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I just edited this answer on unix.sx. The original sentence was

But it won't transform it to an other format.

I changed this to

But it won't transform it to another format.

The second form is standard, but is the first correct?

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There is the possibility that you should have corrected it to "any other" instead of "another"... :-) –  Hellion Jan 31 '12 at 3:57
    
@Hellion: What is the difference between these? –  Faheem Mitha Jan 31 '12 at 4:12
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“Any other” and “another” are very similar in meaning, but not always interchangeable. “He loves another woman” means a particular woman. “He loves any other woman” means he is not so particular. –  MετάEd Jan 31 '12 at 15:24
    
@MetaEd: Sure. My question was about which was more suitable in this context, and why. –  Faheem Mitha Jan 31 '12 at 16:12
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When things are promoted or defended solely because of fashion or tradition, it means there is no real justification. Hence my skepticism every time there is mention of either word. –  user27283 Oct 11 '12 at 8:05
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4 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The string an other is vanishingly rare in English. In contrast another is positively pervasive. I think it would be fair to say that the second has eclipsed the first to the point of making the first unacceptable, even though it is a grammatical string.

Both an and another are members of the category of determiners, while other, on the other hand, is an adjective. There's no grammatical reason why DET + ADJ would unacceptable. So, it must simply be a matter of convention that makes an other unacceptable.

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"An other" is not preferred and, perhaps, even generally avoided because it is out of fashion, but is it really unacceptable if it is not incorrect? –  Frank Mar 18 at 5:07
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Here is a general rule of thumb: if you mean "a different [noun]", then it is more appropriate to use "an other"; if you mean "an additional [noun]", then it is more appropriate to use "another".

So in your example you should use "But it won't transform it to an other format."

Also take a look at Brett Reynolds' answer. It is good from a syntactical point of view.

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Thanks for the feedback, @MageWind. –  Faheem Mitha Jul 17 '13 at 6:36
    
Do you have any sources for this rule? I can find no dictionary support for it, or indeed for the existence of ‘an other’ in current English at all, whereas both meanings you mention are given for ‘another’ in all dictionaries I have checked. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 17 '13 at 10:34
    
No, I was just speaking for experience. That "rule of thumb" is just something I made up because there are cases when "another" doesn't fit with what you are actually trying to say. –  MageWind Jul 19 '13 at 1:28
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In my opinion, just because "an other" is "vanishingly rare", that doesn't make its usage "unacceptable". In my situation, which is advising (via a letter) a candidate for an employment position who has not been chosen, it doesn't seem appropriate for me to tell him that "another" candidate has been selected, but it does seem appropriate for me to tell him that "an other" candidate has been selected. My aversion to "another" is because that seems to me to be saying that an additional candidate has been selected, rather than a different candidate being selected. Bottom line...that distinction is my "rule of thumb" too.

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Both an other and another can have both the meanings that you suggest, and the candidate has no way of knowing that you personally differentiate between them in this way. –  Jon Hanna Feb 28 at 17:05
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Historically, another and an other are simply two ways to write the same thing, and those dictionaries that are extensive in their example quotations may include an other as an example of another.

A similar word is cannot which is merely a way to write can not.

There is no difference in meaning between the two; all meanings of all sense of one are also a meaning of a sense of the other.

But history having moved on, we simply don't use an other much as we don't use mannes for man's, neyther for neither, and so on. As such your edit was correct.

About the one case I can think of where an other is to be favoured over another is if translating Rimbaud's "Je est un autre", I'd favour "I is an other" to "I is another", but bending the rules to put an emphasis on the word other in this way is acceptable precisely because one has already broken them in using the rule-breaking "I is…" to match the rule-breaking "Je est…".

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