Both, Either, and Neither

Vocabulary | Confusables | English in Use


Did you know that there are over 600,000 words in English? That's a lot of words, and far more than any human being could ever manage to learn. Even Shakespeare only used around 55,000 different words in all of his works. Mind you, he did actually invent quite a few of them. To get a good mastery of English, you do need to expand your vocabulary as much as possible. The more words you know, the better your English will be. The Activities here will help you to quickly develop your vocabulary.


Certain words in English are so alike that they confuse even native English speakers. Words like their and there for instance are often confused. The Activities here look in detail at some of the most common confusable words and give you plenty of explanation into how to use them correctly as well as plenty of exercises to help you avoid making mistakes in the future. 

English in Use

The Activities categorised as English in Use look at the way we use English in everyday life. The Activities cover the actual use of English and examine grammar, punctuation, and functionality of the language. For any student studying English as a second language or English as a foreign language, English in Use Activities are particularly useful for improving speaking, writing, reading, and listening skills. These Activities will help you to develop your confidence in using different types of text such as fiction, newspapers and magazines, as well as learning to speak and write about things such as the weather and travel, as well as preparing you for typical situations such as ordering in a restaurant or buying a train ticket.

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The three words, both, either, and neither, are very important in English, but they are confusing for both native speakers and students alike. In this Vocabulary Activation Pack, I will show you how to use these three word correctly. They are not very difficult to use once you get the hang of them. The difficulty lies in the fact that either and neither sound very much alike, but are opposite in meaning. Work your way through this Activation Pack and complete the 15 exercises in the Vocabulary Activator and you will no longer have trouble with this vocabulary.


Both Either & Neither

How to use these confusing words


The words, both, either, and neither, are used to link two things together.

These three words cause confusion for both native and non-native English speakers alike, but are really quite easy to use.

Basically, the three words indicate logical statements:


Here are two biscuits.

Which one do you want?

You can have either.

You can have the white one or you can have the chocolate one.

You can have either one.

The choice is yours.


Here are two biscuits.

These biscuits are not for you.

You can't have either of them.

You can have neither the white one nor the chocolate one.

Both of these biscuits are for someone else.

They are not for you.


I don't like sweet things like biscuits.

I don't want the white one or the chocolate one.

I don't want either of them.

I want neither the white one nor the chocolate one.

I don't like biscuits.


I love biscuits.

I want the white one and the chocolate one.

I want both of them.

I want them both.

You can’t have them both. You can have either one or the other.

Positive and Negative


Either is positive.

Either means yes A or yes B.

Either is used with or when we choose A or B.

The opposite of either – or is shown on the right.

Both is positive.

Both means yes A and yes B.


Neither is negative.

Neither means not A and not B.

Remember that you cannot have two negatives together in an English clause.

I want neither A nor B.

Neither is used with nor for not A and not B.

Neither – nor is not a double negative.

Positive – Negative – Positive

Just like the poles of a magnet, English can’t usually have two negatives together.

Such double negatives make a positive.

I don’t know nothing means I do know something.

We have seen that neither is a negative, so we can’t use it with a negative not.

In regards to the biscuits, you can’t have either of them uses a negative – positive structure.

You can have neither of them also uses a positive – negative structure.

Having said that, double negatives which are positive are not unheard of.

Positive – Positive

Unlike double negatives, English can use two positives.

To say, you can have either of the biscuits, is quite okay.

It does not mean that you can have both of the biscuits.

That last one means the opposite of: You can have neither of the biscuits.


We use either and neither with singular nouns.

You can have either the white or the chocolate biscuit.

You can have neither the white nor the chocolate biscuit.

When we want to talk about plural nouns, we use of.

You can have either of the biscuits.

You can have neither of the biscuits.

Neither of us want either of the biscuits.

Pronunciation of Either and Neither

Most famous use…

The most famous use of neither, and both, that I can think of comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 1, Scene III.

Polonius is giving his son, Laertes, some advice about how to behave during his upcoming visit to Paris.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

I’m not either…

A famous English comedian and writer was approached at a party by a man who said to him: “I’m writing a book.”

The comedian, Peter Cook, smiled and said: “I’m not either.”

He could also have said: “Neither am I.”

This is a good illustration of the use of either or neither to refer to each of two people or things.

She doesn’t like ice-cream, and he doesn’t, either.

She doesn’t like ice-cream, and neither does he.

The opposite of either in these cases is as well.

She loves ice-cream, and he does, as well.

Either way

We have the expression either way to say that it does not matter which of two or more choices we make.

Watch the movie or read the book. Either way, you will enjoy the story.

Whether they sack me or I retire, either way, I won’t be working here next month.

It’s a tiny island so go either way and you will come to the house.


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