Neither-nor: singular or plural verb?

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, in a sentence with more than one subject, the subject that’s closest to the verb determines the form of the verb:

Neither Henry nor his sons have a Prius (sons is plural and is closer to the verb than Henry is)

BUT

Neither the boys nor Henry has a Prius (Henry is singular and is closer to the verb than boys is).

If you believe that have sounds better, Chicago suggests arranging the sentence so that a plural noun is closer to the verb than a singular noun (Neither Henry nor the boys have a Prius).

And of course, not everyone abides by the Chicago Manual of Style. Other authorities say to use the plural form of the verb when any subject in a sentence is plural. (Link provided by Ted Dorsey.)

Cheers,

Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio

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About 123clear

I translate foggy information into plain English.
This entry was posted in correlative conjunction, parts of speech, plural, singular, usage. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Neither-nor: singular or plural verb?

  1. Laura says:

    The issue of subject-verb agreement in the case of either…or and neither…nor constructions is more interesting when the subjects different not only in number but also in person. Such as:
    Neither I nor my sister is going.
    Neither my sister nor I am going.

    According to AP, the verb always agrees with the nearer subject. I think it’s a simple and universal rule because it addresses both number and person.

    http://terriblywrite.wordpress.com

  2. 123clear says:

    Hi, Laura.

    I couldn’t agree with you more! See my July 1 post for details:

    http://writingtips.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/neither-nor-and-subject-verb-agreement/

    Cheers,
    Tara

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