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Either-Neither Pronounced Correctly

Updated on January 21, 2012

Of all the things that bug me, there is one that rests near the top of the list.

Of all the things that bug me, there is one that rests near the top of the list. No, it's not government, or politics, or religion, or any of the other socially acceptable irritations that are the topic of gatherings around the country whether picnics, clubs, cocktail parties, or business meetings. It is something that causes me to grit my teeth in annoyance every time I hear it. I struggle to contain my comments for I want badly to correct the speaker. It is those who insist on pronouncing the word "either" with a long "I" sound. They also insist on further gouging me with their insensibilities by using that same pronunciation with the word "neither".

I wouldn't mind so much if they followed through by pronouncing the following words in the same way: Receive, conceit, seizure, perceive, caffeine, deceive and others spelled in the same way, but then they might run the risk of sounding like an Australian.

It has long been my understanding that "either" and "neither" were pronounced with a long "I" sound by the British. Maybe the British "invasion" in the early sixties was how this particular pronunciation anomaly found its way into our language. If so, and I strongly suspect so, I have another reason for not liking the Beatles (although I have to admit developing a mild fondness for a couple of their songs after forty odd years even though hearing them reminds me of a teenage girl with a boxy transistor radio pressed firmly against the side of her head, bouncing to an unheard beat).

When I was a kid in school, we were taught to pronounce those two words with the long "e" sound. I favor that. I did then, and I still do. Admittedly, all the dictionaries I have consulted offer both pronunciation versions, but I can't help but note that the long "e" sound is always presented first and thus is the preferred pronunciation but some reference sources like certain internet pronunciation websites mitigate that by simply stating "or" between both pronunciations although, once again, they both offer the long "e" pronunciation first.

So, why is this so irritating? Well, I have a couple theories. First and foremost, "either" and "neither" are supposed to be pronounced with a long "e" sound. That's the way it has been taught for many years, maybe even since the Pilgrims first landed in this country (and they came from England but I suspect they still refused to pronounce "either" and "neither" like the British just out of pure orneriness) and I see no valid reason to have changed it after all this time. I think all the current dictionaries add the second pronunciation just to keep up good relations with our British cousins. The second reason this is such a major ‘bug' is because the long "I" sound is a very hard sound. It grates on the nerves just as the single word "I" does. It speaks of self-centeredness, of a certain determination to put forth oneself in the company of others. It's like starting every sentence with the word "I". If we all did that, it wouldn't be long before we had no audience at all, and a lot of us don't.

The long "e" sound, by contrast, is soft, mitigating, mellow, almost comforting. It is fun to listen to. It makes the choice we are presented with a little easier to bear whether it is coarse, unpleasant, tasteless, or fun, a tasty treat, a pleasant sensation, something to look forward to.

So, once again, society presses me to conform. Why can't they change for once? I think this adequately expresses what we all know subconsciously. Society is not trying very hard to get along. It wants all of us to conform to its vagaries and relentlessly presses forward with its illogical, unreasonable demands. Either (with a long "e") we conform to its importunate posturing or find ourselves crushed and alone, pleading with an empty silence to hear our pitiable petitions. Neither (with a long "e") prospect is very engaging.

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    • profile image

      Fred 4 years ago

      This is one of the most moronic posts I have ever read.

    • profile image

      Jerry 4 years ago

      Hi Geri!

      Thanks for reading and I'm glad you won your bet. I agree with your pronunciation of the word coupon and I also pronounce it "Koo-pon" simply, as you said, because there is no "q" in "coupon". There are so many words in the English language that are misused and abused and yet the language still retains its beauty and strength. People in my part of the world, even in the media and in advertising of all mediums seem intent on confusing subject/verb agreement by saying things such as, "There is..." instead of, "There are..." so no matter where we live, people will always mispronounce and misuse the language; it's part of being human I suppose. All the best and keep reading. You can find my novel, The Antiquarian Chronicles, at Amazon.com and other bookselling sites on the internet as well as by ordering it from booksellers nationwide. You can also download and read The Antiquarian Chronicles as an ebook from Amazon.com or from Tate Publishing.com.

