each [other's / others'] messages

Discussion in 'English Only' started by PolCas, Nov 15, 2005.

  1. PolCas

    PolCas Member

    I've been told yesterday that "each other" must be plural when it works as an adjective modifying a plural noun...

    We should keep on holding on to each others' hands.
    I think it would be good that we continue correcting each others' messages.

    Is this like that? If so, I've been wrong for pretty long, since I've been using "each other's".

  2. ElenaofTroy

    ElenaofTroy Senior Member

    State of Mexico, Mexico
    According to what I know, you were right and you´d say:

    We are holding each other´s hands.

    The ´s denotates posession, not plural.

    You could say "others", but then this others is a noun meaning otros (los otros), not an adjective. So the following would be right too:

    One must respect others´properties.

    I hope we both can get confirmation from a native speaker!

    Iliana. :)
  3. I think in AE we write eachother as one word, no space between them... And it would be eachothers'...
  4. Fergus Member

    Ireland - English
    I don't know about AE but as far as European English is concerned I believe that Elena is right.

    's = possesive
    but after a word ending in s (such as my name Fergus) the s is followed by ' instead.

    Thus, Fergus' books etc. - this avoids saying Fergus's - which would be wierd.

    It would therefore make sence (I guess) that a possesive for plural nouns like others would be - others'

    So Other's = singuler possesive (e.g. an other's work)
    Others' = plural possesive refering to something belonging to more than one person (the others' work (the other peoples work)

    hope that helps! - (and is right :))
  5. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I have never seen "eachother" as one word. I would write "each other's." The original phrase is "each other" and it gets an apostrophe and an "s" in the possessive. The only time you use the apostrophe alone is when the original word ends in an "s" (and even then, you don't always use the apostrophe alone). Even plurals that do not end in "s" get an apostrophe and "s" (the children's toys, the men's room, etc.).

    I have a strange feeling this has already been discussed before. :)
  6. Hehehe... Sorry, I probably was wrong then, that acupuncture session made mush of my brain! If I were writing that sentence now, I still think I would write "holding eachothers' hands"... Perhaps I need a nap now... ;)
  7. ElenaofTroy

    ElenaofTroy Senior Member

    State of Mexico, Mexico

    ... And yes, eachother is wrong! :D

    Sweet dreams, badgrammar!! LOL :D
  8. PolCas

    PolCas Member

    Thanks everyone.

    It seems though that the topic drifted out of the bottom line I wanted to get an explanation of, so I would like to be sure of the following:

    We agree now that "each other" can never be plural like "each others". Right? Regardless of whether we're talking about a singular or plural noun.
  9. jess391847 New Member

    North Jersey, USA
    United States; English
    "Each other" is plural, because you are talking about yourself and another person. It is always plural, so there would never be a term "each others."

    Hope this helps! :)
  10. PolCas

    PolCas Member

    Sure that helps! Thanks a lot. Appreciate it. I was miscorrected then. ;)
  11. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    As the rest of the posts in this thread were mostly discussing possessive forms of names ending with s, I have split them off to another thread.

    Apologies for the one or two who were addressing both topics at the same time.

    As I am about to re-open this thread, on the topic of the correct possessive form of each other, I am taking the opportunity to point out that in fact "each other" is singular. The clue lies in the each.
    The possessive form is each other's.
    Oxford edition of New Fowler's Modern English Usage.

    If anyone wishes to suggest that this is incorrect, and that each others' is a correct form, you are welcome to do so, provided that you can cite a reputable source in support of your argument.

    There are times when I wish that people posting opinions here would bear in mind some of the rules of this forum, and in particular, rule #11.

    Yours, Grumpily,
  12. savylaeti Member


    Could somebody confirm that 'each other's' is followed by a plural noun, rather than a singular noun? E.g. 'They looked at each other's faces', rather than 'at each other's face'.
    Here's the actual sentence (author used the singular): 'The children read each other's number (numbers?) out loud. If they read it (them?) correctly, they score points.....'
  13. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    "Bryan Garner insists that the proper possessive form is "each other's," but then adds that when the phrase is followed by a plural, the apostrophe sometimes drifts to the right of the "s" as if magnetized by the plural object.
    From Garner's Modern American Usageby Bryan Garner. Copyright 2003 by Bryan A. Garner. Published by Oxford University Press, Inc., www.oup-usa.org, and used with the gracious consent of Oxford University Press."

