I was checking out the definition of either in dictionary, here is what I found:

one or the other of two things (any of the things will be fine)

one and the other of two things (either side of the road)

so, the word "either" can basically mean both any or both, is that right?

Let's say I want to say:

Either of these options will do (any of the two options will do)

Can it also mean both of the options will do?

  • 2
    It likely depends on what the options are (in other words, the context). If someone asked me, "I'm going to the deli; what should I get for you for lunch?" and I replied, "Either a ham and cheese, or a roast beef," that person could probably bring me back two sandwiches without violating any dictionary definitions or grammatical rules, but I doubt that's what I had in mind when I used the word "either."
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 13:20
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/1655/alternatives-to-and-or
    – MetaEd
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 16:33
  • Be a bit more lucid.Use more illustrations to dispel confusion.What's the meaning of 'either' in instance like 'You don't know him, do you?I don't either'.
    – user80619
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 7:13
  • Note that either has two common pronunciations. For many of us who normally say EEE-there for the "any" case it's common to say EYE-there for the "both" case -- "There were potted plants on EYE-there side of the door."
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 22:48

3 Answers 3


Yes, that’s right. In general, it turns out that sometimes either is distributive, essentially meaning both or all, and sometimes it is exclusionary and so applies to just one out of the set.

Your question is whether it would be understood to mean just one or if it would mean two in the sentence:

Either of these options will do.

The answer is that here it means that just one option suffices. It means “any single option”. If you have any doubts about how it will be received, you can always write any one option or some such.

For the most part, I think the “each one” or “both” sense applies to natural pairs. Here are some OED citations for the “both” kind of either:

  • 1762 Falconer Shipwr. Proem 40 ― The fierce extremes of either zone.
  • 1820 Scott Ivanhoe iii, ― There was a huge fireplace at either end of the hall.
  • 1842 Tennyson E. Morris 37 ― Either twilight and the day between.

Note that either meaning “both” is the oldest of the various senses the word has come to mean historically. It is somewhat uncommon these days, but by no means wholly obsolete.

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    Either in your citations actually means 'each' not 'both'; otherwise you would have one fireplace in two locations. I haven't put this in an answer for fear of confusing OP; but the dictionary that gave 'both' was careless, to say the least. Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 14:18
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    @TimLymington Odd, those are completely interchangeable for me.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 15:13
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    @TimLymington Who said anything about simultaneity? You can drive on either side of the road and you can drive on both sides of the road are completely interchangeable to me.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 15:32
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    @tchrist: Yes, although one side might be considerably safer than the other.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 15:36
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    “He wore a ring on the fourth finger of each hand” -- not a ring on both hands -- he would not have been able to work, tied up that way.
    – Kris
    Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 6:41

"Either" and "Both" have strikingly similar definitions (in at least one of their definitions):

either : being the one and the other of two

both : the one as well as the other

However, "both" often has a context of at the same time, whereas "either" often has a context of one at a time. So there are certainly times when they are not interchangeable. For instance:

I'd like either an apple or an orange.

I'd like both an apple and an orange.

But there are also times where they are interchangeable:

Bob plays both instruments well.

Bob plays either instrument well.

It all depends on context.


Some print organizations have style guides that require expressions like "on either side of the door" to mean on one side or the other, but not both sides. "There were lions on either side of the door" would be regarded as incorrect. The preferred form would be, "There were lions on each side of the door."

  • 3
    This answer would be more useful if you cited the style guides you refer to.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 22:20

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