Grammar Each Other vs. One Another |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Each Other vs. One Another

There are still sticklers among us who see a distinct difference between each other and one another. They use each other when discussing two people or things, and one another when discussing more than two people or things.

According to this system, the following sentences would both be correct: The twins told each other everything and The triplets told one another everything. But The twins told one another everything and The triplets told each other everything would both be incorrect.

This rule has been around since the eighteenth century. Yet it is routinely ignored by just about everyone, including our finest writers. Nowadays, virtually no one even knows it exists.

Taken literally, the phrase each other does seem limited to two entities only, represented by the singular pronoun each and the singular pronoun other.

The twins told each other everything means that each twin told the other twin everything. So far, so good. But The triplets told each other everything means that each triplet told the “other” triplet everything—which makes no sense because there are two other triplets.

So instead the sticklers demand The triplets told one another everything. To them, other means “one of two” and another means “one of more than two.” By this reasoning, one another refers to a group of three or more whose members include one and another.

The sticklers reject The twins told one another everything because it means that one twin told “another twin” everything. To the sticklers, “another twin” means the impossible: three (or more) twins.

The trouble with the rule is that each other and one another were already long-established idioms in the eighteenth century, and many idioms fall apart under this sort of tortured scrutiny—try analyzing as it were or by and large sometime.

Whether some people like it or not, each other and one another are synonyms. So let’s move on.

The possessive of each other is each other’s, never each others’. Although a lot of neophytes write each others’, the authorities agree unanimously that each other’s is the only acceptable option. Same with one another’s.

A thorny problem with each other’s and one another’s is illustrated in the sentence that follows. Should we say The lawyer and the banker admired each other’s car or admired each other’s cars?

The traditionalists are at odds here. In The Careful Writer Theodore M. Bernstein claims that each other’s is equivalent to their. So Bernstein would say admired each other’s cars. But Bryan A. Garner leans toward the singular car. In A Dictionary of Modern American Usage Garner says “the noun that follows is often plural <each other’s cars>, but the more logical construction is singular <each other’s car>.”

Did he say “logical”? When it comes to each other and one another, logic is beside the point.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

14 responses to “Each Other vs. One Another

  1. doyz says:

    ”Each other and one another” being synonymous as claimed here is a new one on me.
    I’d love to know the difference between ”much and most” as well. In the following sentence, I would’ve used much. ‘Having most of my life been a fan of Mr. Mickey Mouse,…….’

    • The word most indicates a greater degree than much. “Most of my life” means “the majority of my life.” Writing “much of my life” indicates a lesser extent.

  2. Vipul Bhatia says:

    What if the subject is not specific? That is, if the sentence goes like this: “They asked _________ about their problems,” then what should one use? (each other/one another)

  3. Uncertified Observer says:

    The problem I have with this is that the statement “The twins told each other everything means that each twin told the other twin everything.” is not describing a literal meaning, but rather, is an interpretation. I find it to be a wrong one as well. In the phrase “each other” the “each” refers to the “other” and not some unknown object yet to be in a sentence. “The twins told each other everything.” does NOT mean “each twin” – if you wanted it to mean that you would have to say “Each twin told the other everything.” in which case “Each triplet told the other everything” is senseless. “The twins told each other everything.” means that “The twins” (the subject) acted upon “each” (meaning every individual separately) object of the sentence that is “other” than the subject. Since the subject (“The twins”) is plural, we have to iterate through each one and check to see if it is valid, and it is. In “The triplets told each other everything.” the plural subject is “The triplets” who act upon the objects involved. “Each” object “other” than the subject is some other triplet. So triplet 1 tells “each” object that is “other” than triplet 1. We have to iterate through “each” such objects. Triplet 1 tells triplet 2 and then tells triplet 3. Triplets 2 and 3 are “each” a triplet “other” than triplet 1. Then we iterate to the next subject, check all the objects, and we eventually get through the whole list and find out that it was all completely valid. You have to make an incorrect interpretation about the meaning of words and/or the structure of sentences in order to then be a stickler about the rules stemming from such misinterpretation.

    • Thank you for the careful analysis. However, as the article mentions “… each other and one another were already long-established idioms in the eighteenth century, and many idioms fall apart under this sort of tortured scrutiny … When it comes to each other and one another, logic is beside the point.”

  4. Almahi says:

    In his book University Grammar of English, Greenbaum distinguishes between the two phrases under the title reciprocal pronouns claiming that we use “each other” when we are talking about two people or things, and one another when we are talking about more than two.

    • We do not have a copy of Quirk and Greenbaum’s A University Grammar of English, published in 1973, to reference. Checking online sources, it appears that this book was updated with A Student’s Grammar of the English Language in 1991. Regardless, such an interpretation falls into the “sticklers” category mentioned in the first paragraph above. As Patricia T. O’Connor and Stewart Kellerman note, “there’s no foundation for such a rule … There’s no harm in following that ‘traditional’ rule if you like, but there’s no harm in ignoring it either.”

  5. Sharon says:

    I must be a reformed stickler. At editing work today I came across this: “…they’ll be part of a community of kids who can relate to what each other is going through.” And you know what? I left it alone. I read “each other” here as “every other kid.” I don’t know how to explain it in grammarspeak, but it seems fine to me the way it is.

    • You are indeed a reformed stickler. You could try to explain how “they’ll be part of a community of kids who can relate to what one another is going through” is a better grammatical expression for more than two kids, but you’ll wear yourself out to no avail.

  6. Ryan says:

    “One another” and “each other” have always been different. If they were the same, there wouldn’t be a point in having both of them. I know that there are many synonyms in the English language, but if we turn two different [phrases] into the same [phrase], then we are losing some of the clarity and meaning of them both.

  7. Chiazo C. Ifeobu says:

    I find these comments interesting. All my life I have always thought that there was a clear distinction between “each other” and “one another,” and each time I saw or heard people use them interchangeably, I assumed they were wrong. I had even passed the rule on to my children. It is an eye-opener to learn that there is nothing wrong with using them interchangeably. I must, however, confess that this is not the first time I am coming across this, but each time, I stuck to my belief that there was a distinction. I thank everyone that made their contribution here.

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