When it comes to the English language, mastering some of its nuances may be a bit complicated at first. Using be-verbs can be particularly complicated as students often struggle with whether to use “neither is” or “neither are.”
The correct choice is “neither is” for formal writing most of the time. You might use “neither are” for less formal situations. As a singular indefinite pronoun, “neither” takes a singular verb. When “neither are” is used, it’s usually in situations involving intervening phrases, such as prepositional phrases, or with compound subjects including “nor.”
We will discuss the primary differences between “neither is” and “neither are” in this article. Apart from that, we will also discuss several other related topics, such as the difference between “neither” and “either.”
Using “Neither Is” or “Neither Are”
Since the indefinite pronoun “neither” is singular in form grammatically, and we must use singular verbs with “neither” to maintain subject-verb agreement, we should always use “neither is” for formal writing. Less formal writing is a little more lenient, and you will often see “neither are” in some instances.
Either way, “neither” will allow you to make negative statements regarding at least two things or people at one time.
Neither Is and Verb Agreement
Again, singular pronouns take singular verbs, and “neither” takes the be-verbs “is” and “has” in the present tense. When you use “neither” in the form of a pronoun to indicate “not the one or the other,” it invalidates both things individually.
When you use neither as a determiner, it precedes a singular noun. It works with a singular verb like “has” or “is.”
As a Determiner:
- Neither bike is good for me.
- Neither student is aware of the answer.
- Neither applicant has the correct skills.
While speaking, “neither” can be used as a reply when referring to two different mentioned things.
As a Pronoun and Quantifier:
- Neither of them is prepared.
- Neither of the girls is performing today.
- Neither of you is correct.
Neither Are and Verb Agreement
Still, informally, we can use “neither” to invalidate not only the two possibilities individually but both as a group. Merriam-Webster notes that we can do this when a prepositional phrase that contains a plural in it goes between “neither” and the main verb (source).
For example, we might use it in constructions such as “neither of us,” “neither of the boys,” or “neither of them.” When using phrases like “neither of us,” it’s easy to become confused over whether you should use “is” or “are.”
For formal writing, it will help to remember that “us” is not the subject but the object of the preposition “of.” Instead, the subject is the singular pronoun “neither,” so the verb must agree with it. Though “us” is plural, it is in the objective case.
Neither of the boys is ready. (Formal)
Neither of the boys are ready. (Informal)
Neither of the cars is designed for racing. (Formal)
Neither of the cars are designed for racing. (Informal)
Neither of us is right. (Formal)
Neither of us are right. (Informal)
Neither of the boys is wrong. (Formal)
Neither of the boys are wrong. (Informal)
Neither of them is a good cricketer. (Formal)
Neither of them are good cricketers. (Informal)
Remember to Use “Neither Is” for Formal Settings
For formal writing, you will still want to use “neither is,” even when there is an intervening prepositional phrase.
Similar confusion arises over the use of is/are when speaking about “everyone.” It is because both “neither” and “everyone” function as indefinite pronouns. Click here to read more about this.
“Neither” Is an Indefinite Pronoun and a Determiner
“Neither” is an indefinite pronoun that doubles as a determiner (source). Indefinite pronouns do not indicate or refer to any person, thing, or place in particular. Like other pronouns, an indefinite pronoun functions as a substitute for a noun phrase or a noun and can stand as the subject of a sentence.
It can be very challenging to determine whether indefinite pronouns are singular or plural, but “neither” falls under the category of singular indefinite pronouns, even though it refers to more than one thing.
Determiners are modifiers that go before nouns, and “neither” and “either” as indefinite pronoun determiners can only function with singular count nouns.
Some grammarians include “neither” and “either” under the category of distributive determiners, which we use to describe something we’re sharing out or dividing. Other examples include “each” and “every” (source).
Neither as a Pronoun
As an indefinite pronoun, “neither” can function as the subject of a sentence, meaning not the one or the other of two objects or people. Less often, you’ll see someone use it to refer to more than two people or things.
- Question: Jordan, which one would you like to have, coffee or tea?
- Answer: Neither, as I just had tea.
- There were two bats, but neither was fit for us to play.
“Neither of” as a Quantifier
“Neither” also functions as a quantifier, indicating the amount of something. When we use “neither of,” we often use it before either pronouns or plural countable nouns that have determiners like “the,” “his,” or “my” before them (source).
- Neither of us knew what to wear.
- Neither of us played well.
- Neither of the wedding cards was any good.
Neither as a Determiner
As a distributive determiner, “neither” goes before a noun to identify it (source). Determiners are similar to adjectives, but determiners can only go before a noun and not after. When we use it as a determinant, “neither” has the sense of “not either” of two options.
