Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, February 1, 2015.]

I would prefer “Neither of our teams is playing.”

Bryan Garner’s Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009) explains:

As a pronoun, neither is construed as a singular. That is, it should take a singular verb, and any word for which neither is an antecedent should also be singular. Thus, neither of the offers was a good one is grammatically better than neither of the offers were good ones.
GMAU acknowledges that some sentences can be tricky: the plural form in neither of my parents worked for themselves avoids a certain awkwardness. Garner’s suggested recasting: neither of my parents was self-employed.

But Thirsty’s sentence gets a pass from two grammarians. Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum, A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar (2005):
Subjects with any, no, and none occur freely with either singular or plural agree­ment. With neither, and even more with either, singular agreement is usual; plural agreement is informal, and condemned by prescriptivists.
For Huddleston and Pullum, Neither of them seems valid and Neither of them seem valid are both valid.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1994) advises the reader to just be (cough, cough) themselves:
If you are writing something in a highly formal style, you will probably want to use formal agreement throughout. Otherwise, follow your own inclination in choosing singular or plural constructions after neither.
Such guidance seems to me only to muddy the waters. Is an essay for a freshman comp class likely to be written in “a highly formal style”? I doubt it. Would it be smart in writing that essay to use singular forms with neither? Absolutely.

Even Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style (2014) pulls back from okaying plural forms:
Neither means “not one of the two,” and it is singular: Neither book was any good, not Neither book were any good. The same is true of either, even when it picks one item from a pair: Either of the candidates is experienced enough to run the country, not are.
It’s interesting to see Pinker agreeing with Garner and not with Pullum. But it is impossible to imagine any of these observations as useful to Mr. Thurston. When you’re a comic-strip character, subject-verb agreement is out of your hands.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

comments: 12

The Crow said...

"When you’re a comic strip character, subject-verb agreement is out of your hands."

As is everything else. I want to know how those two women have managed to stave off the effects of gravity on their aging bodies!

Michael Leddy said...

And to think: Lois only recently had a baby. : )

Elaine Fine said...

Perhaps subject-verb agreement lies in the missing fifth finger!

The Crow said...

I would have asked Hi to take that overfilled garbage can on his way out.

Neither one of the men answered Lois' question, either. Superior deflection by Thurston, who probably has lots of practice doing that...or did, anyway.

No matter how I contort my fingers, I can't make the pinky disappear from sight. It must be the way I'm drawn (paraphrasing Jessica Rabbit).

Michael Leddy said...

Thirsty does explain in the second panel, back to his wife, when he’s already out the door. Talk about communication disorders.

The Crow said...

Have you been here yet, Michael? (

I found this just a few minutes ago while looking for the full strip highlighted in your post. Cool place to visit.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes. They have some good history there. I wonder though if they’ve been here. : )

Slywy said...

Do you really expect good grammar from a guy who brings brown paper bags home?

Slywy said...

Those dark smudges on their faces may indicate they're returning for another shift at the local coal mine.

Michael Leddy said...

He could be carrying dictionaries of usage.

The smudges are strange. Their color varies; sometimes Hi looks like he’s wearing rouge.

Slywy said...

Ah, Hi may be pulling a Bruce Jenner then.

Michael Leddy said...

See this post.