A tricky agreement problem: Neither-nor

I encountered this sentence in a news story today:

Neither Prince nor Malloy were wearing seatbelts, according to the accident report.

You might have spotted the problem; it’s easier to see when the sentence is isolated.

When two subjects are joined by neither-nor or either-or, choosing the right number for the verb can be tricky for writers. Focus your attention on the noun closest to the verb. If it is singular, as in the sentence above, choose the singular verb. If the noun is plural, choose the plural form of the verb.

The sometimes maligned Associated Press Stylebook advises not to think of the nouns as a compound subject, as they would be if joined by and, but to think of them as alternate subjects. Perhaps that explanation will help you remember.

So the sentence would be edited: Neither Prince nor Malloy was wearing a seatbelt, according to the accident report.

If you have a singular noun and a plural noun yoked with neither-nor or either-or, put the plural noun last. Your sentence will sound better. Neither the boy nor his sisters were wearing seatbelts.