    "by selecting three champions apiece and setting them to cut each others' throats. H.G. Wells

    "Upon each others' hearts
    They shall surprise the heart-beat of the world,
    And feel a sense of life in things inert …" Edith Wharton
  14. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I would definitely say each other's faces, each other's numbers... This may seem to defy logic in several ways, but that's the way the expression is used.
  15. savylaeti Member

    Thanks everybody. I didn't imagine for a second that the discussion would become about the old debate of where the apostrophe goes!! This wasn't the question, I'm afraid. I can confirm that it is ALWAYS "each other's", no matter what Bryan Garner says, as indeed it is singular. My question was, put more clearly hopefully: if each person has ONE face, or just ONE number in front of them (as in the case of the example - sorry, I didn't state that clearly earlier), or just ONE umbrella, do you say: "We looked at each other's umbrellas" or 'We looked at each other's umbrella"? It seems to me that EACH PERSON has ONE umbrella, therefore there are TWO umbrellas, therefore "umbrella" should be in the plural.
    Hope my question is clearer!
  16. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Sorry savylaeti, if my comment was not clear.
    It is clear to me, at least, that the normal usage demands that faces and numbers be plural. The more I thought about why, the less clear I became about the reason. But the more convinced I became that this is standard English usage.

    Incidentally, surely Bryan Garner is directly endorsing "each other's"? He mentions that some have been seduced to move the apostrophe, and some examples are given where proofreaders have goofed:D , but I understood these to be illustrating some of the inevitable exceptions, not suggesting each others' as "normal".
  17. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    "Each other" means that two people are involved, but the "each" means that we take them one at a time. This is also the reason that, logically, "each other's face" would make more sense, as in "They praised each other's performance (singular)."
    A Dictionary of Modern American Usage by Bryan Garner Copyright 1995 by Bryan A. Garner. Published by Oxford University Press (New York: 1998).
  18. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Ah - river has pinpointed the logical conundrum I thought must be there.
    Logic says one thing, usage says another.
    English has never been vulnerable to logic:D

    If I may try to crystallise the conundrum as I understand it...
    The normal English is "each other's" - the normal placing of the apostrophe promotes the singular.
    The normal English is "each other's faces" - the normal usage is the plural.

    We read each other's numbers.

    There is a singular flavour to each other.
    There is a plural flavour to We and therefore to numbers?

    Is there something about the number of people involved? Fowler suggested that we should use "... one another ..." if there are more than two of us, but regretted that this distinction is vanishing.

  19. sladdie New Member

    It would be 'each other's' because though it is referring to two people, it is referring to them individually.
  20. Mariaguadalupe

    Mariaguadalupe Senior Member

    Mexico, Spanish-English
    I hate to jump in right now but everything inside me is shrieking "singular" after each other, precisely because of the aptly put explanation given by Panj.

    However, I do know for a fact that most people (even famous authors, I beg forgiveness) use a plural form of either a noun or a verb after using each:

    Each of those boxes are ...(should be is)
    Each other's throats (should be throat, the clue is each)

    Why plural? Standard usage.

    Sorry if I step on some toes. Isn't my intention.
  21. savylaeti Member

    Panj, the placing of the apostrophe doesn't necessarily promote the singular. You could say 'my friend's shoes' or 'my sister's hats' - the apostrophe only shows 'belonging'. Whatever is 'belonged' can then be singular or plural, depending on the number!

    It seems to me that both ways are acceptable, then, though, as Mariaguadelupe said, it is probably more correct to use the singular, even if in everyday language people use the plural...

    Anybody wants to corroborate this?
  22. el alabamiano Senior Member

    The possessive forms of each other and one another are written each other's and one another's: The boys wore each other's (not each others') coats. They had forgotten one another's (not one anothers') names. source
  23. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Yes. And if for some reason you need the direct object of the verb, or the object of the possessive, to be singular-- you can say

    each + (singular) verb + the other's + (singular) direct object.

    Each wore the other's coat. Each forgot the other's name.
  24. neogeo211 New Member

    English - Standard American
    The plural has to do with subject verb agreement, not the subject alone. If the subject of a sentence is plural the verb must be plural. If the subject is singular the verb must be singular. That is the the rule. They means plural faces. Children means points. Each other's denotes possesion but is not the subject therefore it is either singular or plural based on the subject. The apostrophe follows the singular or plural form, inside left side of s for singular, outside the s for plural. EX.

    My two nieces are pretty.
    That is my niece's dress.
    Those are my nieces' dresses.

