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What's the difference between the following examples:

Neither of my teachers are mathematicians.

None of my teachers are mathematicians.

2
  • 3
    Doubtless everyone will say that neither applies when there are only two choices, but let's not forget neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring. Having said that, I think apart from the fact that it's a bit of a "one-off" idiom, that one only gets by because nor can be used when there are more than two alternatives. Dec 5, 2011 at 17:39
  • Yes the (prescriptive) "rule" is that neither and nor should only be used for two things. The descriptive view is that the rule might be arbitrary since lots of people were breaking it before it became a rule and lots break it now. But people who like to be careful about the rules observe it and might mark you down if you don't. Dec 9, 2011 at 11:19

3 Answers 3

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Neither - not either - implies that there is a choice of only two.

So "neither of my teachers" is only correct if there are exactly two teachers, "none of my teachers" can be any number

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  • I don't think any native speaker would use "neither" for more than two (expect by accident, eg adding a third possibility as an afterthought). "None" for only two options is more likely, but still uncommon, I think.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 5, 2011 at 17:42
  • 6
    @Colin - isn't that what I said?
    – mgb
    Dec 5, 2011 at 17:44
  • Probably you could say None of my teachers even if the number of teachers is unknown, if you have only one teacher, or if you have no teachers at all.
    – GEdgar
    Dec 5, 2011 at 19:04
  • @MartinBeckett: No, you used the word "correct".
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 6, 2011 at 12:27
  • Yes so neither is ONLY correct in the case of two, it's incorrect if there are more. But not that neither is the only correct answer in the case of two.
    – mgb
    Dec 7, 2011 at 3:24
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The distinction already made between two and more than two is valid, but it would be preferable to write the sentences as Neither / None of my teachers is a mathematician.

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  • @GEdgar: In this case,yes, but in other contexts 'none', at least, can be followed by a plural verb. Dec 5, 2011 at 19:59
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Neither is typically used to mean "not one or the other of two". In order to refer to "none of several", none is preferred.

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