Reciprocal Pronouns

Reciprocal Pronouns

A reciprocal pronoun is used to express a mutual action or relationship. There are two reciprocal pronouns:
  • Each other
  • One another

Easy Examples of Reciprocal Pronouns

  • Jack and Jill hate each other.
  • (Note that Jack hates Jill, and Jill hates Jack. The action is reciprocated.)
  • Have you seen each other 's solution?
  • The crayfish started eating one another.
  • They deliberately blocked one another'sproposals.

Real-Life Examples of Reciprocal Pronouns

  • When two people are like each other, they tend to like each other. (US author Tony Robbins)
  • Gentlemen don't read each other's mail. (US Secretary of War Henry Stimson)
  • Laws, like houses, lean on one another. (Statesman Edmund Burke)
  • America is a land of small talk because we won't violate one another's privacies. (Author Karan Mahajan)

Why Should I Care about Reciprocal Pronouns?

There are two common questions related to reciprocal pronouns?

(1) Do you write each others' or each other's?

Write each other's and one another's. (In other words, put the apostrophe before the s when you need the possessive form.)
  • We drink one another's healths and spoil our own. (Author Jerome K Jerome)
Even though a reciprocal pronoun refers to two or more things (called its antecedent), the possessive form is created by adding 's (i.e., like creating the possessive form of a singular noun). Some writers, feeling the plurality of a reciprocal pronoun, feel an urge to place the apostrophe after the s (i.e., like creating the possessive form of a plural noun). Whatever. The apostrophe goes before the s. End of chat.

(2) What's the difference between each other and one another?

Here's the quick answer: If there are two things, use each other. If there are more, use one another. Here's more: When the antecedent of a reciprocal pronoun is two things, use each other.
  • My dog and cat love each other.
  • (The antecedent, i.e., what each other refers to, is two things.)
When the antecedent of a reciprocal pronoun is more than two things, use one another.
  • My dog, cat and emu love one another.
  • (The antecedent is three things.)
Under this ruling, the following quotation is wrong:
  • I think a couple should complete one another, not compete with one another. [wrong] (Singer Marie Osmond)
  • (As a couple is two people, each other would have been tidier.)
It's a little more complicated than that because it depends on what the writer had in mind:
  • Friends are kind to one another's dreams. (Philosopher Henry David Thoreau)
  • Friends are kind to each another 's dreams.
  • (Both of these could be correct. In the second version, the writer might have been focused on how one person treats another, i.e., two people.)
  • Old and young disbelieve one another's truths. (Aphorist Mason Cooley)
  • (Each other could be justified if you envisage an old person disbelieving a young person.)
If you're picked up for writing each other instead of one another, there's a fair chance you can fight back by claiming you had two people (or things) in mind. If you're picked up for writing one another instead of each other (i.e., for using one another with an antecedent of two), then you're toast. More generally, if you're picked up for using the wrong reciprocal pronoun, then you have a world-class grammar pedant on your hands.

Key Points

  • Write each other's and one another's (not each others' and one anothers').
  • If you're talking about two things, use each other. If you're talking about more, use one another.
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