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I'm aware that in sentences using neither-nor constructions, the verb must agree with the subject closest to it. E.g.:

Neither the dog nor the cats have been fed.

Neither the cats nor the dog has been fed.

However, when it comes to question forms, what should the verb agree with? Does the rule still apply?

Has/have neither the dog nor cats been fed yet?

To make it grammatically sound, should has or have be used in that sentence?

Edit: The question should be "Has/have neither the dog nor THE cats been fed yet?", with the definite article "the" before "cats", which preserves the structure of the example I provided.

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  • This question covers the statement as in the first 2 examples. I don't see any reason why the question would be phrased any differently, but I guess some evidence would be appreciated.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 18, 2023 at 9:22
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    In the question, use either..or instead of neither..nor. No negative is needed, because questions are NPI contexts. Oct 18, 2023 at 13:39
  • @StuartF I think the difference is that they're combining singular dog and plural cats. Also, the other question is about statements, not questions, in case there's a difference.
    – Barmar
    Oct 18, 2023 at 17:08
  • "Have neither the dog nor cats been fed yet?, just as in the declarative "Neither the dog nor cats have been fed yet". In both cases plural "have" is preferred.
    – BillJ
    Oct 21, 2023 at 11:01
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    @BillJ My mistake. The question should read "Has/have neither the dog nor THE cats been fed yet?", preserving the structure of the declarative "Neither the dog nor the cats have been fed" that I provided as example. Oct 22, 2023 at 14:17

1 Answer 1

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Quizlet is the only source I've been able to find endorsing the extension of the proximity rule to correlative conjunction constructions used as subjects in interrogative questions:

When either and neither act as correlative conjunctions (when they are paired with "or"/"nor"), the subject closer to the verb determines if the verb singular or plural.

  • Neither the principal or the teachers are at fault.
  • Has either the president or his staff commented yet?

The argument that 'his staff' might be afforded singular agreement anyway by those disfavouring logical agreement does not really hold up as then the example would be inappropriate; the intention is obviously to pair a singular form NP with a plural form NP as in the first, declarative example. Admittedly, using 'staff' which can inherently regarded as either singular or plural in concept and correspondingly be afforded either agreement by those using logical agreement (and afforded singular agreement anyway by those opting for formal agreement) softens the incongruity of say

  • Has either the king or the millions of people he rules voiced an opinion?

I'm not saying that Quizlet is as authoritative as say McCawley, but I'd certainly agree with what they recommend, and note the corresponding well known rule for interrogatives with normal disjunctive strings:

  • Has the president or his staff commented yet?
  • Has John or his brothers shown up yet?

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