The words either and neither almost always signal an error in ACT English and SAT Writing questions. Errors in agreement become an issue when these words are used as pronouns, as in the following phrases:
- either of these invitations
- neither of the boys
As pronouns, either and neither are always singular. However, notice that in both examples the pronouns are grouped with a prepositional phrase and the object of the preposition is plural. For example, in the first one, either is accompanied by of these invitations where invitations is plural. This arrangement creates confusion with Subject and Verb Agreement as well as Pronoun and Antecedent Agreement, which makes it a perfect sentence structure for ACT English and SAT Writing questions.
Consider an example:
- Either of these invitations are appropriate for an evening wedding in the late summer. [Incorrect]
The subject of the sentence is either, and as we know, it is always singular. But the direct object invitations is misleading, making the plural verb are appear to be correct. The correct verb is the singular is:
- Either of these invitations is appropriate for an evening wedding in the late summer. [Correct]
Pronoun and Antecedent Agreement can also be thrown off by this arrangement:
- Despite several reminders, neither of the boys was prepared for their oral report. [Incorrect]
Because neither is always singular, the verb was is correct. However, the pronoun their is plural and it should be singular in order to agree with the antecedent either:
- Despite several reminders, neither of the boys was prepared for his oral report. [Correct]
When you see the words either or neither underlined on the ACT or SAT, an alarm bell should sound in your head: WARNING! WARNING! ERROR ALERT! These words are responsible for several errors, two of which are disagreement between the subject and verb and disagreement between the pronoun and antecedent.
PowerScore Practice Prep:
Each of the following sentences contains zero, one, or two errors. Can you find them?
- After careful research, I have decided that either of the candidates are a good choice for governor.
- It is a tragedy that neither of the little boys remember their grandmother.
- Either of the ladies, each of whom owns their salon, can style your hair before prom if you schedule at least three months in advance.
- Neither of the servers is willing to give his shift to the new employee on Saturday.
- After countless hours of aggressive interrogation, neither of the detectives believe that the suspect is guilty.
Answers: 1) After careful research, I have decided that either of the candidates is a good choice for governor. 2) It is a tragedy that neither of the little boys remembers his grandmother. 3) Either of the ladies, each of whom owns her salon, can style your hair before prom if you schedule at least three months in advance. 4) No error. 5) After countless hours of aggressive interrogation, neither of the detectives believes that the suspect is guilty.