Neither Mohan nor his sister has done ....... lesson.

What should be there in the blank? I marked the answer as "their" but the suggested answer is "her". Why is "their" wrong?

Also, if the sentence were like Neither Priya nor her brother has done .... lesson. Would it be "his" this time?

  • 3
    Their is not wrong. It simply needs a [singular] determiner of some sort: his, her, their, that, this, any, every, each are all grammatically correct, but these would not be. Which one is best depends on context; if there is no other context then it's a guessing game as to which the compiler thinks is right.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 8, 2017 at 10:32
  • 2
    'Her' here is the answer according to the 'proximity' rule (which would lead to 'his' in your re-ordered sentence). The 'notional agreement' rule would, in my opinion, lead to the choice of singular 'their'. As @Andrew says, only a singular determiner is [normally] considered acceptable. I'd use 'their' here. And certainly with 'Neither Pat nor Alex has done their homework'. May 8, 2017 at 12:34
  • 1
    Sorry; I should have pointed out that the two 'rules' I mentioned conflict. (What happens in such cases is that you usually get people claiming that only one is correct – the one they were taught, have discovered in an inadequate grammar, or prefer for personal reasons. They boldly claim that 30% [/50% / 80%] of Anglophones are wrong.) May 8, 2017 at 12:51
  • I'd just use the, but I doubt that's an acceptable answer.
    – Xanne
    May 9, 2017 at 4:26

1 Answer 1


Even if there is a rule saying that 'her' is right here, for me there's a big problem with 'her' - it makes it sound like there is only one lesson, that was assigned to the sister.

Suppose Mohan and his sister were trying to open the door or doors of a car:

Neither Mohan nor his sister could open his door

Both are trying to open the door next to Mohan's seat

Neither Mohan nor his sister could open her door

Both are trying to open the door next to the sister's seat

Neither Mohan nor his sister could open their door

The two people are trying to open two different doors.

I can't see any way of using 'her' in your sentence while also being consist with the sense of there being more than one lesson.

  • 1
    But English is not as biddable as we'd all like it to be. 'The Smiths' house had faulty locks. Neither Mohan nor his sister could open their door.' has a different antecedent. With OP's example, I'm with you in preferring 'their' and for the reason you give. But 'her' is acceptable. May 8, 2017 at 14:31
  • Depending on which lesson is actually being referred to, any of the determiners I listed in my comment above (and probably others I missed) could fit. Even here, any door is a valid alternative (they were both trying all the doors unsuccessfully).
    – Andrew Leach
    May 8, 2017 at 17:46

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