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      Geri 4 years ago

      Thank you Jerry for winning my bet for me. My sister uses the I sound in either and I use the E sound. I am glad I found your posting.

      The mispronounced word that gets to me is when people say the word coupon as qupon! I sometimes correct people and tell them that there is no q in coupon and follow up with would you say there goes a cute quple (couple)?

    • profile image

      Jerry 5 years ago

      Yep, that is a good one, Jonathan. I agree with you; it grates. Thanks for reading.

      http://JerryLWatson.wordpress.com

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      Jonathan 5 years ago

      I agree with all the statements that point to the annoying mispronunciations that are frequently heard in our much abused language, but by far the most annoying error that I hear so frequently is the inability to comprehend the difference between subject and object pronouns. "Me and her got drunk and killed our few remaining brain cells." And equally bad, people who recognize that this is wrong, but don't understand why, so they make the opposite mistake in a sentence like "I don't think he really likes she and I." Ugh...

    • profile image

      Jerry 5 years ago

      We do indeed, Nigel! I loved your comment and appreciate your perspective. I am also an Englishman (on my father's side) and can relate to your feelings (in reverse, of course!:-)). Thanks so much for reading and commenting. All the best,

      Jerry.

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      Nigel Childs 5 years ago

      Hi Jerry,

      This morning I taught an English class (as did Claire Taylor two years ago) on Both, Either and Neither. Being an Englishman I had no hesitation in teaching the pronunciation as the long "I" sound you describe. I have always understood to the long "E" to be the preserve of the lower classes and poorly educated people. One of my students suggested that it is the American pronunciation and I had to admit ignorance on this point.

      Of course, now I have searched the web and found your piece. I read with some confusion and increasing amusement as I realised that I identify exactly with your feelings, but in the reverse. The long 'E' is anathema to me and causes great distress to my ears whenever I hear it!

      My pronunciation reference online is http://dictionary.cambridge.org which, being British, presents the long 'I' pronunciation first.

      It seems we live on the two sides of the same mirror.

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      Jerry 6 years ago

      Thanks, Patty, for your comments. I think you are correct in stating that there may be more exceptions than rules in the English language but that's what makes it so interesting, I think! Keep typing in the search box and keep reading.

      Best,

      Jerry Watson

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      Patty 6 years ago

      Thoroughly enjoyed the dissertation and comments on pronunciaton of either/neither! NeIther (long I) has driven me up a wall for so long--I'm glad to know I'm not the only one. And yes , there are many other variations, such as A (long a) in neighbor. There seem to be more exceptions than rules in the English language. My Oxford American dictionary gives both pronunciations for neither but only long ee for either--figure that one out. I was amazed to find all this info jugt by typing in either/neither in the search box (or whatever it's correctly called in internet circles (I'm a novice having had a computer for two weeks).

    • profile image

      Jerry 6 years ago

      Nope. One of the interesting peculiarities of the English language. Wouldn't you agree?

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      best,

      Jerry

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      Jill 6 years ago

      Do you pronounce their, eight, feign or reign with a long ee as in either?

    • profile image

      Terrie 6 years ago

      Any particualr reason why the word 'burglarized' is used in America instead of 'burgled'? It always feels like an unneccesary extension.

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      Jerry 6 years ago

      I really liked your take on it, Jack. I also am part Canadian (my father's side was from the Toronto area back in the eighteen hundreds)so I can relate to an extent. I liked the "grammatical multiple personality disorder"! That's great! I agree about "orientate" and "irregardless" as well. The later is completely redundant and irrational, I think. Keep reading!

      All the best,

      Jerry Watson

      http://best-whetstones.com

      http://theantiquarianchronicles.blogspot.com

      http://best-whetstones.com

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      Jack  6 years ago

      See, I'm a Canuck and grew up hearing both. The same with zed and zee - I watched both American andCanadian Sesame Street so sometimes it was zee and sometimes zed. I still can never remember which one is American (zee, right?).

      So i think I still switch between eether and eyether when I talk. It's like grammatical multiple personality disorder.