    Each other's is apparently different though. It is the exception to the rule. In fact, I would eliminate it altogether by altering the sentence to obviate the need for the phrase at all. They wore each other's coats. Could be rewritten, They exchanged coats and wore them.

    Right as rain?
  25. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I don't see the need to avoid each other's: it seems fine to me:)
  26. RiverYeti New Member

    English - United States of America
    I don't think that is right. Each other is always singular, as stated earlier. A more accurate rewrite of your example would be,

    They each wore the other's coat.

    In that case, each possesses the other's coat, and they is not possessive. (haha look I made 'they' singular!)

    Maybe it would shed some light if we look at this:

    They wore coats.
    Each wore a coat.
    They each wore a coat.

    clearly if they each wore coats, then that implies that each has more than one coat - e.g.

    They each ate a grape. (one grape each)
    They each ate grapes. (each ate multiple grapes)

    You could also say,

    They each wore the other's coat. They each forgot the other's name.

    And that is pretty much the same as:

    They wore each other's coat. They forgot each other's name.

    It seems like in this evolution we see how "each other" is born from "they each the other"

    I think that the first part of what savylaeti said is right - the apostrophe shows belonging - but it shows belonging to a singular subject (each) or maybe it would be better to think of it as a singular compound subject (each other). I looked in the OED and all over the place and I don't think that this is well discussed. Someone should write a letter to OED.
  27. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    My two cents worth - I would always say "each other's face". I know that there is a tendency to use the old canard that language isn't always logical but it seems to me that this is as strong an argument for logic as any. Since we are singularizing "each other's", why would we pluralize the object of our gaze? We are each looking at the other's face. We are looking at each other's face.
  28. EngBoy New Member

    My take on this...

    'Each other' is always singular, not plural. A simple indication for that - We don't say 'Each other are", but we say "Each other is".

    Being singular, the possessive s must come after 'other' and not 'others'. 'Others' could be construed as a plural form of 'other' but that doesn't work here.

    So, I think it should always be 'each other's' and never 'each others''.

    Please, some expert tell me if this is wrong. I need to teach this to some kids.
  29. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hello EngBoy

    As panj said in post 11:
    You are right:D

    And welcome to the forums!
  30. EngBoy New Member

    Thanks Loob... I am already learning a lot things by browsing through the other threads. This is very useful stuff :)
  31. webcricket New Member

    English - US
    This thread doesn't seem to be dead quite yet, so I'll put in a note.

    In regard to the common use of plural objects in phrases such as "They held each other's hands," the construction does make sense if viewed in the proper light.

    "Each other's" is here a possessive, which makes it a modifier. If you eliminate it, "They held hands." Which hands? "Each other's." This is true because there are still two hands being held (or four, if one supposes each person is using both hands, but that's a bit tangential). Each of them is holding a hand, so THEY are holding HANDS.

    In the sentence "They each held the other's hand," each has become the subject, and since the singular subject is only holding ONE hand, the object becomes singular. (In the tangential example, this would actually be "They each held the other's hands," which specifically means each person is holding more than one hand.) "They each" becomes a sort of appositive. Technically one could say "They each held each other's hands," but redundancy makes it awkward, so it isn't as likely to come up.

    The same applies to other examples used herein: "They looked at each other's faces" is correct because THEY have FACES, both of which are being looked upon. "They looked at each other's face" suggests that there is only one face, and that both are looking at it, and that it distinctly belongs to each of them (which is somewhere between awkward and metaphysical). "They each looked at the other's face" correctly assigns each person one face at which to look, belonging explicitly to the "other."

    I think that's pretty clear, but I'd be interested in any contention or confusion.
  32. Pablito Clavo un Clavito Member

    Spanish, lunfardo
    Sorry, but if "other" is an adjective here, what is the reason to use it in plural. The fact that the noun is plural does not mean the adjective should be. Or am I wrong and "other" is not an adjective. I'm definitively confused...
  33. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Response to :arrow: post #32.
    It is true that the WR dictionary at this point lists "other" only as an adjective. However, "other" can also be a noun or a pronoun. Here, I would say that it is a noun. In combination "each other", it is in the singular, as you say.

    So I agree with you in that.

    I hope that I understood what you were saying. If not, please let me know.
  34. Pablito Clavo un Clavito Member

    Spanish, lunfardo
    Cagey, but pronouns can be adjectives or nouns. This one seems to be an adjective. Am I wrong?
  35. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    When I say, "I am writing this with the other hand" other is an adjective; it describes "hand".

    When I say, "Each hand washes the other", other acts as a noun, the object of washes.

