1

I'm wondering which is grammatically correct:

  1. Neither they nor I am an idiot at all.

  2. Neither they nor I are idiots at all.

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    Ideally neither . . . – snailcar Aug 1 '15 at 23:17
  • what a comment :D – Cardinal Aug 1 '15 at 23:18
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    @user3169 I'm pretty sure the fact that the words "am idiot" and "are idiots" are the only difference between the two sentences pretty much tell you the area of concern. Please take a look at this meta discussion before calling something proofreading. If anything, this is "unclear what you're asking" not "proofreading". – Catija Aug 2 '15 at 0:23
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    @Deep That's not what he's saying. You might help improve your question if you consider explaining what you see to be the issue here... something along the lines of "The subjects of this sentence are both singular (I) and plural (they), in this case, which is the appropriate verb agreement to use, the singular to match "I" or the plural to match "they"?" That's what I see the question to be based on but if there is something else that's at issue, explain that. Right now we're having to guess a bit at what the issue is. – Catija Aug 2 '15 at 0:30
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    I'm not arguing that fact... I'm not the one saying you need to edit your question... I'm simply stating that you can make it better by showing us that you've actually thought about the question a little bit. Nothing is harmed by explaining your question a bit, because that tells us exactly where to focus our effort to answer it. – Catija Aug 2 '15 at 0:43
3

The US Navy has a term, blivet: 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag.

You're trying to cram too much into a construction that isn't designed to handle the overload. When you get boxed in to problems like this, where every answer you can think of sounds wrong, Great Mother English is sending you a message: find another way to do it. For instance:

We're none of us idiots, neither me nor them.
They're not idiots, and neither am I.


Blivet is also the name for this:

Blivet

This "optical illusion that displays two irreconcilable perspectives at once" has been adopted as the name of a Python storage management module because it reflects the unhappy fact that "the goal of clean, consistent design is virtually irreconcilable with the tangle of inconsistent storage technologies that must be managed."

  • 3
    I agree with the sentiment but the example sentence seems a bit dated. I have a difficult time imagining it in modern usage. – Catija Aug 2 '15 at 0:39
  • @Catija It's the sort of thing that happens all the time in speech, when a speaker starts out with a construction in mind and doesn't realize until too late that it doesn't work! – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 2 '15 at 0:49
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    I guess all I was trying to say is that "They're not idiots, and neither am I" sounds a lot more modern than using phrasing like "we're none of us". – Catija Aug 2 '15 at 0:51
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    @Catija: Ah, you meant my sentence ... I suppose I'm dating myself. But I'll stick yours in, too; it underscores the key point that there's easier ways of skinning a cat than turning it inside out and scraping off the messy bits. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 2 '15 at 1:03
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English Grammar rules are simple and straightforward. If subjects or subject and an object are separated by 'and' then verb will be in plural i.e. 'are'. On the other hand, if they are separated by 'or' then verb will be used for the subject or object following the 'or'. e.g.,

Neither they nor I am an idiot at all. (Right)

Neither they nor I are idiots at all. (wrong)

Neither I nor they are idiots at all. (Right but seldom used as the third person is iterated prior to first/second person)

Neither they nor you are an idiot at all. (right)

  • It would help if you explained the relation beteen or and nor in this context. And the first sentence is irrelevant. – user22427 Feb 14 '19 at 14:18
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The second one is correct; you can't rely on "I" all by itself to tell you what form to use. Instead, "Neither they nor I" is what you're referring to, and that's clearly plural.

(Relying on this, though, is not wise: avoid any ambiguities by rewriting so this particular confusion can't occur.)

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    True, there are some speakers who would agree with you. Many would not, however. For example, speakers who prefer agreement with the nearest disjunct would find it quite odd-sounding. You could make this group happy by saying "Neither I nor they", moving the plural disjunct next to the verb. Some speakers wouldn't be happy with either order, though, so the sentence is best rewritten. – snailcar Aug 2 '15 at 0:48
  • @snailboat Certainly won't disagree with the idea of rewriting. – Nathan Tuggy Aug 2 '15 at 0:51

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