      But, yeah, orientate and irregardless drive me pretty nuts -- although, thanks to our pal usage both are now considered correct.

      One I hear often in these parts is laid used for the past tense of lie, and lay used for its present tense, as in "Go lay down" and "He went and laid down/Yesterday I laid in bed until noon." instead of "Go lie down" and "Yesterday I lay... etc."

      One

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      chefblueyez 6 years ago

      Damn Britts!!! Lol :)

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      Jerry 6 years ago

      Thanks for your comments, Tim. Not familiar with the forte/forte comparison but I liked identification and the "common herd" analogy, especially the phrase "contagion of mimicry".

      Also enjoyed HL Mencken's quote. And I visited your website. Nice. Hope your business is going well. I spent some years of my childhood in Alabama, Orange Beach, Foley, Gulf Shores, Arab (up near Huntsville) and loved it--well, most of it!

      All the best,

      Jerry Watson

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      Tim French 6 years ago

      The same people who are pronouncing "forte" as "forté" (as if it were "loud" in Italian, instead of "strong point" in French) are the ones who (since about 1995) have begun the Bostonian affectation of saying "eye-ther." They grew up saying "ee-ther" just like the rest of us, so they know better.

      Probably the common herd, hearing some movie star on a talk show mispronounce the words started this contagion of mimicry.

      Perhaps the best explanation for all thoughtless, imitative pronunciation is summed up below:

      "No man ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the average American."

      --HL Mencken (1880-1956)

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      Geoff 6 years ago

      Actually I need to make two corrections:

      a) The first is just a silly one. I wrote "strife" when of course I meant "rife" (it's late and I am not sure what I was thinking of; possibly using its archaic form in metaphor :P)...

      b) The other mistake is more important: the ancient Greek word for 'air' is alpha-eta-rho and thus transliterated as 'air' and not 'aer' that I wrote by mistake. However 'of the air' (the possessive case) becomes alpha-epsilon-rho-omicron-sigma or 'aeros' and thus the first syllable becomes 'aero-'.

      This is precisely the reason why 'aeroplane' means 'plane of the air' and why 'airplane' ... ehm does not, being a clear 'mistake' made by those who (at the time) could not differentiate between the nuances of the English language.

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      Geoff 6 years ago

      I am not exactly certain what annoys you about the pronunciation. The matter is really quite trivial.

      In British English both [ay] and [ee] pronunciations existed before the 19th century. Afterwards, the usage of [ay] became the predominant one. However, since the word 'either' stems from the Middle English word ?gther, a moment's thought should reveal that the oldest pronunciations would sound closer to an 'eh-eeh' and thus to an 'uh-eeh' or long 'I' or [ay] and not to an 'ee' or [ee] of pre-19th century British and of later American usage.

      I believe the usage of both [ay] and [ee] may have been the reason why early Americans used [ee].

      However, your comments on 'receive' etc. do not necessarily apply because of certain rules applied to these words in the English language depending on where the accent goes and of course on the origin of these other words.

      Do Americans pronounce the word 'opinionmeister' as 'opinionmeester'? Or do they speak of professor 'Eeensteen'? And what about words such as 'heir' which are pronounced with neither an [ay] nor an [ee] (excuse the pun)?

      However, it is interesting to note that dictionary.com mentions that the current British usage reflects "the speech of the educated and ... the network standard English of radio and television".

      Personally I do not get irritated by this issue simply because there are valid historical reasons that explain the presence of both pronunciations.

      Admittedly, however, 'American English' is strife with examples of changes from the norm which may be considered by some purists as annoying.

      A few examples will suffice.

      The word 'route' is often mispronounced in the US as 'rout'. According to dictionary.com, the only accepted pronunciation is 'root' (with a short sound, rhyming with 'lute'). Perhaps this unfortunate situation is the result of someone confusing the spelling of the two words.

      Let us also not forget how Americans misspell the word 'levelling' as 'leveling', even though the adverb is 'levelly' (even in the US).

      How about when they misspell 'aeroplane' as 'airplane'?