    If I say "Others will explain this differently", others is a pronoun, referring to people.
  36. Pablito Clavo un Clavito Member

    Spanish, lunfardo
    I think I get it now, thnx so much
  37. MikeT New Member

    English - U.S.
    I started reading at the beginning of this topic, and pretty soon realized that nobody was answering what I thought was a pretty apparent question. I think webcricket's comment above is the best way to lead in to my question.

    I definitely understand the singularity of each person holding one other person's hand. However, what if there is more than one person with whom you are holding hands? Consider this:

    You are with two other people. That means that there are you and two others ("others" with an "s"). You are holding Person A's hand and you are also holding Person B's hand. Person A and Person B are also holding hands. That means two things: (1) you are holding the others' hands, and (2) all three of you are holding each other's (or each others') hands.

    I can see how this would require the apostrophe to be after the "s" because you are holding multiple hands from multiple people ("multiple people" = the others who are with you). Which is correct?
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2010
  38. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Welcome to the forum, MikeT. :)

    I believe you are proposing something like this.
    Three people were holding each other's hand.
    My answer would be that "each" means that you are dealing with a singular "other", more exactly, with a series of singular others. That is why I would place the apostrophe as I did.

    Whether it should be hand or hands is less clear to me. Possibly it should be hand on the grounds that we are talking about the reciprocal hand-holding that is being done on an individual basis. However, each person will be holding two hands, and the singular sounds odd after three people, so I think I would say hands.

    It's an awkward sentence. In real life, I would express the idea differently, in the unlikely circumstance that I had to describe such a situation.

    If I misunderstood you question, please let me know.
  39. MikeT New Member

    English - U.S.
    Thanks! You did understand my question correctly.

    I think I was uncertain of what the word "other" references. In my head I was thinking of "each other" as meaning "each" person's perspective of the "other(s)" around them (typing this reasoning makes it seem ridiculous to me now). After your response I now believe that the correct meaning of "each other" is that "other" refers to a single person, and "each" has its standard meaning of applying the statement to every person individually.

    In other words, my new conclusion is that "each other" is akin to saying "each person". Rewriting the sentence this way would produce:
    Three people were holding each person's hand.

    This is awkward but helps display the role of "each other" in the sentence and why the apostrophe goes before the "s". It also helps clarify why "hand" should not be plural, even when multiple hands are being held.

    Is my description clear enough to understand?
  40. EdsRus New Member

    English UK
    From Chambers Punctuation Guide:

    "Traditionally each other has been used for two people or objects and one another for three or more people or objects. In modern distinction this is not strictly applied."


    In the case of two people:

    Each was holding the other's hand.
    (i.e. each person is holding one hand of the other person)

    Each was holding the other's hands.
    (i.e. each person is holding both hands of the other person)


    They were holding each other's hands.

    In this sentence They (plural) denotes hands (plural)

    But NOT

    Each was holding the others' hands.

    Because that would imply there were more than two people.

    (Though it would be much simpler and more common to say:

    'They were holding hands'!)

    If the Chambers rule is applied, and if there were three (or more people), you could say:

    They were holding one another's hands

    But again, the simpler way of expressing it would be:

    'They were all holding hands.'

    Others may also become pluralised to become others' when there is no 'each' in the phrase.


    The small boy's hands were dirty; the others' hands were clean.


    The small boy's hands were dirty. Each of the other's had clean hands.

    (Again, it is simpler to write it as:

    The small boy had dirty hands. All the others had clean hands!)

    The clue seems to lie in the fact that the basic phrase is each other not each others, even when it is split within a sentence.

    Hope that helps.

    And I hope that the person who started this thread in 2005 isn't still worrying about it!
  41. EdsRus New Member

    English UK
    P.S. Sorry - new to this forum business. I should have replied to the question:

    So -

    it would be each other's messages (two people)

    Or -

    one another's messages (more than two people)

    Never each others' messages.

    Though you could probably use each other's messages to denote more than two people, without anyone either noticing or worrying!
  42. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Nicely put, EdsRus!

    Welcome to the forums:)
  43. Sharper11 New Member

    [first post]
    "Eachother" sounds to me like just another of the concatenations spawned by the internet: two words which can easily stand alone are written as one. Maybe I'm showing my age. ;)
  44. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    As I see it, the base of the sentence is "They looked at faces". "Each other's" tells us whose faces they were looking at but it doesn't negate the fact that they were looking at more than one face. Together, they were not looking at one face, as in "They looked at the face of the mountain."

