Distributives for pairs of objects

The distributive determiners both, either and neither are concerned with distribution between a pair of objects. Normally, these words cannot be used to refer to a group of three or more individuals. They also cannot be used to refer to a group of indefinite size. These distributives can only refer to countable nouns.

 

Using "both"

Both refers to the whole pair and is equivalent to "one and the other". Both can be used with plural nouns on its own, or it can be followed by "of", with or without an article. When followed by a plural pronoun, both must be separated from the pronoun by "of". Both cannot be used with singular nouns, because it refers to two things.

Examples
  • Both children were born in Italy.
  • Both the children were born in Italy.
  • Both of the children were born in Italy.
  • Both my parents have fair hair.
  • Both of my parents have fair hair.
  • Both of us like skiing.
  • I told both of them to calm down.

Using "either"

Either is positive and when used alone, refers to one of the two members of the pair. It is equivalent to "one or the other". Because it refers to just one member of a pair, either must be used before a singular noun. It can also be used with a plural noun or pronoun if followed by "of".

Examples
  • I can stay at either hotel.
  • Either day is fine for me.
  • There are two chairs here. You can take either of them.
  • Either of you can come.
  • Either of the hotels will be fine.
  • I can eat either of the salads.

Either can also be used with or in a construction that talks about each member of the pair in turn. The meaning remains the same, but in this case either is not functioning as a distributive. It is functioning as a conjunction.

Examples
  • You can have either ice cream or chocolate cake.
  • I will come on either Thursday or Friday.
  • You can either come inside or put on your raincoat.

Using "neither"

Neither is negative and when used alone, refers to the whole pair. It is equivalent to "not one or the other". Because it refers to just one member of a pair, neither must be used before a singular noun. It can also be used with a plural noun or pronoun if followed by "of".

Examples
  • Neither chair is any good.
  • Neither brother came.
  • Which bag do you want? Neither of them.
  • Neither of us were on time.
  • I think neither of these dresses fits me.
  • Neither of the children wanted to go.

Neither can also be used with nor in a construction that talks about each member of the pair in turn. The meaning remains the same, but in this case neither is not functioning as a distributive. It is functioning as a conjunction.

Examples
  • You can have neither cookies nor candy.
  • It is neither raining nor snowing.
  • She is neither tall nor short.