      Which spelling is closer to the original? At least this is an easy one: the word 'aer' is ancient Greek for 'the air'. However 'of the air' becomes 'aeros'. In Modern Greek, the word for 'air-plane' is 'aero-plano'. Clearly the transliteration should be 'aero-plane'. Someone thought 'airplane' is easier; however the British spelling is more faithful to the origins of the word.

      Another example: 'theater'. The Greek word is 'theatron' and even in the US people use the word 'theatrical' and not of course 'theaterical' that would rhyme with ... hysterical (pun intended). The earlier Middle English forms consistently use 'theatre'. So how did 'theater' come about? Again, someone who could not spell did a mistake and this remained as part of 'American English'.

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      Jerry 6 years ago

      Well, Jason, your post says it all! Thanks for reading and commenting. All the best,

      Jerry

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      Jason 6 years ago

      Well Jerry, I disagree with you. It irritates me when you americant's pronounce either/neither as (eether/kneether) it's pronounced eyether/nyether. The English, French and German speaking world pronounces the last letter as zed not zee y'all

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      Jerry 7 years ago

      True! Thanks for your comment, Curly. Have a great day!

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      Curly 7 years ago

      Add ceiling and seize to the list. Seize would become "size"???

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      Jerry 7 years ago

      Hi Sylv, Don't mind at all. Have fun! (I take cash and checks!) Just kidding! Hope your students enjoy it as well. Thanks for the post.

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      Sylv 7 years ago

      Interesting thoughts ;)!!! I had just finished preparing a lesson on Either and neither (with a long e) and was looking for a text that would illustrate the use of either (and neither). I came across your writings and thought it was perfect!! I hope you don't mind me using it with my student ;)!!

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      Jerry Watson 8 years ago

      Hi Claire,

      Interesting. I hope your English class goes well. I wrote this, of course, half in jest. I'm glad you found it and I greatly appreciate your interest and comments! READ ON!!!

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      Claire Taylor 8 years ago

      I'm teaching an English class tomorrow on Both/Neither/Either and I realized that I didn't know which pronunciation to teach the students - both of them sound equally correct to me, and I think I use both with equal frequency. Could be because my dad was British and my mom's American, though.

      It's interesting to think that the sound grates on you, though. Sounds fine to me.

    • profile image

      Claire Taylor 8 years ago

      I'm teaching an English class tomorrow on Both/Neither/Either and I realized that I didn't know which pronunciation to teach the students - both of them sound equally correct to me, and I think I use both with equal frequency. Could be because my dad was British and my mom's American, though.

      It's interesting to think that the sound grates on you, though. Sounds fine to me.

    • Jerry Watson profile image
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      Jerry Watson 8 years ago from Hermitage, Tennessee

      Thanks, Jeanne. Interesting how just about everybody has one or more words that "bug" them if the word is misused.

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      Jeanne 8 years ago

      Thanks for the sensible claification on the pronunciation of "either" and "neither." Here is the "word thing" that bugs me the most: the overwhelming misusage of "comprise." For example, people will say "the committee was comprised of many well-known physicians" (incorrect) instead of "the committee was composed of many well-known physicians" or "the committee comprised many well-known physicians (both correct). I have heard highly educated people, including educators, misuse this word.

    • Jerry Watson profile image
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      Jerry Watson 9 years ago from Hermitage, Tennessee

      Thanks for your comment DLarson. I agree with your choices as well. Have a great day and check back often.

    • Jerry Watson profile image
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      Jerry Watson 9 years ago from Hermitage, Tennessee

      Yeah, I hear ya, Chef Jeff. And there are some others, too. I guess we all have 'em but it's fun to have something nonsensical to laugh at once in awhile.

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      dlarson 9 years ago from Priest River, ID

      I'm with you both! I couldn't help but laugh aloud here in my office... Let us not forget &quot;samich&quot; (sandwich) or &quot;pitcher&quot; (picture). And if you've been to the south, &quot;punkin&quot; (pumpkin). I'm sure there are others that I will recall later.

      And people think I'm crazy...

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      Chef Jeff 9 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      Ranks up there with people saying &quot;orientated.&quot; That one drives me crazy!