Correlative conjunctions: neither/nor, either/or, both/and, . . .

Correlative conjunctions are pairs such as neither . . . nor, not . . . only, and but . . . also.

These conjunctions connect two balanced clauses, phrases, or words.

The two elements that correlative conjunctions connect are usually similar in length and grammatical structure.

Example sentences containing correlative conjunctions:

  • either . . . or
    We can go to either Greece or Spain for our holiday.
    It’s my final offer – you can either take it or leave it.
  • both . . . and
    Both rugby and football are popular in France.
    Both English and Welsh are spoken in Wales.
  • not only . . . but also
    Not only is he a professional footballer, but he’s also a successful businessman.
  • not . . . but
    There are not two but three Baltic states: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
    In sport, what counts is not the winning but the taking part.
  • neither . . . nor
    Neither Norway nor Switzerland is in the European Union.
    Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.
    (Abraham Lincoln)
  • whether . . . or
    Whether you love them or hate them, you have to admit that the Rolling Stones are very popular.
    I’m totally confused – I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.
  • no sooner . . . than
    No sooner had I finished watering the garden than it started raining.

Subject-verb agreement

Watch out – the verb which follows two subjects joined by or must agree with the second subject, NOT the first:

  • Either my brother or my mum look looks after our cat when we’re away on holiday.
  • Either my brother or my parents looks look after our cat when we’re away on holiday.
  • Neither the manager nor his assistant are is here today.
  • Neither the manager nor his assistants is are here today.

See also:

Types of conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions: so, or, nor, but, . . .

Subordinating conjunctions: so that, until, even if, whereas, . . .

21 Comments

  1. Onika - September 30, 2015, 7:44 am Reply

    Thnx. That really helped

  2. Bhim chettri - November 24, 2015, 1:10 pm Reply

    Can you tell me the use of neither…nor

    • Jalal - December 5, 2015, 12:09 pm Reply

      Neither …nor
      It puts two negative sentences into one simple sentence. Notice the example.
      Ali doesn’t live in New York. Bob doesn’t live in New York.
      Neither Ali nor Bob lives in New York.

      • Anonymous - July 31, 2016, 8:31 am Reply

        First of all, either and neither can be used in several ways: adverbs, determiners, pronouns and conjunctions. While ‘either’ has a positive connotation, ‘neither’ holds a negative significance.

    • John Atella - April 26, 2016, 7:31 pm Reply

      There is a negative agreement. There are two things that won’t be done. “I neither will go nor talk about it.” In this situation, another way to say it would be “I won’t go and won’t talk about it.” The neither/nor combination gets rid of the need for “not” and it adds further emphasis that neither will be done – even more than “won’t.” Remember, words are our paint and our canvas is the act of communication. That is why they call it “language arts.” Hope this helps.

  3. Ann James - February 2, 2016, 3:42 pm Reply

    This is good

  4. Shyam Krishna Das - February 9, 2016, 12:04 pm Reply

    Is it wrong to use the first one (suppose ‘either’) before a verb and the second one (ssuppose ‘or’) before a noun?

  5. Freddy - April 14, 2016, 2:14 am Reply

    Your last rule about subject-verb agreement is a bit inaccurate. This only applies to correlative conjunctions that use the disjunctive ‘or’. Note your examples using ‘both…and’.

    Thanks for this!

    • Stuart Cook - April 14, 2016, 5:31 pm Reply

      Good point – we’ve updated the explanation to make it clearer. Thanks.

  6. Robert - May 21, 2016, 4:42 pm Reply

    wait but for the last bullet point’s example, “No sooner had I finished watering the garden than it started raining.” the “than” doesn’t really make sense

  7. Murali N. - June 18, 2016, 12:32 am Reply

    I don’t agree with your very first example. Both ‘mom’ and ‘brother’ are singular subjects. Either way, it is going to be only “‘looks’ after”

  8. Murali N. - June 18, 2016, 12:34 am Reply

    Same for “neither the manager nor his assistant…”

  9. Anonymous - July 18, 2016, 11:22 am Reply

    I like this because it has positive words that can help you to know that it ‘s a positive words and pronouns and nouns I’m like this one because it help me with my subject in English guys do it more often THANK YOU WHO MADE THIS THANK YOU FOR THIS!!!!!!

  10. pyay moe - August 15, 2016, 2:42 pm Reply

    Can we use the paired conjunction’ both— and—‘?

    • Pyay Moe - August 15, 2016, 2:47 pm Reply

      Can we use both—and— in negative sentence?

  11. Akira Taiyou - August 31, 2016, 3:33 pm Reply

    Thanks for mentioning that “subject-verb agreement” ! ^-^. It helped!

  12. Anonymous - January 4, 2017, 9:59 pm Reply

    “Either – or; neither – nor; not only – but also” The subject-verb agreement in all tree forms of these correlative conjunctions adopt the number of the subject closer to the verb.
    Ex:
    The students or the teacher is…
    The teacher or the students are ….
    Not only they but also she is…
    Not only she but also they are…

  13. R.KAMALESSIR. SINGH - March 17, 2017, 1:59 am Reply

    Neither the players nor the trainer were in the locker room when the thief broke in.
    IS THIS RIGHT OR WRONG SENTENCE ?

    • R McGhee - May 8, 2017, 4:59 am Reply

      This is perfectly fine and understandable in common speech, but in formal speech, one should say ‘Neither the players nor the trainer was…’ On the other hand, correct would be ‘If neither the players nor the trainer were there, there would have been no witnesses.’

    • Makena - May 8, 2017, 9:44 pm Reply

      That is the correct sentence

  14. victor - May 23, 2017, 11:40 am Reply

    my comment is what is the different between not only and but also?
    are they all positive sentences or one is negative?

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