Do You Speak to Each Other or One Another?

Sometimes people are confused about when to use each other and one another. Well, there’s a good reason for the confusion. Even the people who make up the rules—the grammarians—don’t agree on this one.

So let’s start with the things they do agree on:

Each other and one another are pronouns (used in place of nouns). They are reciprocal pronouns. That means that both individuals experience the same thing; it’s a mutual relationship.

  • Bill and Sue love each other.
  • Unfortunately, their parents couldn’t stand each other.

Both the affection and the dislike go both ways. Use each other when talking about two people.

Be sure to note the context and what you intend. For instance, when you’re speaking or writing about an event that has a clear order or stages, one another is the preferred usage.

  • One after another the contestants filed past the judges.
  • The children followed one another to the playground.

While it would not be wrong to say “The children followed each other to the playground,” one another is preferred.

One grammarian suggests that this is a style preference rather than a matter of correctness. The wise approach is to follow the rule, even though there really is little rationale for it.

Here are a couple of rules about each other and one another that everyone does agree on:

When used as possessive pronouns, the noun that follows is almost always plural.

  • The parents really got on each other’s nerves.

Here’s an exception:

  • They couldn’t even stand the sound of one another’s voice. (Because each parent has only one voice, obviously, the noun following the possessive pronoun is singular.)

Each other and one another should never be used as the subjects of a clause.

Let’s say Bill thinks Sue is the perfect mate, and Sue thinks the same of Bill. Saying or writing “Bill and Sue think each other are the perfect mate” is awkward, if not incorrect. While it may still sound awkward, the correct way to construct such a sentence is by splitting the reciprocal pronoun.

  • Bill and Sue each think the other is the perfect mate.

Separating the pronoun actually puts each in its proper place. This is one time when separating a pair is a good thing.

 

2 Responses to “Do You Speak to Each Other or One Another?”

  1. Deborah A. Mc Callum July 27, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    I agree with separating the pronouns to address in which context they are better suited. One or the other is rarely used together in a phrase because it is akin to rambling on, or repetitive. There are simpler ways to express things by observing proper grammar. Rule of thumb: If it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t. The grammatical factor is in understanding that each other represents two people, where as one another usually refers to a larger group of people. A primary example that has stood the test of time in denoting the main differences between these pronouns, is found in theologian text of the old testament – the first commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
    I have never struggled with the uses of each other and one another. I think the confusion lies with how people are prone to misuse language, and that in itself is what clouds the general perception of certain terminologies. We are creatures of habit influenced by a technological era where grammar is intentionally omitted to communicate in modern code. In my opinion, that is in part what causes the controversy in applying what I recognize to be improper use of the english language. What is obvious to me, may not be to another based on culture, education, and language skills. The perplexing issue becomes the catalyst in our reliance on technology. Language is being modified while communication methods continue to evolve. The same applies to mathematics and our approach to solving problems on a global scale.

  2. constance khuzwayo July 31, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    Great post English is my second launguage so I’m one of those people who are often caught using one instead of the other

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