In his engaging book, The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker talks of writing style as “the effective use of words to engage the human mind.”
There are rules of written and spoken language, but many of these rules are contradictory or specific to the writer/speaker’s culture and his or her audience. Such is the case with British and American English usage of “me neither” and “me either.”
Both “me neither” and “me either” are acceptable usage in informal writing and speaking, and unacceptable in formal communication. Neither is grammatically correct. Both indicate agreement in response to something said by another speaker. “Me neither” indicates agreement with a negative statement; “me either” indicates agreement with a positive statement. “Me either” is almost exclusively an American expression.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the basics of standard sentence structure, introduce a few helpful terms, and show how formal and informal writing and speaking are different.
Basic Sentence Structure
Let’s look at a simple sentence. In English, a standard sentence contains a subject, verb, and object. For example:
- The dog (subject) chased (verb) the cat (object).
The part of the sentence that mentions something about the subject is called the predicate. In our sentence, the predicate is the verb plus the object — chased the cat. So, a sentence must have a subject and predicate that express a complete thought.
If we look at our two phrases, “me neither” and “me either,” there doesn’t appear to be a subject or a predicate. “Me” is a pronoun that usually functions as an object, and “neither” or “either” would serve as an adverb in this case.
However, we need to understand that these expressions are what we call elliptical or incomplete sentences. They are abbreviations — shortened versions — of what the speaker or writer is implying when they reply to a statement by someone else.
For example, Julie says:
- I didn’t enjoy that movie last night.
To which her friend Alison replies:
- Me neither.
What Alison is really saying is, “I didn’t enjoy that movie either.”
What Alison is really saying is “I didn’t enjoy that movie either.”
This might help to explain the common American usage of the expression “Me either.” But why not “I either”? Who knows? It just sounds wrong, and no native speaker would use such an expression (source).
Standard Usage of Neither/Either
In one sense, “neither” and “either” usually signify a choice between two options. We use this commonly in the expressions “either” and “or” when it’s a positive choice, and we use “neither” or “nor” when it’s negative. For example:
- I am reading either Shakespeare or Milton for my degree.
This sentence indicates that I have a choice between the two authors.
- Neither the film at the Odeon nor the play at the Civic appeals to me.
This sentence indicates that I do not wish to see either of these entertainments.
The alternative to the “either” or “neither” options would be “any.” For example:
- You may choose any author or entertainment that you wish.
Appeals to the speaker’s or listener’s ear — what sounds right or wrong — are frustrating for non-native speakers, who would prefer to have a hard-and-fast rule to guide them in these circumstances.
Unfortunately, English overflows with irregular constructions that don’t follow any particular rule.
The reason for this is that all languages evolve through those who use the language — its speakers and writers. There are endless examples of our most revered writers breaking the so-called rules.
The late New York Times columnist William Safire famously wrote a list of “Rules for Writing” that broke every rule he made!
How does that enable us to understand the distinction between “me neither” and “me either”? In a standard subject/predicate sentence structure, the sentence would start with “I,” according to this table:
|Nominative Case |
|Genitive case |
|Accusative Case |
|First Person Singular||I||my, mine||Me|
|Second Person Singular||you||your, yours||you|
|Third Person Singular||he / she / it||his / her, hers / its||him / her / it|
|First Person Plural||we||our, ours||us|
|Second Person Plural||you||your, yours||you|
|Third Person Plural||they||their, theirs||them|
“Case” describes the grammatical function of a noun or pronoun in a sentence.
Using “me” as the subject of a sentence is technically incorrect unless you’re Tarzan introducing yourself to a lady: “Me Tarzan, you Jane.” Standard English sentences usually start with the first-person singular pronoun “I.”
So, from where does the “me” in “me either/neither” come? Earlier, we discussed an elliptical or incomplete sentence structure. This will be much easier to comprehend with an example.
Suppose I said to my girlfriend: “She asked me on a date!” to which she replied, “Me too!” Apart from compromising the friendship, what my girlfriend is saying is that “She asked me (on a date) too.” There’s your “me too” in a full sentence.
It’s a similar situation with the use of “me neither” or “me either.” Like “me too,” “me neither” is an informal or colloquial abbreviation of the more formal “nor I” and has been in common use since at least the late 19th century.
There are, of course, several different ways of saying “me neither,” all having the same meaning, for example: “nor me,” “neither do I,” “nor do I,” “I don’t either,” or the more formally abbreviated “nor I.”
So, in response to a statement, “I’m not looking forward to the coming exams,” the abbreviated answer of “me neither” is simply a shorter way of saying, “I’m not looking forward to the coming exams either!” where “not either” equals “neither.”
If you desire to be more formal about it:
- Neither am I looking forward to the coming exams.
- Nor am I looking forward to the coming exams.
Why not “I neither”? It’s just not used by native speakers as an “idiom” (source).
What About “Me Either”?
Now, we can get an idea of where the informal responses “me too” and “me neither” come from and what they mean. What about “me either”?
Well, the expression does exist in the US when someone has made a negative statement with which you agree, i.e., you want to say that the statement is also true of you.
For example, I say:
- I really don’t feel like going to college today.
And you reply:
- Me either!
However, such a response would not be considered correct by speakers of UK English, who would say “me neither” (source).
A clever explanation of the acceptability of the “me either” response may be to reformulate the reply in the passive voice. For example, your friend says:
- I don’t like chocolate sprinkles on my ice cream.
To which you reply:
- Chocolate sprinkles on my ice cream are not liked by me, either!
There we have the “me either” expression in a logical, albeit passive voice, sentence, but this may be stretching the origin of the expression just a little too far.
In fact, responding in agreement to a positive statement would usually elicit the response “me too” instead of “me either”. For example:
- I’m looking forward to going back to college after the break.
- Me too!
When you use it on its own like this, “Me either,” do not confuse the phrase with a range of other applications within a sentence (source). For example:
- I don’t like her, and she doesn’t like me either.
- This is no picnic for me either, Buster!
- Student A: The teacher didn’t see me in class; Student B: He didn’t see me either.
In fact, “either” is an unusually versatile word that we can use in many different ways. For example, here it is as a conjunction to connect two clauses:
- Either we stay at home, or we go to the beach.
It can be used as a determiner, referring to two choices:
- I don’t like either color.
As a determiner, we can use it to mean “both,” as in:
- There were shops on either side of the street.
As a pronoun:
- Do you prefer the floral or the striped wallpaper? I don’t like either.
As an adverb:
- The meal was delicious, and it wasn’t expensive, either.
Interestingly, Google Ngram seems to indicate a dramatic upsurge in using the expression “me either” compared to “me neither” since the year 2000.
In the face of the term’s general rejection — except in the US, perhaps — we can think of no solid reason why the term should have become so popular (source).
But as we pointed out in the opening paragraph, language continues to evolve with usage. For another example of a common expression in transition, read, “Most Definitely: Understanding the Different Possible Ways this Phrase is Correctly Used.”
As with so many other grammar and syntax questions, especially when considering the usage on the two sides of the Atlantic, there is much debate and disagreement on what is correct usage.
However, there does appear to be general agreement that in informal speech and writing, “me either” and “me neither” are used in the US to say that you agree with a negative statement someone has made and that the two phrases mean the same thing.
It is doubtful that many of these questions will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Perhaps that is as it should be. Language is a living, evolving communication tool. Although we didn’t invent it, it is ours to borrow and play with.