1. Either my parents or my sisters IS/ARE going to visit...

  2. Either my parents or my sister IS/ARE going to visit...

Which one is "certainly" correct?

  • 3
    – user230
    Mar 20, 2014 at 9:32
  • 1
    This question presents alternatives for the subjects as well as for the verbs. If your question is about the verb, make that the only difference between the two examples. Mar 20, 2014 at 17:38

2 Answers 2


First sentence...

Either my parents or my sisters are going to visit.

Second sentence...

Either my parents or my sister is going to visit.

The way I learned it (as native speaker) is that, when the subject is "A or B", the verb agrees with the noun closest to the verb (i.e., B).

Bear in mind that you will still be understood by native English speakers even if you used "are" instead of "is," even in writing. I don't care, at least. :) Nevertheless, if you want to be really correct, just use "parents" last so you always use "are" regardless of the number of sisters in the subject.

Either my sister or my parents are going to visit.

Either my sisters or my parents are going to visit.

  • This dodges the question - "to be really correct", avoid the question? You would never say "Either my parents or my sister is going to visit". You've only answered the question by avoiding the problem.
    – Mercury00
    Sep 25, 2018 at 18:00

Here's the breakdown on how people think the phrase is constructed:

  1. The wrong way: Either/Or construction: The sentence is a compound of two independent clauses

    [conjunction]"either" [noun phrase]"my parents" [conjunction]"or" [noun phrase]"my sister(s)" [verb phrase]"are going to visit"

    • Either my parents or my sisters are going to visit.

    Can be reconstructed as:

    • My parents are going to vist, or my sisters are going to visit.

    It's mistakenly thought that the sentence has two noun phrases and two verb phrases being combined into a single sentence:

    • My parents are, or my sisters are, going to visit.

    See how this breaks down when sisters becomes singlar.

    • My parents are, or my sister is, going to visit.

    Now how do you combine the phrase? Thus your confusion.

  2. Noun Phrase Construction

    [adjective]"either" [noun phrase]"my parents or my sister(s)" [verb phrase]"are going to visit"

    • Either (of) "my parents or my sister(s)" are going to visit.

    Should be read like so:

    • (Some indeterminate number of people) are going to visit.

In english, a conjunction (the or part of the phrases in both construtions) can have a different grammatical case than its nouns (as it can have a different grammatical number than it's nouns).

So, the first construction, while seeming to make sense, is not honest in this case. It only makes sense to use are, since you're talking about two sets of things in both cases. Both of those individual cases could be single grammatically (either my parent or my sister are going to visit), and the conjunction can still use 'are' in relation to the verb phrase.

Just add a few more singular objects to see how natural it is to use are in regular spoken English:

  • Either Bob or Sam or Fred or Billy or Joe or Megan or Courtney are going to visit.

How clunky would that sound to a normal, native English speaker to use is?

See: http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/1994_01_24_thenewrepublic.html - the paragraph outlining the use of "Jennifer is / Jennifer are"

  • The relevant part on the link begins with 'Probably no "grammatical error" has received as much scorn as "misuse" of pronoun case inside conjunctions (phrases with two parts joined by [and] or [or]).' FYI
    – Mercury00
    Mar 20, 2014 at 9:31
  • 1
    I would like to point out : If your sentence goes 'Either x or y ....' , the verb after y must agree with y, not necessarily with x.
    – Adil Ali
    Mar 20, 2014 at 14:03
  • This is not true. 'Either Bob or Sam or Joe or Bill or Fred or Susan or Megan are going to visit'. How clunky would it be to say 'is' in this sentence? Prescriptivist rules like 'should agree with the nearest noun' sound nice in a classroom, but no sane person would use it in real life.
    – Mercury00
    Mar 20, 2014 at 20:38
  • The false idea that 'Either my parents or my sister is going to visit' is correct breaks down rapidly when you rearrange 'Either my sister or my parents is going to visit'. Parents is? List order is suddenly meaningful in the sentence? If you still think 'x or y' is read 'x is or y is', you've got to be uncomfortable with the idea 'x is or y are', when the correct construction is 'x-or-y are'.
    – Mercury00
    Mar 20, 2014 at 20:57
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    Ah, beautiful, prescriptivist gradeschool grammer. Unfortunately, we don't speak latin. We speak English, and the grammar rules we learn in elemenary school are incoherent (lack coherency, as illustrated above). Please see MIT author of Words and Rules, How the mind works, The language instinct, etc, Stephen Pinker's explanation: pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/…
    – Mercury00
    Mar 21, 2014 at 14:57

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