The Proper Use of Either, Or, and Neither, Nor

Administrative Assistant Resource
January 9, 2014 — 2,309 views  
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Many people, while writing business letters and official documents, get confused with the usage of the words: either, or, neither and nor. These four words are known as conjunctions because they combine two or more sentences or clauses. It is essential to know the right usage of these words because they are very frequently used in the English language. Using these words incorrectly can send the wrong message to your client, colleague or boss and cause even more confusion in turn.

If you follow some simple pieces of advice, you can avoid the mistakes that are usually made with these words. All these words are used at the beginning of or between clauses of a sentence.

Usage of 'Either'

The word ‘either’ indicates a choice between two options. It indicates affirmatively that two choices are available. The word ‘either’ always appears before its associated clause. As an example, the sentence “A number can be either even or odd” is correct while the sentence “a number can be or even either odd” is incorrect.

Usage of 'Or'

Just like the word either, the word 'or' indicates a choice between two options. It indicates that two choices are available that can be chosen from. But unlike the word 'either', it appears between the two clauses. As an example, the sentence “a number can be either positive or negative” is correct while the sentence “a number can be or positive either negative” is incorrect.

Another point to note is that the word 'either' is always followed by the word ‘or’ but the word ‘or’ can appear independently in a sentence. As an example the sentence “A switch can be on or off” is correct, but the sentence “A switch can be on either off” is incorrect.

Usage of 'Neither'

The word 'neither' is used when there are two choices but none of the two choices are available. The word 'neither' always appears before its associated clause. As an example, the sentence “neither coffee nor tea is available” is correct while the sentence “nor coffee neither tea is available” is incorrect.

Usage of 'Nor'

The word 'nor' is used when there are two choices but none of the two choices are available, just like the word 'neither'. But unlike the word 'neither', it appears between the two clauses. As an example the sentence “neither carbon nor phosphorus is a metal” is correct while the sentence “nor carbon neither phosphorus is a metal” is incorrect.

Another point to note is that 'nor' always appears together with the word 'neither', but the word 'neither' can appear independently in a sentence. As an example, the sentence “neither team won the match” is correct, but the sentence “nor team won the match” is incorrect.

The usage of either, or, neither, and nor can only be learnt by experience. To master these you can practice writing several sentences with these words every day. You can also take advice from grammar experts. Only then will you be able to hone your skills and avoid the common mistakes that are made when using these words while writing business letters or documents.

Administrative Assistant Resource