Is me either or me neither correct grammar?
“I’m so frustrated,” your friend starts. “I didn’t pass my English exam!”
You found the exam particularly difficult yourself, and want to let your friend know your outcome was the same. What would you say in this case?
If you’re British or speak a dialect that primarily takes its cues from British usage, you would probably say, “Me neither.”
If you’re American, there’s a chance you would say, “Me either.”
But which is correct? Is there a correct form to use? The fact is that in informal conversations, either form is acceptable.
While some style guides will suggest that “me neither” indicates agreement with a negative statement and “me either” indicates agreement with a positive statement, looking at our exam result example from the introduction suggests that both are, in fact, used when responding to negative statements. Let’s look at a couple of examples side-by-side to see how this holds up:
Here we have a negative verb (a verb followed by the word not) in our sentence. A longer response to this statement could read as, "Neither of us did," or as "I didn't pass, either." There's a case to be made for either word, though, "Me, either" is the most natural based on the long forms.
Here we have two examples using non-negative verbs. The first one expresses a negative outcome, while the second one expresses a positive outcome. In response to either of these, both “me either” and “me neither” would sound strange. The best move here would be to use an alternate phrasing such as, “Me, too”, “Same here”, or “Ditto”.
So what we're seeing here is that the affirmative/negative statement dichotomy is less about whether to use either or neither, and more about whether to use either of them or a variant on "Me, too." When using "me, either" or "me, neither", there are grammatical justifications for using either one, with the chief distinction being that "me, either" sounds American while "me, neither" sounds British.
That being said, all of the examples so far have been of informal, conversational English. What would be correct in formal settings?
Where both “me either” and “me neither” fall short in formal English is that they are sentence fragments. Complete sentences in English are required to have a subject and a predicate, with the predicate consisting of a verb and any applicable objects (e.g. direct and indirect objects).
For example, in the sentence, “John hit the ball,” John is the subject since he is the person performing the action. The predicate here would be hit the ball, since it describes what John did. The verb would be hit and the ball is the direct object since it is acted upon directly in this case.
In the case of “me either” and “me neither”, though, we notice that while there is a subject (me) there is no predicate due to the lack of its foundational element—the verb. In its place, we have just an adverb (either/neither).
In these cases, there are two options that allow us to fill out the sentence by adding the verb do (in its past tense form, did), depending on which of “either” or “neither” you prefer to use.
If short and sweet is your preference, you can say, “Neither did I.”
A little wordier, but still more complete, would be, “I did not pass the exam, either.”
A common use for either and neither is when presenting pairs of alternatives to the listener. They are paired with the appropriate form of the conjunction or in between the options.
Consistent with what we’ve explained so far, either is used for affirmative/positive alternatives:
Whereas neither is used—paired with nor—to present negative alternatives:
To make it easier to remember, you can think of nor as not or. Another good thing to do is to commit each to memory as a pair: either/or and neither/nor, with the mental note that the negative cases begin with the letter N.
Either is a rather flexible word in general. In addition to the usages demonstrated so far, it can be used in the following ways:
As a Pronoun: “I don’t like either.” Pronouns are words that stand in place for other nouns (people, places, things, concepts). Here, either is being used as an alternative to listing out both options again for the listener.
As an Adverb: “It wasn’t expensive, either.” Adverbs are words that describe how actions (expressed using verbs) are carried out. Here, either is being used to append an additional quality (the fact that the item in question was not expensive) to a prior action or statement, such as the other person exclaiming, “I love your coat!”
As a Determiner: “You can take either exit off the highway.” Determiners are words that signal that the next word will be a noun. The best-known examples of these are the subset known as articles—specifically the indefinite article “a” and definite article “the”. Whereas the indefinite article refers to no particular item specifically and the definite article refers to one specific item, in this case, either acts as a sort of “dual article”—It refers to two specific items simultaneously, often when presenting them as choices.
Bonus: What is the Correct Pronunciation of Either and Neither?
Much like “toe-MAY-toe” and “toe-MAH-toe”, there are two different pronunciations you’ll often hear in use for either and neither.
One option is to pronounce them with a long E sound: “EE-ther”, “KNEE-ther”
The other option is to pronounce them with a long I sound: “AYE-ther”, “NIGH-ther”
So which is correct?
The great news is that most dictionaries consider both to be acceptable pronunciations. The chief distinction is that American dictionaries (such as Merriam-Webster) favor the Long E pronunciations, whereas British dictionaries (such as the Oxford English Dictionary) favor the Long I pronunciations.
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