I'm new to English. I wonder whether neither / either will go with plural or singular verbs?
Both neither and either are used with singular verbs.
Ex. Neither of you is leaving until you have finished your work.
Ex. Either day is convenient.
BE CAREFUL when you use a compound subject with either or neither. Look at these examples below:
Ex. Neither my father nor my sisters like to play soccer.
In this sentence the plural verb like agrees with the subject that is closest to it = sisters=plural.
Ex. Either a melon or oranges are on the menu today.
The subject nearest to the verb is plural=oranges and so the verb is plural=are
According to Oxford Dictionary:
After neither and either you use a singular verb: Neither candidate was selected for the job.
Neither of and either of are followed by a plural noun or pronoun and a singular or plural verb. A plural verb is more informal: Neither of my parents speaks/speak a foreign language.
When neither… nor… or either… or… are used with two singular nouns, the verb can be singular or plural. A plural verb is more informal.
The Oxford Learner's Dictionary provides advice which I think is misleading. It is:
- Neither of and either of are followed by a plural noun or pronoun and a singular or plural verb. A plural verb is more informal: Neither of my parents speaks/speak a foreign language.
- When neither… nor… or either… or… are used with two singular nouns, the verb can be singular or plural. A plural verb is more informal.
Certainly, there are constructions in which it is difficult to "keep track" of the number of the verb that is called for by the subject. An example is given in the The American Heritage Book of English Usage, (Houghton Mifflin, 1996):
Either John or his brothers are bringing the dessert.
Here it may not be immediately clear to some speakers whether the singular "John" or the plural "brothers" should guide them in choosing the number of the verb. It would be clear to them if they would but realize that it is neither "John" nor "brothers" that guides the choice of the verb: it is the singular pronoun Either that heads the noun phrase which is the subject.
Nevertheless, is true that many English speakers "lose track" of number when using the pairs neither… nor… or either… or…. The result is something called proximity agreement. This is a way to make English more "forgiving", in a way. There is no point in trying to force agreement in number on a population of speakers, and in any case, there is no mechanism with which to force it!
In the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English (2002), Douglas Biber explains it thus:
...the principle of proximity sometimes plays a part in subject-verb agreement. This principle is the tendency, especially in speech, for the verb to agree with the closest (pro)noun, even when that (pro)noun is not the head of the subject noun phrase. For example:
Do you think [any of them] are bad Claire? (CONV)
[Not one of the people who's auditioned] were up to par. (FICT)
These examples are obvious, and agreement in number in any case is not as important as being understood by listeners or readers.
However, Oxford Learners gives bad advice to learners when they tell them that it is acceptable to say:
Neither of my parents speak a foreign language.
If we remove the preposition phrase, it is easy to see that the singular is called for:
Neither speaks a foreign language.
In this case, they are giving bad, or at least incomplete advice to learners. The last sentence of the entry should be:
It is never wrong to use a singular verb form with either or neither.
If you are in a formal setting you should use a singular verb. If you are in an informal setting, it's OK to use a plural verb.
From the Cambridge Dictionary:
In formal styles, we use neither of with a singular verb when it is the subject. However, in informal speaking, people often use plural verbs:
Neither of my best friends was around.
Neither of them were interested in going to university.
In informal settings, I often hear people say something like the following:
I tried the red cake and the blue cake. Neither were very good.
Thus, I don't think the principle of proximity has much to do with this.
The AP Stylebook disagrees with the other answers and says:
The nouns that follow these words do not constitute a compound subject; they are alternate subjects and require a verb that agrees with the nearer subject: Neither they nor he is going. Neither he nor they are going.