1. Neither Mary nor John eat beef.
  2. Neither Mary nor John eats beef.

Which is grammatically correct?


2 Answers 2


You can use both of them. It is not wrong to use either of them. However, eats would be a better choice if you have both third party singular nouns or pronoun as in your sentence which means:

Mary doesn't eat beef, and neither does John.
Mary doesn't eat beef and John doesn't eat beef, either.

Neither X nor Y is one of the trickiest grammatical points in English. Traditionally, the subject-verb agreement was based on Y, not X and it depended on whether Y was singular or plural, e.g.:

Neither he nor I am right.
Neither he nor they are coming.

However, if you Google "neither he nor I am", you get 52,600 hits while "neither he nor I are" has 15,800 hits, "neither he nor I is" has 13,500 hits.

Why is this happening? The English language is widely spoken by so many people in the world that the old traditional grammar rules have not been followed by some people and people don't think it is that important to follow them. We sometimes think subject-verb agreement is not that important as long as it makes sense.

Which is grammatically correct between "Neither of them is coming" and "Neither of them are coming"? Both of them are correct. However, the linked Ngram Viewer favors the former and it is better to use the former.

  • 1
    In OP's question, I don't think that we can use 'eat' because the subject before the verb is singular. We have to use 'eats' only in the given example.
    – Rucheer M
    Jan 22, 2016 at 9:21
  • @RuchirM The same applies to Neither he nor I, then you think using am is the only option?
    – user24743
    Jan 22, 2016 at 9:22
  • Yes. You only wrote it and Google supports it!
    – Rucheer M
    Jan 22, 2016 at 9:27
  • @RuchirM I am not sure how you define the verb support, but if you mean it is favored over other two agreements, you are right. But other two are also used and supported by Google.
    – user24743
    Jan 22, 2016 at 9:28
  • 1
    Forget Google for a while. If two singular nouns are used in 'neither ...nor' format, it takes a singular verb. If the nouns are plural or if a noun in proximity of the verb is plural, the verb is plural @Rathony Said that: neither mine nor your parents are coming; neither she nor her siblings are present.
    – Maulik V
    Jan 22, 2016 at 9:36

Neither Mary nor John eats beef.

is correct.


Rule 2. Two singular subjects connected by or, either/or, or neither/nor require a singular verb.


My aunt or my uncle is arriving by train today.
Neither Juan nor Carmen is available.
Either Kiana or Casey is helping today with stage decorations.

Rule 3. The verb in an or, either/or, or neither/nor sentence agrees with the noun or pronoun closest to it.

Neither the plates nor the serving bowl goes on that shelf.
Neither the serving bowl nor the plates go on that shelf.

  • 1
    Do you mean FumbleFinger's answer in the link above (second comment) is wrong?
    – user24743
    Jan 22, 2016 at 9:59
  • You are stuck between 'you/I' example. That case is entirely different. Both are 'singular' but take different verbs - You are, I am. Here, we are not talking about the pronouns. @Rathony
    – Maulik V
    Jan 22, 2016 at 10:47
  • Whether to use pronouns or nouns don't have any influence on determining what agreement we should use. The important thing is the language has changed over the years. I am not trying to say you are wrong. I am just trying to say it has changed.
    – user24743
    Jan 22, 2016 at 11:09
  • So, just one answer from you- Neither Mary nor John eat beef is correct and not wrong. Isn't it? @Rathony
    – Maulik V
    Jan 22, 2016 at 11:11
  • @Rathony: My ELU answer didn't address the full range of usages - I simply selected Neither you nor I is [whatever we're not] as an example context where native speakers don't slavishly apply the rule Neither X nor Y is always singular (nearly everyone uses are there). Nor do we always match the verb form exactly to the second element (Y), since that would give us Neither you nor I am Z (which again is relatively unusual). Jan 23, 2016 at 13:45

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