- Neither parent came for the meeting.
- Neither dress looked good on her.
In the first sentence, it is clear that the father did not come and the mother did not come. In the second sentence, two dresses are present, and someone thought the appearance of each was not good.
There are other distributive determiners as well — “each,” “every,” and “either” — and we use each one with a singular noun.
- Each girl was given a toffee.
- I can recall every detail of the conversation.
- Either cafe is okay for me.
Neither and Nor
Aside from functioning as a pronoun or a determiner, we can also use “neither” as a conjunction together with “nor.” This combination helps to connect two or more negative alternatives, although “nor” sounds a bit formal for everyday speech.
Neither George nor his wife said anything about the reports.
Neither France nor Italy reached the semi-finals in last year’s FIFA World Cup.
As you can see, we used “neither” and “nor” to combine alternatives. In the first sentences, the alternatives were George and his wife. In the second sentence, the alternatives were France and Italy.
Neither and Nor with Is or Are?
For paired conjunctions like “neither” and “nor” with a compound subject, the verb needs to agree with the closest noun to it (source). If the nearest noun to the verb is singular, you will use “is.” If the closest noun to the verb is plural, you should use “are.”
Neither the students nor the teacher is here today.
Neither the teacher nor the students are here today.
Neither they nor he is thinking about the match.
Neither he nor they are thinking about the match.
Some of these formations will still sound somewhat awkward, so you may wish to find another way to write the sentence when possible.
Using “Not” with Neither and Nor
Many often use a clause with “neither” or “nor” after a negative clause. The Cambridge Dictionary notes that, In that case, the verb and the subject become inverted after “neither” or “nor.”
Lucie had not done her homework, neither had she brought any of her projects to the class.
We did not get to see the sunset, nor did we see the light and sound show.
The Difference Between Neither and None
One very common issue that English language learners are likely to encounter is the distinction between “neither” and “none.” Like “neither,” “none” can function as an indefinite pronoun or quantifier.
Remember that “neither” normally indicates two options. On the other hand, “none” implies that we cannot select or opt for a single one out of several options, meaning more than two.
None of you are fit for the job.
None of them were present at the meeting.
We use “neither” to imply that we do not select either one out of two available options.
Neither of them played well.
Neither of you is aware of the meeting.
Unlike “neither,” we might consider “none,” which indicates “not any” and “not one,” either plural or singular. This means we can use it with either singular or plural verbs, depending on whether you are referring to an entire group or one of a group.
None of the mangoes is green. (Each one of the mangoes is not green)
None of the mangoes are green. (All the mangoes are not green)
Just remember that you should use “neither” instead of “none” when talking about two things or people, as shown in the example below. While some may use “neither” to refer to more than two, that’s typically informal English, which will hurt your credibility in academic writing.
Neither vs. Either
“Neither” and “either” are the inverse of each other since the definition of “neither” is “not either.” Both indicate a choice between two options, and both are indefinite pronouns and distributive determiners (source).
- Either player is the right fit for the team.
- Neither player is the right fit for the team.
Clearly, we generally use “neither” when negating both available options, while we generally use “either” more positively. “Either” implies that we could pick one since both options are good. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
If you’re an English language learner, the difference should be easy enough to remember if you associate the “n” at the beginning of “neither” with “negative.”
For more on “either” vs. “neither,” you may wish to read “What Is the Difference Between ‘Me Neither’ and ‘Me Either’?”
Neither vs. Both + Not
One common mistake that you’ll see when attempting to make a negative statement is some combination of “both” or “both of” plus “not,” referring to two things or people. Consider the examples below.
- Both players are not a good fit for the team.
- Both cars are not fascinating.
Instead, we would use the following:
- Neither of these players are a good fit for the team. (Wordy)
- Neither player is a good fit for the team. (More efficient)
- Neither of these cars are fascinating. (Wordy)
- Neither car is fascinating. (More efficient)
If we remove “not,” we can easily use such a construction to make a positive statement. We could also use the distributive determiner “each” instead, although it could imply more than two.
- Both players are a good fit for the team.
- Each player is a good fit for the team.
- Both cars are fascinating.
- Each car is fascinating.
Under most circumstances, “neither is” will be the grammatically correct choice, but you will often hear or see “neither are” in conversational English. “Neither” is a singular indefinite pronoun that normally takes a singular verb.
One exception is when we use “neither” as a conjunction in tandem with “nor” and compound subjects. In that case, the verb must agree with the nearest noun. Indefinite pronouns like “neither” can be very tricky since they imply more than one, but we regard them as singular.
“Neither” is especially complicated since it negates both things or persons you mention. It’s also important to distinguish “neither” from “none” since none implies more than two and means “not any.”