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ENGLISH GRAMMAR POINTS -  

Both, either & neither

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The tricky points of English grammar

Problem words: both, either and neither

grammar trouble shooter



Both, either and neither are words that often cause problems for students..
. even for English speaking students. And it's not really surprising. Even linguists sometimes hesitate over these words... What are they grammatically?
Definition:
Both, either
and neither are normally binary connectors; in other words they are used to associate or to link, either in the affirmative or in the negative, two entities (people, objects, abstractions)
   The problem is that both, either and neither – and in particular both – have different functions. According to context (and to the grammar book you consult), they can be considered as quantifiers, adjectives, pronouns, correlating coordinators or adverbs.
   But in the end, their usage is actually fairly straightforward: so before looking at the different uses of these words, let's correct some of the mistakes that students often make.

1. Incorrect use of both, either and neither

The mistakes you should not make....

RULE 1.
NEVER
put an article or other determiner directly BEFORE both, either or neither
All these examples are WRONG. Each is followed by a correct alternative (other alternatives may be possible).
Examples :
  1. WRONGThe both candidates made some good points
         RIGHT : Both the candidates made some good points
  2. WRONG. I want the both of you to help me with this.
         RIGHT : I want both of you to help me with this.
  3. WRONGMy both parents are going out tonight .
         RIGHT : Both my parents are going out tonight
  4. WRONG. I don't like the either of these shirts
         RIGHT : I don't like either of these shirts.
  5. WRONG. The neither secretaries knew where the boss had gone.
         RIGHT : Neither of the secretaries knew where the boss had gone.
Note: "The both of.." is sometimes heard in colloquial spoken English, particularly in the southern half of the USA... but it is generally considered to be incorrect grammar.

RULE 2
ALWAYS put an article or other determiner directly AFTER both of, either of and neither of if they are followed by a noun
YOU MAY put an article or other determiner directly after both, either, or neither (without of) if they are followed by a noun
The first five examples are WRONG. Each is followed by a correct alternative (other alternatives may be possible). In the example 6, both alternatives are correct.
Examples :
  1. WRONG. Both of candidates made some good points
         RIGHT : Both of the candidates made some good points
  2. WRONG. I want both of technicians to help me with this.
         RIGHT : I want both of the technicians to help me with this.
  3. WRONG. Both of brothers live in London .
         RIGHT : Both of my brothers live in London.
  4. WRONG. I don't like  either of  shirts
         RIGHT : I don't like either of these shirts.
  5. WRONG. Neither of secretaries knew where the boss had gone.
         RIGHT : Neither of the secretaries  knew where the boss had gone.
  6. RIGHT ;  Both students got top marks.
         RIGHT :  Both the students got top marks.
If you master these two simple rules, you will avoid most of the mistakes commonly made by students.

2. Correct use of both, either and neither

Page Index : Both Either and Neither

Both

The word both is used to associate two entities in an affirmative context. As a quantifier, it has the meaning of "two".
There are six essential structures :
  1. Both can be used as a primary determiner before a noun, but not before a pronoun. Examples 1 to 3
  2. Both or both of can be used as a secondary determiner before another determiner notably before an article or a possessive, or (with both of) before a pronoun. Examples 4 to 11
  3. Both can be used as a secondary determiner placed after a noun or a pronoun. In the case of nouns, this structure is only used with the subject of a sentence; in the case of pronouns, it is used with subject pronouns and object pronouns. Examples 12 to 16.
  4. Both can be used as a pronoun. Examples 17 to 20
  5. Both... and are used as correlating coordinators. See below.
Examples :
  1. I support both teams, but I prefer Manchester United.
  2. Both answers are right.
  3. Both machines are in good working order
  4. I support both the teams, but I prefer Manchester United
  5. I support both of the teams, but I prefer Manchester United
  6. Both my parents are still working.
  7. Both of my parents are still working.
  8. Both these machines are in good working order.
  9. Both of these machines are in good working order.
  10. Both of us very much like playing football.  (But not: Both us.....)
  11. I like these two blouses, and I want to buy both of them
  12. The teams both played very well
  13. They both played very well, but we both played very badly.
  14. Which one do you like ? I like them both.
  15. We want to wish you both good luck
  16. He told us both to go home at once.
  17. My son and daughter are in high school now, and both are doing very well.
  18. Which do you like? I like both
  19. You can have one of the other, but you can't have both.  
  20. I like these cakes; both are very tasty.
  21. (Remember that we do not say  the both)

Note: Both of + pronoun.

(Examples 10 and 11 above)
When Both of is followed by a pronoun, the pronoun is ALWAYS in the object form.
So we can't say: Both of we  nor Both of they
We have to say: Both of us  or  Both of them
Even if this is part of the subject of a sencence.

Both ... and as correlating coordinators

We use both (+noun or pronoun) followed by and (+noun or pronoun) to add extra emphasis to the relation between a pair of entities in an affirmative context.

Examples :
  1. Both Peter and Jim were at Oxford University in the 1990s.
  2. Both you and your father have been very helpful.
  3. I want to see both the Picasso exhibition and the Historical Museum.
For more on this see Correlating conjunctions

Either and neither

Used alone (i.e. when not followed by or or by nor) either and neither are used in the same way as both, with the following differences :
  • Either and neither are never directly followed by an article or a determiner or a pronoun (see footnote)
  • Either is a singular determiner or pronoun
  • Neither is normally used as a singular, but sometimes as a plural.
Neither has a negative value, so is is not necessary to put the verb in the negative as well.

For neither...nor and either...or,  see Correlating conjunctions

Examples :
  1. I support either team, but I prefer Manchester United.
  2. I support neither of the teams, but I prefer Manchester United.
  3. I support neither team, but I prefer Manchester United.
  4. I don't support either of the teams, but I prefer Manchester United.
         but not.....
         I support either of teams  nor  I support neither of teams
  5. Either answer can be justified
  6. Neither of my parents is still working / are still working.
  7. Either of these machines will do the job.
  8. I don't want either of these machines.
  9. I want neither of these machines.
  10. Either of us will be happy to help you.
  11. Neither of them could come to the meeting
          but not.
    ....
          Neither of them  couldn't come .... (That would be a double negative)
  12. They didn't tell either of us what they were doing.
         but not.....
         They didn't tell  neither of us .... (That would be a double negative)
  13. My son and daughter are in high school now, but neither are doing very well.
  14. Which do you like? I don't like either
  15. Which do you like? I don't like either of them.
Footnote:
"Either and neither are never directly followed by an article or a determiner or a pronoun." This is when they are used as a determiner. When used as correlating conjunctions, either and neither are often followed by a determiner, as in:
   Neither the Queen nor the President was smiling for the cameras.


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