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

Summary

Either, which refers to each of two things, is grammatically singular. In formal contexts, use singular verbs like is and has with either (either of them is acceptable). In informal usage, either may refer to not just one of two things but to both things at once and can therefore take either a singular or a plural verb (either of these is/are fine). In either-or constructions, the verb used should agree with the part closest to it (either the detective or the witnesses are mistaken; either the witnesses or the detective is mistaken).

Either: Singular or plural?

The pronoun either means “the one or the other” of two things and is grammatically singular. It therefore takes singular verbs like is, has, and does in formal usage. Use either to refer to each of two persons or things.

Examples
  • Either of these is acceptable.
  • Is either of them here yet?
  • Does either of you have a phone?
  • Has either of them called?
  • Is either of your sea-view rooms available in May?
  • We offer two packages: let me know if either suits you.
  • If either of us finds the key, we win the game.

In informal usage, either may refer to one of two things or to both things at once, and accordingly take either a singular or a plural verb (either is or either are). Either is often used with plural verbs in “either of . . .” constructions 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 treated as either 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.

Either with singular nouns

Either can also be used as a determiner followed by a singular noun to refer to each of two things. It cannot be followed by a plural 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. To speak of more than two things, use the pronoun one instead.

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-or: Singular or plural?

With either-or constructions, the verb used should agree with the part closest to it. Either and or can be paired to join two subjects that share a single verb in a sentence. Use a singular or a plural verb to match the noun phrase closest to it.

Examples
  • Correct: Either the manager or the analysts have written this report.
    Since the noun beside the verb is plural (“analysts”), the correct verb to use is the plural “have” instead of the singular “has.”
    Correct: Either the analysts or their manager has written this report.
    Since the noun beside the verb is singular (“manager”), the correct verb to use is the singular “has” instead of the plural “have.”
  • Correct: Either they or she has the passes.
    Correct: Either she or they have the passes.

How to pronounce either

Either may be pronounced either way: it can start with the long E sound (EE) or with the diphthong EYE (/ˈiːðə(r)/, /EE-dhər/ or /ˈaɪðə(r)/, /EYE-dhər/). Both pronunciations are acceptable: the former (with the long E sound) is more common in American English, and the latter (starting with EYE) is more common in British English.

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

How to use either: Examples from literature

The following examples from published content show how either 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?

Parentheses provide supplementary information.
Know more:Parentheses (Round Brackets): How to Use Correctly