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I recently wrote the sentence,

But when you see Iesu, it can either be vocative, dative, genitive, or ablative.

In it, I use "either" to coordinate four different alternatives: vocative, dative, genitive, or ablative. Is this grammatically correct? The Merriam-Webster dictionary supports this use of either, having this to say about it:

3 either (conjunction)

—used as a function word before two or more coordinate words, phrases, or clauses joined usually by or to indicate that what immediately follows is the first of two or more alternatives

  • can be used either as a guest room or as an office

It seems to be the case that, as an adjective or pronoun, "either" implies that there are only two alternatives. But as a conjunction, it can join many alternatives. Is my understanding correct? Or has this latter function only come about through consistent misuse of the word?

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  • Why is the word needed at all in your sentence? Mar 16, 2017 at 22:03
  • @YosefBaskin Quite simply, it signifies the presence of "or" early on. Without "either", there could be an "and" at the end of the sentence, and you wouldn't know until you got there. In this sense, it's emphatic.
    – ktm5124
    Mar 16, 2017 at 22:04
  • The formatting in that dictionary entry seems a bit quirky. The example tacked on the end should be more clearly marked.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 16, 2017 at 22:39
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    @Lawrence That actually got messed up in my copy paste. The <> characters for whatever reason were not allowed inside the quote. I used brackets instead. Hope it's clearer now.
    – ktm5124
    Mar 16, 2017 at 22:56

1 Answer 1

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Normally 'either...or' is used to talk about a choice between two possibilities. But sometimes it can be used to talk about more than two choices.

Example sentence from Michael Swan's PEU:

If you want ice-cream you can have either coffee, lemon or vanilla.

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