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Who had started the washing machine?

A thief?

No, one wouldn't barge into her apartment just to do her laundry.

Could it be John?

Neither. He would have called her before coming here.

Is the usage of neither correct here? Why or why not?

  • Your use of Neither there is incorrect. One colloquially "valid" alternative would be Not John either. Which itself is effectively short for No, it could not be John either, but I don't think there are any idiomatically acceptable one- or two-word shortened responses featuring either or neither for your cited context. – FumbleFingers Sep 2 '17 at 13:44
  • @FumbleFingers: I thought exactly the same, while I was looking at the one word response. Then I took a look into the Cambridge Dictionary online (see my answer below) and there were such answers available. Therefore such one word replies should be valid, shouldn't they? – Jochen Sep 2 '17 at 22:22
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    @Jochen: There's a world of different between Neither as a one-word response to a "false binary choice" question like Do you want tea or coffee, and OP's cited context where the second of a potentially limitless number of options is being rejected. For OP's exact context, you'd have to explicitly identify the "target" of neither in the response, since they're not both referenced in the specific utterance to which you're responding. I think your answer below confuses the issue by citing a context that doesn't match the one being asked about, in that crucial respect. – FumbleFingers Sep 3 '17 at 17:35
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Explanation from Cambridge Dictionary

In speaking, we can use neither on its own in replies when we are referring to two things that have already been mentioned:

A:

Mike, which would you prefer, tea or coffee?
B:

Neither thanks. I’ve just had a coffee.

In my opinion your question offers only one option, because the former question, which was related to the thief, was already answered. Therefore I would replace 'neither'.

NOTE: I am neither a native speaker nor an expert - I am just trying to help.

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