Distributives: both, either, neither, every, each, all, none
What are distributives?
Distributives are words that show how a group of people or things are divided or shared out. The most common distributives in English are both, either, neither, every, each, all, no and none of. Master the use of distributives in English grammar with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.
A: What shall we have for dinner?
B: Well, both of us are hungry, but neither of us wants to cook.
A: Let’s order something.
B: I want either Italian or Chinese.
A: You know I don’t like either of those, why do you suggest them every time?
B: Neither restaurant delivers anyway, so we have to choose something else.
A: We have to hurry up, all the restaurants close at eleven o‘clock so none of them deliver after ten.
both, neither and either
The distributives both, neither and either always refer to two things or people.
Both means all in reference to two things. It is used before plural nouns.
- Both restaurants close soon.
Both restaurant close soon.
We can use both and both of before plural nouns with determiners such as the, a/an, those, her, etc.
- Both the restaurants offer delivery service. = Both of the restaurants …
- Both his grandchildren play baseball. = Both of his grandchildren …
However, we must use both of before object pronouns (us, them, etc.). The of is not optional in this case.
- Both of us are hungry.
Both us are hungry.
We can use both after a subject pronoun (you, they) to emphasise that we are referring to two things or people. In this case, both comes after an auxiliary verb or the verb be, but comes before other verbs.
- We are both hungry.
- We both want to order food.
Both … and is used to connect two things. We usually ensure that these things are of the same grammatical type so that the sentence sounds balanced.
- Both Italian and Chinese are out of the question. (noun + noun)
- Their food is both vegan and gluten free. (adjective + adjective)
Both does not have a negative meaning, in negative clauses that refer to two things or people we use neither (see below).
Neither is the opposite of both. It also refers to two things but has a negative meaning. It means not one and not the other and is used before singular nouns.
- Neither restaurant delivers.
- = not the Chinese restaurant and not the Italian restaurant
Neither can be used alone as a short answer.
- A: Do you drink tea or coffee?
- B: Neither.
- Neither of us wanted to cook. (object pronoun)
- Neither of the restaurants had a table. (plural noun with article)
- Neither of her parents said goodbye. (plural noun with possessive pronoun)
neither … nor
Neither is combined with nor to connect two things or people.
- Neither the Chinese restaurant nor the Italian delivers.
- Neither my girlfriend nor my best friend remembered my birthday.
To express the idea of also not, we use neither followed by inverted word order: neither + auxiliary + subject.
- A: I don’t like Chinese.
- B: Neither do I.
We can also use not … either to express the same idea.
- I don’t like Chinese either.
me neither vs. me either
In informal speech, we often use the short form me neither/me either to mean also not.
- A: I don’t like Chinese.
- B: Me neither./Me either.
Both forms are informal and are very common in spoken English. Me neither is more typical in British English, while me either is more typical in American English.
Neither and either can be pronounced in two ways: with a long e sound /ˈʌɪðə/ or with a long i sound /ˈiːðə/.
Either is used before singular nouns to mean one or the other. Either … or presents a choice between two possibilities.
- Either option is fine for me.
- I want either Italian or Chinese.
Either can be used alone as a short answer.
- A: Which do you prefer?
- B: Either.
If we have an object pronoun (us, them, you, etc.) or a plural noun with a determiner (the, a/an, my, these, etc.), we must use either of.
- I don’t like either of them. (object pronoun)
- You can ask either of the waitresses. (plural noun with article)
- We didn’t like either of those films. (plural noun with demonstrative pronoun)
Either and neither: singular or plural?
The short answer: when we use either (of) or neither (of) in a sentence, we conjugate the verb in the singular.
- Neither restaurant delivers.
- Either option is fine.
- Apparently, neither of her daughters wants to come to the wedding.
The long answer: while it is never incorrect to use the singular form of the verb with either (of) and neither (of), the reality is slightly more complicated.
Many native speakers use a verb in the plural with neither of and either of, especially in spoken language.
- Does either of them live in the city? = Do either of them live in the city?