    The same is true for "They are at each other's throats". They are at throats. The throats happen to be each other's.
  45. Grammar King New Member

    English - American
    I believe I have solved this dilemma using the following resources:
    Garner's Modern American Usage by Bryan Garner. Copyright 2003

    And the following examples:

    Nobody, it may be said, proposes that Paris and Berlin should in future settle their disputes, like Rome and Alba Longa, by selecting three champions apiece and setting them to cut each others' throats.

    The Idea of a League of Nations (part two)
    H.G. Wells

    Upon each others' hearts
    They shall surprise the heart-beat of the world,
    And feel a sense of life in things inert...

    Ogrin the Hermit
    Edith Wharton

    You can think of the word "each other" as a singular set of common lifeforms, or in English grammar, two common subjects.

    Bob Looks at Mary
    Mary Looks at Bob
    They look at each other

    Let us break it down:
    They look at each other
    (Mary and Bob) (the set)

    When it's possessive, let's see what happens:

    Bob's candy was eaten with Mary (vice versa)
    They ate each other's candy

    They ate each other's candies

    Another example:

    Mary slapped Bob's face (vice versa)
    They slapped each other's face

    They slapped each other's faces

    Why it's wrong:
    The face of Bob = Bob's faces (incorrect)
    The face of Mary = Mary's faces (incorrect)

    Why are face and candy not plural? Well, a single set is never plural, and the set itself is one object. So in a set, the common noun, (candy, face), is referred to once. They only exception is if the subjects are also performing the action on themselves. We'll get to that later.

    So when do we use each others'? It happens when we have multiple sets. This happens when you have more than two subjects, such as three people. Here's an example.

    Bob, Mary, and Sally have candy.
    Set 1: Bob's candy is shared with Mary (and vice versa).
    Set 2: Sally's candy is shared with Bob (and vice versa).
    Set 3: Mary's candy is shared with Sally (and vice versa).
    They share each others' candies

    Whoa, but didn't you just say candies is wrong? Yes I did, but now the sets themselves have become plural. I now have many sets of candy, so candy becomes candies. I now have many possessive sets combining to form one plural set, so each other's becomes each others'.

    This applies perfectly to H.G. Wells excerpt:

    Rome has three champions (with three throats to be cut)
    Alba Longa has three champions (with three throats to be cut)
    (They) will cut each others' throats

    Now earlier I said their is an exception to the singular rule where each others' can be used. There is, but it only applies in one case. If the subjects are also performing the action on themselves. Example:

    Mary slapped her own face and Bob's face (vice versa)
    They slapped each others' faces

    Bob ate his own candy, which was also eaten with Mary (vice versa)
    They ate each others' candies

    This works the same exact way as the multiple set, since we are now counting the two singular actions and the shared action as three sets. (The action performed on self, the other person, and the other person performing the action.) And since we have three sets, each others' is plural, and the noun that follows.

    Why is it like this? I don't know, I did not make up the English language. But this does make sense when you are trying to describe multiple possessive sets containing multiple people and the shared actions between them.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2010
  46. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Response to post 45

    Welcome to the forums, Grammar King!

    Your post is a complicated one, but I have a simple answer.... As far as I'm concerned, each others' is always wrong, wherever found - even in a book by H G Wells ;).
  47. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    From this post, made long ago, it appears that others use the same work by Bryan Garner to argue strongly for "each other's" as "the proper possessive form".
  48. I_Daniel Member

    Pretoria.South Africa
    Afrikaans/South African English
    As Panjandrum said "each" is the defining word and it is thus the singular and not the plural that must be used for other.. (Each other's)
  49. harrisv New Member

    British English
    This all seems fairly straightforward to me. The word each gives us everything:

    1. Each is singular so: each other's

    2. The noun that follows is singular if each person has one, plural if each has more. You are talking about how many things each person has. Not how many in total between them. Hence:

    each other's face
    each other's shoes

    You can say each other's shoe but the meaning is each person has only one shoe.
  50. Словеса Senior Member

    I think that this usage is very logical, and saying "we looked at each other's umbrella" would indeed defy the logic! There are two instances of looking, two umbrellas; it is not the same umbrella that is shared between the two people. So, we cannot say, "they looked at the umbrella". Instead, "each other", being the idea of reciprocacity, is indeed shared, it's the same for both umbrellas. Here are two umbrellas of the other person, two the other person's umbrellas; being the other person's is their shared quality that is the same for both, it is not doubled. With performance, it is uncountable, so I think it is again shared, like air is shared for all people.

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