Either vs. Both

The difference between 'either' and 'both' is actually very easy to understand. Follow the article to fully grasp the differences and similarities.

"Either" vs. "Both" in the English Grammar

What Are Their Main Differences?

Actually, 'either' refers to one of the things out of a group of two options, on the other hand, 'both' refers to two things out of a group of two members or options. However, 'either' sometimes has a really similar meaning to 'both.'


Grammatical Functions

  • 'Either':

As you know, 'either' is used without any nouns afterward alone before the verb of the sentence as a pronoun. As a determiner, 'either' is used before singular nouns to define them. As an adverb, 'either' is used to agree on a negative statement. As a conjunction, it is usually followed by 'or' and it connects two clauses.

Either library is filled with stories of perilous adventures of Tintin. → determiner

Either was good, but I had no money to by even one. → pronoun

I didn't feel numb after the long reclining on my arm and Sara didn't either. → adverb

Either the peril or the harm in this job couldn't stop him. → conjunction

  • 'Both':
  1. Determiner
  2. Pronoun
  3. Conjunction

As a determiner, 'both' is used before plural nouns. As you know, a pronoun, it is used immediately before the verb of the sentence. As a conjunction, it is followed by the linking word 'and', and it is good to know that in this function it can be followed by two singular or plural nouns.

Both women shrieked when they discovered the corpse. → determiner

Both of them were frightened be the sinister shadow at the stairs. → pronoun

After wining both the wager and the big doll bear, John treated everyone to free drinks. → conjunctions

What They Mean

  • 'Either':

When it comes to choosing between two options 'either' refers to only one of them. It means we are not allowed to choose both of the choices, only one is permitted.

Either king has their own policy to have people obey them.

When given all the data on either corpse, Colombo was able to solve the murder.

  • 'Both':

When it comes to choosing between two options, 'both' is used to choose all of the two choices. It means we can have two out of the two.

Both boys couldn't conceal their love for Gloria.

I stayed both weeks of my holiday in the bed because of the dismal weather.

Verbs That Follow 'Either' and 'Both'

  • 'Either':

Since 'either' refers to only one choice between the two, the verb after it is used in the singular form. However, in informal spoken English people use a plural verb with 'either' that is technically wrong.

Either soldier who abandon his hurt friend is going to jail for over 2 years.

Either the knife or the ax is keen to cut the meat of the dead deer.

  • 'Both':

Because 'both' refers to two choices out of the two, the verb after it is used as a plural verb. Remember there is no other choice in the grammar of both. We mean you cannot use a singular verb with both at all.

Both tact and morals are necessary for one to gain experience and live better.

Both presidents take the oath of office tomorrow.

Nouns That Follow 'Either' and 'Both'

  • 'Either':

As a determiner, 'either' is followed by a singular noun. Even if we are going to mention two options, the noun after either must be singular.

You will face either hardship or ease during the fight.

Either gallant knight entered the contest to win the hand of the princess.

  • 'Both':

As a determiner, 'both' is followed by a plural noun. There is a case in which we put a singular verb after 'both,' but in this use, the structure is (both + a singular noun + and + a singular noun).

When we broke in, we found both apartments vacant.

We have lost both the data and the specimen.

What about Negative Verbs with 'Both'?

Since we are not allowed to use a negative verb with 'both,' we use 'either' instead of 'both' with the same meaning.

Let us take a look at the table below to share some more differences:

Following noun When using determiners Following linking words Following verb Negative verb
either singular Either of or singular
both plural both/both of and plural
Example of either Either skirt is fine. Either of these girls is smart. It was either the cat or the dog that broke the cup. Either skirt is fine. He didn't love either of the girls.
Example of both Both skirts are fine. Both of the girls are smart./Both these girls are smart It was both the cat and the dog that broke the cup. Both skirts are fine. He didn't love both of the girls.❌


How They Are Similar in Their Meanings

As it was mentioned earlier, sometimes 'either' has a similar meaning to 'both' with a delicate difference. Technically 'either' means one of the two, but semantically it refers to both of the nouns. Look at the examples below:

"Which car shall I buy? The black one or the white one?" "Either is nice." = "Both are nice."

This sentence means the first one is good and the second one is good.

"It was a great hardship for either man to live through the frigid winter." = "It was a great hardship for both men to live through the frigid winter."

Using 'of' after Them

  • 'Either' and 'both':

are followed by 'of' when they are used before some noun phrases and determiners. Look at the examples for more clarification. Remember in this use we can use a plural noun after 'either of.'

Either of the bachelors was trying to be his best man.

Both of my friends couldn't carry the tune, so they were never qualified for the Girl's chorus.

In Combination with Articles

You can never put an article directly before 'both' and 'either.' However, you can use determiners after them. Remember sometimes before the determiner we have 'of.'

Both crimes are committed each year against those who inhabit the slum area of our city. (Not "The both crimes are committed each year against those who inhabit the slum area of our city.")

When the nurse stuck the pin in either of my numb legs I felt nothing. (Not "When the nurse stuck the pin in the either of my numb legs I felt nothing.")


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