Each and Every Way to Get Confused

The words each and every are used so interchangeably, they seem like they mean the same things. But they don’t.

Grammarians call them quantifiers, which is just a highfalutin word that means “number” or “quantity.” Each and every go with singular nouns and are used to indicate quantity. But neither indicates a specific number. So while their meanings are similar, the words are not always interchangeable.

Use each when you’re referring to the persons or items in a group individually; use every when you consider the group as a unit.

  • Each member of the team received a ribbon for participating.
  • Every ribbon was green.

Use each when there are two persons or items; use every for groups of three or more.

  • Two members of the team were named as scholar-athletes. Each rejoiced at the honor.
  • Every team member congratulated them.

It is never correct to use every when there are only two items.

  • The honorees carried an award in each (not every) hand. (You could say “in both hands.”)

When there are more than two objects, each or every is acceptable.

  • The coach congratulated each/every parent. (Parent is the object, and there are multiple sets of parents. The coach congratulated all of them.)

Use every to indicate how often something happens. In the following examples, there are more than two options for when something occurs, so the correct adjective is every, never each.

  • Soccer is played every fall.
  • The games are played every weekend.

Now, here’s the tricky thing. Remember that I said each and every are singular nouns? But they refer to multiples, right? Yet, because they are singular nouns, they take a singular verb, with one exception.

  • Each member of the team is responsible for keeping up morale. (Each=singular subject; is=singular verb.)
  • Every boy is doing his best to comply. (boy=singular subject; every=adjective describing boy; is=singular verb.)

Here’s the exception: when each serves as an appositive to a plural subject, the verb becomes plural. What is an appositive? Something that relates to the subject being discussed.

  • The coaches each have written a letter of congratulations to the boys’ parents. (Coaches=plural, each amplifies coaches; have=plural verb).

Here’s an alternative way of writing this:

  • Each of the coaches has written a letter of congratulations to the boys’ parents.

Here each becomes the singular subject, requiring the singular verb has written.

And here’s something else to keep in mind: Each can be used as a pronoun (replacing a noun), but every cannot:

  • The soccer players waited eagerly for the awards to be announced; each was on edge.
  • The soccer players waited eagerly for the awards to be announced; every one of them was on edge.

Each replaces players, but every does not. Every must be followed by a noun, or in this case, the noun phrase—one of them.

I’ve covered quite a few instances of when and how to use each and every correctly, although not likely each and every one.

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