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I heard on a local newscast recently:

If you subscribe to SportsCable, you can choose either NFL, NBA, or MLB games.

This use of "either" seems to parallel that of "between", which limits the series to two items. Should not the newscaster have substituted "among"?

  • related question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/40950/… – Theta30 Feb 25 '12 at 5:28
  • Between is not limited to two: “The Great Plains lie between Denver, Dallas, and Chicago.” That’s not geographically perfect, but the sentence construction is. Or “Between my husband, his brother, and myself, we got the house built before snow locked us is.” Or “Let’s just keep this between the three of us.” See, you can use between for more than two. – tchrist Feb 25 '12 at 15:33
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You are right in saying that, strictly speaking, either is used for two options and for two options only. That's what the dictionary will tell you and that's what we're used for when using the word in various situations.

However, people use either for more than two options, just as you presented in the example from your local newscast. A sentence is not difficult/impossible to parse when either is followed by more than two options, so your audience won't have any problem understanding your words.

If you want to be strictly grammatical and completely proper, say:

1) either/between for two:

You can choose between skiing and snowboarding.
You can choose either skiing or snowboarding.

2) (nothing) for more than two:

You can choose skiing, snowboarding or swimming.

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    It's not strictly true that strictly speaking, either is used for two options and for two options only. According to OED 4c, Sometimes = any one (of more than two). – FumbleFingers Feb 25 '12 at 3:24
  • @FumbleFingers See my “between” comments above next to the OP. – tchrist Feb 25 '12 at 15:34
  • Agreed - the key point about OP's cited usage is the speaker wants to convey that you only get to choose one of the options. But in such a context, he doesn't want to explicitly use the word only because it might sound "negatively loaded" (you can't have everything). Whereas using either is "positively loaded" (you, the valued customer, actually have a free choice). – FumbleFingers Feb 25 '12 at 15:44
  • The word among works for more than two, and I believe is undisputedly grammatical for three options. Amazingly, Ngrams show that either used to be used for three options, but nowadays among has replaced it. – Peter Shor Feb 25 '12 at 16:39

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