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Is “either” only used with two options?

I'm trying to find a way to express that there are three alternatives in a sentence. For example, if there were two alternatives, I could say:

That person could be either Alice or Lily.

But what if I want to add a third person? Can I say:

That person could be either Alice, Lily or Lucy.

I looked up in the dictionary and it says:

either/or: an unavoidable choice between two alternatives.

Well, how do I express an unavoidable choice between three or more alternatives?

  • 2
    @Xavier: I think it would be a bad idea to use that construct in this case. (Grant you, there are times when that construct could be used to "express a choice between three or more alternatives," but, in this example, it sounds off. Moreover, structuring a sentence that way out of a love for "verbose sentences" probably won't lead to strong writing.) P.S. I notice you're still ending comments with unnecessary exclamation points.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 9:13

1 Answer 1


You simply need to say That person could be Alice, Lily or Lucy. That person, in the singular, indicates that only one choice is possible.

  • The OED does include a sense of either that means any one of more than two, but it is not a particularly common usage.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 11:50
  • 1
    @tchrist: So I see, but the etymology seems to be on the side of two. Of course, 'either' isn't necessary even when the choice is between two: 'That person could be Alice or Lucy'. Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 12:02
  • I don't see why OP uses "could be" if it's important to convey that it's definitely one of the three alternatives, and not some completely different unnamed person. I'd just say "That person must be Alice, Lily or Lucy" Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 15:40

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