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Either/Or...Neither/Nor: Tricky Agreement Issues

Most writers effortlessly make their verbs agree with the subjects of a sentence. However, compound subjects can pose problems when both subjects are not considered plural. This confusion can occur in sentences that include "neither...nor" and "either...or."


Grammar rules dictate that the verb for sentences constructed with “neither…nor” or “either…or” must agree with the subject closest to the verb. Though these sentences have more than one subject, they are not considered compound subjects unless both subjects are plural. Likewise, if both subjects are singular, then a singular verb is used because the subject is singular though the sentence has more than one subject.


However, a writer must be extra diligent to use the proper verb if one subject is singular while the other subject is plural in these type of sentences. The sentence below provides an example.

Original Sentence: Neither the previous STUDIES nor the current RESEARCH ADDRESS the discrepancy between test preparation and final test scores.


The two possible subjects are “studies,” which is plural, and “research,” which is singular. In this sentence, the plural form of the verb (“address”) is used. However, since “neither…nor” is in the sentence, the verb should only agree with the noun closest to it, which is “research.” This noun is singular, so the sentence has subject-verb disagreement.


A singular verb is needed to correct the grammar error.


Edited Sentence: Neither the previous studies nor the current RESEARCH ADDRESSES the discrepancy between test preparation and final test scores.


In the edited sentence, the singular form of the verb is used (“addresses”) because the singular noun ("research") is closest to the verb.


In this sentence, the verb could be singular or plural, depending on which subject comes first. If this sentence started with “research,” then the verb would be plural because “studies” would be closest to the verb (“Neither the current research nor the previous studies address the discrepancy between test preparation and final test scores”).


Remember with “either…or” and “neither…nor” sentences, the verb must agree with the subject closest to it.


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