Correlative conjunctions as mentioned earlier are paired conjunctions, which means they do not come in single words. They come in the form of pairs of words: either … or; neither … nor; both … and; not only … but also, and whether … or. The correlative conjunctions connect two words, phrases or clauses.
- You can buy either this chick or that duckling.
- They claimed what they saw were neither humans nor monkeys.
- Both he and his brother are joint leaders of the street gang.
- He stole not only a car but also two motorbikes.
- I could not decide whether to marry her or her sister.
Either … or / neither … nor
When using either … or or neither … nor, ensure that the verb agrees with the subject that is closer to it. This means if the two subjects are singular, the verb is singular; and the verb is plural if both subjects are plural. But if one subject is singular and the other one is plural, the verb can be singular or plural depending on the subject closer to it.
- Either John or Johnny plays as goalkeeper in the match.
- Neither he nor his brother wants to be the goalkeeper.
- Either the boys or the girls have to perform first.
- Neither the children nor their parents were late for the performance.
- Either the manager or the players are blamed for the poor performance.
- Either the players or the manager is blamed for the poor performance.
- Neither the players nor the manager is criticized for the loss.
- Neither the manager nor the players are criticized for the loss.
(For meaning of correlative conjunctions, see List 12 - Conjunctions.)
The words, phrases or clauses used with a correlative conjunction must be grammatically similar in structure (parallelism).
- No: He often goes not only to swim but also diving.
(The first parr is a verb to swim and the second part is a gerund diving.)
- Yes: He often goes not only to swim but also to dive.
- Yes: He often goes not only swimming but also diving.
- No: I like the rainbow not only is it of different colours but also it curves.
(The first part uses a prepositional phrase [of different colours], while the second part uses a verb [curves]. It will be correct to have both parts grammatically parallel.)
- Yes: I like the rainbow not only is it of different colours but also it is of curved shape.
(Now both are prepositional phrases: of different colours and of curved shape.)
Error to avoid
- No: I couldn't go neither by bus nor by train.
(Neither is a negative word. It's wrong to add another negative word couldn't. Two negative words make the sentence positive.)
- Yes: I could go neither by bus nor by train.