Dear Master’s Programs student,
(If you missed last week’s SVA post, you can find it here.)
One rule that sometimes causes writers problems is “either/or” and “neither/nor.” In the patterns “Either A or B” and “Neither A nor B,” the verb of a sentence must agree with B. In other words, if B (the word following “or”) is singular, the verb must reflect that.
For example, “Neither the participants nor the researcher was aware which group was the control.” In this sentence, “the researcher” is the B item, so it determines the grammatical number of the verb (in this case, singular).
Compare with this: “Neither the researcher nor the participants were aware which group was the control.” Notice that since “the participants” is placed in the B position, the verb must now match “the participants” (hence a plural verb, were).
[Also note: if you type these sentences with subject-verb “disagreement” into Word, the grammar check will not detect the error.]
Keep in mind, however, that “either” and “neither” by themselves (i.e. without “or” or “nor”) are always singular.
For example, “Either is a fine choice,” or “Neither of them was able to complete the assignment without consulting a textbook.”
Fun etymology of the week: “None” is a combination of “not” + “one,” so many grammarians argue that it should always be treated as a singular word (since “one” is singular). However, the rule on “none” is not settled, so some believe that a sentence like “None of the higher education administrators were supportive of the council’s recommendations” is acceptable.
Next week will be the penultimate episode of our subject-verb agreement mini-series.