One of my recent questions (about the use of "either") was understandably marked as a duplicate. The question that it duplicates can be found here. While it is correct to mark my question as a duplicate, I'm afraid that the answer to the original question is probably incorrect.

My reasoning is simple. The Merriam-Webster dictionary contradicts the accepted answer in the original question. Merriam-Webster has more authority than EL&U. Not only that, but the EL&U answer makes use of nothing more than Wiktionary and Wikipedia to back up its assertions, and even the Wikipedia page is misleading, as it has no information on the relevant topic.

Below is the Merriam-Webster entry which contradicts the accepted answer that "either" can only be used informally to correlate more than two alternatives. You will see nothing about "formal" or "informal" in this entry. There is no evidence for making the claim that the accepted answer made.

either (conj)

—used as a function word before two or more coordinate words, phrases, or clauses joined usually by or to indicate that what immediately follows is the first of two or more alternatives [can be used either as a guest room or as an office]

The question about "either", expressed in both threads, is an interesting question that deserves an accurate and verifiable answer. Currently, there is no such answer. What should we do about this? We can't un-accept the answer in the original question, can we? It's my understanding that only the OP can do this. In which case, could my question be unmarked as a duplicate?

  • 2
    The original answer suggests that " it's common in informal speech and usage, but probably not for formal contexts". Thus, it depends on what the context is. If in speech, then either would be appropriate. If however, in a formal context (business letter, etc.), then using either for multiple choices would be inappropriate. - What answer are you looking for?
    – user66974
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:28
  • @Josh That it is fine in both formal and informal contexts. There is no hard evidence to suggest otherwise. The original answer cites Wiktionary and Wikipedia: neither support the answer put forward.
    – ktm5124
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:32
  • You mean you disagree on the "informal" usage?
    – user66974
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:33
  • @Josh Not only do I disagree, but answers (especially accepted ones) should be backed by a source. The original answer has no source. That is to say, the sources it gives do nothing to corroborate its assertions.
    – ktm5124
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:34
  • I don't think there is a clear answer here. Informal usage (more than 2 objects) is probably spreading into more formal contexts. Usage changes over time.
    – user66974
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:38
  • @Josh I think there could very well be a clear answer, since this is such a useful and common word. It all boils down to its use as a conjunction. Can the conjunction "either" coordinate more than two items. If we find that, in famous texts from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, it does indeed function this way, then we have a clear answer. But if this use of the word only pops up in, say, the 1970s, then we know that it started out informally and is becoming more formal over time.
    – ktm5124
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:41
  • 1
    Either...or (...or): used for showing two or more possibilities or choices - You must answer either yes or no. You can contact us either by phone, by email, or by letter. When there’s a crisis, they either do nothing or do something totally useless. macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/either-or-or
    – user66974
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:41
  • @Josh That's really helpful! It corroborates what Merriam-Webster says. Once again, there is nothing about this usage being informal. It would seem that the accepted answer has no leg to stand on.
    – ktm5124
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:43
  • Either … or… - connects two choices: We use either… or… to connect items which are the same grammatical type, e.g. words, phrases, clauses: We can either pre- or post-date the document. I don’t mind. (connecting prefixes) - dictionary.cambridge.org/it/grammatica/grammatica-britannico/…
    – user66974
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:43
  • @Josh Well I suppose that last entry of yours is evidence to the contrary! I would be interested to check other sources, especially the OED.
    – ktm5124
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:47
  • I think both usages are correct. The eitherr..or..or is just an extension of the "traditional" either ..or.
    – user66974
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:48
  • Perhaps! I appreciate your thoughts.
    – ktm5124
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:51
  • 3
    None of the MW examples have more than two options. I'd be interested to know if that definition has changed since 2011 (when the question was asked), and it now licenses more than two options when it didn't before.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Mar 17, 2017 at 10:20
  • From OED: "II. Adverbial uses of A. II. 3. Introducing the mention of alternatives.....1875 B. Jowett tr. Plato Dialogues (ed. 2) III. 266 A narration of events, either past, present, or to come." Also: c. Sometimes = each (of more than two things). 1588 R. Parke tr. J. G. de Mendoza Hist. Kingdome of China 76 The other thirteene prouinces that do remaine haue eyther of them a vizroy or governor. 1867 W. D. Howells Ital. Journeys 228 Just above the feet, at either of the three corners, is an exquisite..female bust
    – ab2
    Mar 18, 2017 at 1:08
  • What @ab2 said. Note that the definition for the 1588 citation is = each (of more than two things). They also have a definition = any one (of more than two) with first citation 1616. But I'm not sure about OP's implication here that "evidence of early use" can be treated as equivalent to "formal". OED's definition B I 2 Used to connect more than two terms is explicitly marked as obsolete, which is hardly the same thing as formal. Mar 21, 2017 at 19:12

1 Answer 1


Aside from the actual content of the question, there are multiple meta issues here 1) what an 'accepted' answer implies about the answer, 2) the whole nature of duplicates and answers among them, accepted or not, and 3) the authoritativeness of the different dictionaries.

