Ee-ther, eye-ther …

This post isn’t about song lyrics. It’s not about pronunciation in regular speech, either. It’s about word placement.

When you use the conjunction “either” or its negative form “neither,” you need to be aware of what you’re comparing. Placing the word correctly is vital, or you end up with an illogical construction. Consider this:

“He was either too tall or those trousers were too short.”

We use this construction in everyday, casual speech. I hear it come out of my own mouth. I’ll admit it. But, when we’re writing we need to be precise. That “either” doesn’t make sense where it is. The subject of the first independent clause is “he.” He was “either X” or something. But look: There’s nothing else given for him to be. The next independent clause is about a pair of trousers!

The comparison, then, isn’t about two aspects of him. The comparison is between him and his trousers. “Either” needs to move forward, to cue the reader correctly:

“Either he was too tall or those trousers were too short.”

Now we’re on the right foot. One of two things is the case, here: He’s too tall, or those trousers are too short. The partnering word “or” (or “nor,” for “neither”) is placed between the things being compared. Here, that’s the two clauses “he was too tall” and “those trousers were too short.”

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