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ESL Tips and Quiz: Using Complex Subjects

Learn to Use Complex Subjects

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The forms both/and, neither/nor, and either/or are used to introduce two subjects.

  • Both Tom and Florence enjoy playing golf.
  • Neither Alice nor Peter wants to come to the party.
  • Either Tim or Peter will take care of the problem

With both/and, and neither/nor, both subjects do or feel the same way about something.

  • Both Sharon and her children live in Fresno.
  • Neither Rob nor Brad enjoys coffee.

With either/or, only one of the two subjects does something or feels a certain way. For example:

  • Either my brother or my sister will help me with my homework.
  • Either Frank or Mary came to the meeting.

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Verb Conjugation Mistakes

To properly use both/and, neither/nor, and either/or, take two


which can change the


of the verb depending on the placement of the paired subjects. Learn the rules to avoid one of the most

common mistakes in English



Subjects connected by both/and take the plural conjugation. As both/and refers to two subjects the plural form of the verb is always used.

  • Both Alice and Janice attended USC.​
  • Both Jim and Peter are attending the conference in New York this weekend.
  • Both my wife and my children are sitting on a plane to New York at the moment.​


Either/or is used in sentences in a positive sense meaning “one or the other, this or that, he or she, etc.”

Verb conjugation

depends on the subject (singular or plural) closest to the conjugated verb.

  • Either Peter or the girls need to attend the course. (second subject ‘the girls’ plural)
  • Either Jane or Matt is going to visit next weekend. (second subject ‘Matt’ singular)
  • Either the students or the teacher is writing on the board at the moment. (second subject ‘the teacher’ singular)


Neither/nor is used in sentences in a negative sense meaning “not this one nor the other, not this nor that, not he nor she, etc.”. Verb conjugation depends on the subject (singular or plural) closest to the conjugated verb.

  • Neither Frank nor Lilly lives in Eugene. (second subject ‘Lilly’ singular)
  • Neither Axel nor my other friends care about their future. (second subject ‘other friends’ plural)
  • Neither his boy nor his girl wants to walk in his footsteps. (second subject ‘his girl’ singular)

As Objects

The forms both/and, and either/or can also be used as objects of verbs. In this case, there is no need to conjugate verbs.

  • I’m going to have both steak and eggs for breakfast.
  • They moved to either Seattle or Chicago. I can’t remember which.
  • I enjoy both golf and tennis.
1. Neither my uncle nor my aunt _____ (be) to Europe before.
  • has been

  • have been

2. Both Peter and Susan ______ (work) for a large company.
  • works

  • work

3. Either the children or their father _____ (watch) TV when I walked into the room.
  • were watching

  • was watching

4. Neither the boys nor the girl _____ (enjoy) working in the garden.
  • enjoys

  • enjoy

5. Both the students and the teacher _____ (talk) in the classroom at the moment.
  • is talking

  • are talking

6. Either my father or my friends _____ (come) to visit next week.
  • are coming

  • is coming

7. Both Peter and his friend _____ (practice) the martial art of Kung Fu.
  • practice

  • practices

8. Neither Shelly nor Dan _____ (live) in San Diego for a long time.
  • have lived

  • has lived

Learn to Use Complex Subjects
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Learn to Use Complex Subjects
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Learn to Use Complex Subjects
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