  • an 'accepted' answer is what the OP (the person who asked the question) chose. That person asked the question because they didn't know. Being in a state of lack of knowledge, it is very plausible that they are not the best judge of what a correct or even good answer is. Just because an answer has been 'accepted' doesn't mean it is the authoritative correct answer; it's just the one the OP chose as what they think helped them the most (and that is a paraphrase of the balloon help on the 'accept' button for the OP.

  • duplicates, though closed, are not expected to be eventually deleted. They are expected to stay around as a linked collection of all the possible answers (if some answers to the duplicate still got through). There's lots of meta discussion on what duplicates mean here and on main meta that you can follow. If you think a better answer should exist, then it can be done on the question that hasn't been closed as a duplicate. If you think you can produce a good answer, you can do that on the non-duplicate (that is not bad form).

  • Holy crap, Wiktionary is the worst. It is not authoritative, it either ---steals--- screen scrapes from random other online dictionaries, or worse, they do it from Wikipedia, a wholly idiocy of the masses enterprise (actual Wikipedia has some good spots). I'm sure very good people are working tirelessly on it but with the effect of an eyedropper on the ocean. It's like they're coming up with definitions from scratch, without considering the many instances of various nuances of a word. In effect it is much like ELU where sometimes you will get a well-researched, highly nuanced authoritative answer written by someone with actual knowledge ... sometimes, but most of the time you just get some random person off the web that quickly spouts off a non-wrong unnuanced comment, or a cut and paste from parts of other web pages with no explanatory commentary that gets accepted as though it is the answer when it is only tangentially related to what the OP wanted. At least Urban Dictionary doesn't pretend to be an authority.

So in the end, the points above are not an answer to your explicit question, but I think that question is misdirected. You're right, it's not up to anybody else other than the OP to accept an answer; the community can't decide to unaccept something. Yes, the community could vote to reopen your duplicate but it's pretty obvious to me that the questions are duplicate, so I don't expect that that would be a successful campaign. This meta post is a good enough re-visiting of the issue and if there are people (including yourself) who are motivated, they can post what they think is a better answer to the open question.

Josh mentioned (in comments) that a reasonable next step would be to open a bounty on the open question with the bounty reason being that the current answers aren't currently sufficient (or something to that same effect).

  • So probably the more productive way to proceed is to open a bounty on the original question stating the reason why they think the present posts don't answer in full the question.
    – user66974
    Mar 17, 2017 at 15:33
  • @Josh I knew there was an actual appropriate and productive next step.
    – Mitch
    Mar 17, 2017 at 15:39
  • Though it is not clear what still remains to say about that question. OP appears to be looking for a definitive citation from the OED...if anybody can help with that..please do.
    – user66974
    Mar 17, 2017 at 15:43
  • Let's say you did open a bounty to the open question. How would that work? I thought that only the accepted answer wins the bounty. If the OP is unwilling to accept a new answer, then how would a bounty make things better? I am probably missing something, but would appreciate any clarification.
    – ktm5124
    Mar 17, 2017 at 16:50
  • @ktm5124 I don't really know. Look up the help/FAQ info on bounties.
    – Mitch
    Mar 17, 2017 at 16:54
  • 2
    This persistent prejudice against Wiktionary baffles me. It seems good to me, it lists the etymology of words, and when I have felt so inclined, I have checked using Etymonline, and Dictionary,.com, it provides the pronunciation, definitions, it also includes synonyms, and antonyms. Why is it so awful? Maybe this was true five or six years ago? maybe some entries are more detailed than others, but can you show one objectively rubbishy example?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 17, 2017 at 19:42
  • @Mari-LouA I feel like I'm the only one openly professing dissatisfaction with Wiktionary, so blame me for that. As to the basis for my opinion, without citing any particular examples, I find that if I first go to wiktionary, then to another online dictionary, either I find the wiktionary and the other verbatim copies, or I find that the other has more entries. Then as to content of the entries (when different), Wiktionary tends to give no or little nuance or qualification and is worded so compactly that it easily misses important features of the word's meaning.
    – Mitch
    Mar 17, 2017 at 19:47
  • @Mari-LouA And also in comparison, I feel like I've seen definitions that are just ... wrong. Close, but just not right. I've only ever visited wiktionary via lnks in answers on ELU. If I (or you) see one maybe that'll be a start to an example.
    – Mitch
    Mar 17, 2017 at 19:48

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