Is “Either” Singular or Plural? Either Is or Are?

Summary

Either, which means the one or the other of two things, is grammatically singular. In formal texts, use singular verbs like is and has with either.

Examples
  • Either of these is the perfect gift for Rita.
  • Does either of them come in red?
  • Check whether either of them is here.
  • Has either of them called?
  • Does either of you know the answer?

In informal usage, either may take either a singular or a plural verb.

Examples
  • Informal: Check whether either of them is/are here.
  • Informal: Does/do either of you know the answer?

In either-or constructions, the verb used should agree with the part closest to it.

Examples
  • Either the detective or the witnesses are lying.
  • Either the witnesses or the detective is lying.

How is either used?

Use either to refer to the one or the other of two things.

Examples
  • Either of these is acceptable.
  • Will either of these rooms suit you?
  • We could watch either of these movies.

Either can also refer to each of two things. It is used as a determiner with a singular noun.

Examples
  • Either option is acceptable.
    Each of the two, or both, are acceptable, but you expect to pick one option. Note that using a plural noun (either options) would be incorrect.
  • Either room—the one overlooking the pool or the one with the garden view—suits us.
  • Either shirt is perfect for him.
Tip

Use either to speak of one of two persons or things, not more.

Examples
  • Do you want either of these books?
    one of two books
  • Do you want one of these books?
    one of any number of books

Either is or are?

Grammatically, either, which refers to each of two things, is singular. It therefore takes singular verbs like is and does.

Examples
  • Either of these is/are fine.
  • Is/are either of these books any good?
  • Does/do either of you have a phone?
  • Is/are either (of the two rooms) available in May?
  • Either planet is/are fit for human settlement.

In informal usage, the pronoun either may refer to one of two things or to both things at once, and accordingly take a singular verb (either is) or a plural verb (either are). The plural verb is common when either is followed by the preposition of in speech (e.g., either of these, either of them).

Examples
  • Informal: Either of these is/are acceptable.
    Formal: Either of these is/are acceptable.
  • Informal: Is/are either of your rooms available in May?
    Formal: Is/are either of your rooms available in May?
  • Informal: Does/do either of these come in blue?
    Formal: Does/do either of these come in blue?
  • Informal: This isn’t what either of us wants/want.
    Formal: This isn’t what either of us wants/want.
Caution

Although treating either as plural is acceptable in informal usage, in formal communication, especially in written texts, use a singular verb with either: either is, not either are.

Like either, neither is grammatically singular. In formal writing, stick to using singular verbs with neither.

Examples
  • Neither of these is/are the latest version.
  • Neither of the lawnmowers works/work.
  • Neither of us knows/know the answer.

But just like either, neither may be singular or plural in informal usage.

Examples
  • Informal: Neither of these is/are correct.
  • Informal: Neither of my friends is/are here.
  • Informal: Neither of us has/have an answer for you.

How is either pronounced?

Either may be pronounced either way: /EE-dhər/ (with the long E sound) or /EYE-dhər/ (with a diphthong, as in eye). Both pronunciations are acceptable in American and British English, though the former (with the long E sound) is more common in American and the latter in British English.

Similarly, the word neither may be pronounced /NEE-dhər/or /NEYE-dhər/, whichever you prefer, although the former pronunciation is more common in American than in British usage.

Either-or: Singular or plural?

When either-or joins two subjects to form a compound subject, the verb used should agree with the part closest to it.

Examples
  • Either the manager or the analysts have written this report.
    Either the analysts or their manager has written this report.
  • Either they or she has the passes.
    Either she or they have the passes.
Tip

When or or nor forms a compound subject, the verb that follows should agree with the subject closest to it. Learn more in this article on verb agreement with compound subjects.

How to use either: Examples from literature

Here are some examples of either in the writings of famous authors. Note how the pronoun is generally treated as singular and takes singular verbs like is and has.

Examples
  • Something stronger than either of us is in command here. Nothing on earth or in heaven can part us now.
    George Bernard Shaw, Overruled (1912)
  • If either of us slips through the net because of something that happens on our daily walks, the other will be accountable.
    Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
  • I don’t think either of us means it, since humility is a word neither of us has ever heard of, but we are honorable men who stick to the bargain.
    Isaac Asimov, Asimov on Science Fiction (1981)
  • I do not think that in all our wanderings either of us has met before or since a finer man than Karlsefin, though he was a mere stripling when I knew him.
    R.M. Ballantyne, The Norsemen in the West (1872)

In contrast, Salinger, in his first-person narrative, favors a more informal style and uses a plural verb with either.

Example
  • Around seven-thirty, dressed and slicked up, I stuck my head outside my door to see if either of the Yoshotos were on the prowl.
    J.D. Salinger, “De Daumier Smith’s Blue Period,” Nine Stories (1953)

Similarly, in dialogue, either is often treated as plural, since a plural verb is sometimes the more natural choice in speech.

Example
  • Do either of you chaps know Sheen at all?
    P.G. Wodehouse, The White Feather (1907)

Quick Quiz

Which of these is grammatically correct?
Choose from these answers
All done!
Which is correct?
Choose from these answers
All done!
Which is acceptable in informal usage?
Choose from these answers
All done!
Which is preferred in formal writing?
Choose from these answers
All done!

Did You Know?

Both “better than me” and “better than I” are grammatically correct.
Know more:Than I or Than Me? Pronouns in Comparisons