Whether you’re a word nerd, a curious new learner, or someone simply wanting to up their grammar game, the English language can present its share of challenges. One example of this is the words either and neither, which are spelled similarly and also sound alike.
Either means “one of two options.” It is used to indicate a choice between one or another item or in addition to something else. For example, the sentence “You can either go to the movie or stay at home” presents two clear options to choose from.
Neither means “not either” and is also commonly defined as “none of.” It is used to indicate that none of the available options presented are true, applicable, or acceptable. Neither can also be used to negate options, as in the sentence, “I like neither coffee nor tea in the morning.”
Let’s break down these two words in more detail so you can easily understand when to opt for either versus neither.
Definitions of either and neither
Either and neither are used to refer to two different things or choices. Either is used before the first of two or more options or to indicate a link with another statement. Either can also indicate one or the other of two people or things.
Neither is used before the first of two options to signal that they are untrue or won’t occur. It can also be used to emphasize a negative statement. Additionally, neither means “not one or the other of two people or things.”
Either and neither pronunciation
There are different ways to pronounce these words. In American English, either is pronounced with a long e sound, as in ee-ther. In British English, either is pronounced with a long i sound instead, as in i-ther. The same differences apply when you’re pronouncing neither stateside as opposed to across the pond.
When to use either vs. neither
Knowing how to choose between these words can be confusing, especially because both can be used as an adverb, a conjunction, a determiner, or a pronoun.
As an adverb:
Either as an adverb is used to show a similarity or link.
I don’t like chocolate ice cream either.
Neither as an adverb is used before the first of two choices to indicate that they are untrue or didn’t happen.
We can neither confirm nor deny the allegations.
As a conjunction:
When used as a conjunction, either is used with or to indicate choices or possibilities. It can also be used to suggest that there is more than one possibility or comparison.
I would love to go to either the concert or the party tomorrow night.
Neither as a conjunction is used with nor to mean that something is not true about two or more things, actions, or people. Another way of saying this is that it is used conjunctionally to negate another statement.
Neither the concert nor the party interests me.
As a determiner:
Either is used as a determiner to mean “one or the other of two people or things”; it also can mean “each of two.”
The fireflies didn’t come out on either night.
There were sequins on either end of the mural.
Neither is used as a determiner to mean “not one or the other.”
Neither argument is convincing.
As a pronoun:
Either as a pronoun means “one or the other.” It is common for the pronoun either to be used when referring to one of two options or when talking about a positive outcome or choice.
You can take either route to get to the park.
When used as a pronoun, neither means “not one or the other” or “not either.”
He couldn’t choose between the routes, so he took neither.
Tip for remembering when to use either vs. neither
If you’re still struggling to choose between either versus neither, there’s one simple tip that will resolve any confusion.
N = negative
Neither always denotes an exclusively negative usage or tone—which is easy to remember since it starts with the letter n, just like the word negative.
Examples of either
Conjunction: The tiles come in either green or blue.
Adverb: I can’t go. I’m grounded, and I don’t like dances either.
Pronoun: We have to get the cotton candy if either of us goes to the fair.
Determiner: There are wildflowers on either side of the stream.
Examples of neither
Conjunction: Neither the cat nor the dog noticed the mouse.
Adverb: I will eat neither green eggs nor ham.
Determiner: Neither team won; it was a tie.
Pronoun: Zeke picked two bunches of flowers, neither of which lived past Sunday.