- Neither of them lives in the city. = Neither of them live in the city.
When neither … nor and either … or refer to two singular nouns, the verb is in the singular. When the sentence contains two plural nouns, the verb is conjugated in the plural.
- Neither my mother nor my father speaks English. (two singular nouns = singular verb)
- Neither my sisters nor my brothers like to cook for the family. (two plural nouns = plural verb)
However, if one thing is singular and the other is plural, native speakers tend to follow the rule of proximity: this means that the conjugation depends on which is closest to the verb:
- I think either the tortilla or the nachos are the best dishes on the menu.
- The subject closest to the verb is plural, so the verb is conjugated in the plural.
- I think either the nachos or the tortilla is the best dish on the menu.
- The subject closest to the verb is singular, so the verb is conjugated in the singular.
We use each and every to mean all when referring to three or more things or people. They can often be used interchangeably:
- Each table in the restaurant was occupied.
- Every table in the restaurant was occupied.
However, there are also some small differences between each and every.
Each is used with singular nouns to focus on separate things in a group. It is used to emphasise individuals within a group and often appears with words such as individually, personally, etc.
- He thanked each guest personally.
- There were ten competitors at the event and each winner was given a prize.
- In this case every would be too general; each refers to a few elements (winners) within a group (competitors).
Each usually refers to smaller numbers. Like both, it can also be used to refer to two people or things.
- I read two reviews of the restaurant and each review said the same thing.
We use each of before object pronouns (us, them, etc.) and nouns with determiners (such as the, a/an, her, these, etc.)
- We can find something for each of us. (object pronoun)
- I told each of my parents individually. (noun with a possessive pronoun)
Every refers to all parts in a group of three or more. It can only be used with singular nouns. Unlike each, every is used for generalisations because it emphasises all elements within a group.
- Every restaurant in this area delivers.
Every can also be used in front of numbers and ordinal numbers to indicate how often something happens.
- She works every third Saturday in the month.
- We eat out every two weeks.
We use adverbs such as almost, nearly, practically, single, etc. with every rather than each.
- Practically every restaurant has an online menu nowadays.
Practically each restaurant has an online menu nowadays.
We cannot use every of. If we want to use every before a pronoun or a determiner, we must use every one of.
- I've seen every one of his movies.
I’ve seen every of his movies.
Read more about indefinite pronouns with every.
all, no, none of
All is used to refer to every element in a group of three or more people or things. It is used with plural nouns.
- All banks are closed on Sundays.
When we have a noun with a determiner such as the, these, your etc., we can use all or all of.
- All the restaurants close soon. = All of the restaurants close soon.
However, only all of is possible before pronouns such as them, us, theirs, mine, etc. Of is not optional in this case.
- All of them close soon.
All them close soon.
We often use the construction not all with plural nouns to divide a group.
- Not all restaurants deliver.
We can only use all with plural nouns. Use every to talk about singular nouns (see above). The verb is conjugated accordingly.
- All restaurants deliver to this area.
We use no before a noun to mean not any or not one. The verb is conjugated accordingly.
- No restaurants deliver after ten o’clock.
- No restaurant delivers after ten o’clock.
- I have no time to cook.
We use none of before pronouns (mine, them, us, ours, etc.) and before a noun with a determiner (the, your, my etc.)
- None of them deliver after ten o’clock. (object pronoun)
- None of your emails arrived. (noun with a possessive pronoun)
It is a common myth than none of always takes a verb in the singular, however this is not true. In fact, the rule is very simple: when none of refers to a singular noun the verb is conjugated in the singular, when it refers to a plural noun it is conjugated in the plural.
- None of the cake was eaten.
- singular noun cake → verb in the singular
- None of the restaurants deliver after ten.
- plural noun restaurants → verb in the plural
Remember, no and none of refer to elements in groups of three or more, for two things we use the distributive neither (see above).
- None of the restaurants deliver after ten o’clock. (a group of more than 2 restaurants)
- Neither of the restaurants delivers after ten o’clock. (2 restaurants)