Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Today's English lesson

From the American Heritage Book of English Usage:

Take a Breather
With Either

either of more than two.
A traditional rule holds that either should be used only to refer to one of two items and that any is required when more than two items are involved:
Any (not either) of the three opposition candidates still in the race would make a better president than the incumbent.
Remember that the rule applies only to the use of either as a pronoun or an adjective, as in
Either computer will run the software.
When using either as a conjunction, you can apply it to more than two elements in a series:
She left her glove either at the convenience store, the library, or the playground.
Either the union will make a counteroffer or the owners will close the factory or the mayor will intervene.

either with singular or plural verb.
When used as a pronoun, either is normally singular and takes a singular verb:
The two surgeons disagree with each other more than either does (not do) with the pathologist.
But when either is followed by of and a plural noun, it is often used with a plural verb:
Either of the parties have enough support to form a government.
As frequent as this usage may be, it is widely regarded as incorrect. Ninety-two percent of the Usage Panel rejected it in an earlier survey.

either … or and verb agreement.
When all the elements in an either … or construction (or a neither … nor construction) used as the subject of a sentence are singular, the verb is singular:
Either Eve or Herb has been invited.
Analogously, when all the elements in the either … or construction are plural, the verb is plural too:
Either the Clarks or the Kays have been invited.
When the construction mixes singular and plural elements, however, there is some confusion as to which form the verb should take. Some people argue that the verb should agree with whichever noun phrase is closest to it. The Usage Panel has much sympathy for this view. Fifty-five percent prefer the plural verb for the sentence
Either the owner or the players is going/are going to have to give in.
Another 12 percent find either verb acceptable, meaning that, overall, 67 percent accept the plural verb in such situations, and only 33 percent would require the singular. If none of these solutions satisfies you, the only alternative is to revise the sentence to avoid the either … or construction.

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