Either of you is good. Is/are either of you good? Please tell me... Jan 1, 2014 at 18:48

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.