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Which is correct, “neither is” or “neither are”?
“Neither Michael nor Albert is correct” or “Neither Michael nor Albert are correct”?

Neither of you understands him as I do

Neither of you (more than one) is plural. Why does it say understands instead of understand?

It was taken from Harry Potter, Deathly Hallows. Conversation between Voldemort and Severus. When Voldemort says "neither of you" he means Severus and Lucius. And "him" is Potter.


In this kind of context, many will regard neither as being grammatically singular, and therefore requiring a singular verb, as in your example. Not all authorities agree with this analysis, however, calling in aid the concept of ‘notional’ or ‘proximity’ agreement, which would allow a plural verb after neither of. As ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage' reports, plural agreement ‘is strongly associated with spoken discourse. In the British National Corpus it’s used in 75% of all instances from transcribed speech, but only about 20% of instances from written texts.’

It may be this preponderance of plural agreement in speech that has led you to expect understand rather than understands here. I imagine that the example you give is indeed speech, rather than part of the narrative of the book. If it is, then the author may have had some characterisation purpose in having the speaker use a form that is untypical.


Neither, like either, takes a singular form of verb, because it links two singular subjects, Severus (one subject) and Lucius (one subject). The sentence implies that

[Not Severus understands him as I do] and [not Lucius understands him as I do].

See: Purdue OWL Engagement: Subject-Verb Agreement.

  • 1
    This is too simplistic, though. It tells only one half of the story, and doesn't so much as address why the OP expects plural there in the first place. If you look at COCA or BNC, or even just Google, you will find many examples of neither taking plural agreement. And it's not a recent development — here's a quote from Shakespeare: "Thersites' body is as good as Ajax',/ When neither are alive." (Cymbeline: IV, ii). – RegDwigнt Oct 24 '12 at 8:54

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