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A common idiom is:

This is just one person's word against another.

Is the correct form another or another's? I assumed the extended forms would be:

This is just one person's word against another person's word.

This is just one person's word against another's word.

But I often see the form without a second possessive.

  • They's only "guesstimates", but Google Books claims 4990 instances of the (imho, almost anally pedantic) "one person's word against another's", against 3120 for "one person's word against another". – FumbleFingers Mar 11 '14 at 21:53
  • ...on the other hand, if I force it to show me a "verifiable" number of instances by putting the word "just" in front of each search term, I end up with 27 for another and 21 for another's. I'd go with that majority. – FumbleFingers Mar 11 '14 at 21:55
  • Anyway, I think this question steers extremely (maybe too) close to being a "peeve". But I'll leave that to others to decide. – FumbleFingers Mar 11 '14 at 22:03
  • FWIW, I'm not peeving. I just assumed an answer and when I saw someone use it the other way I figured this would be the best place to get a definitive answer (if one exists.) – MrHen Mar 11 '14 at 22:49
  • Well, I'm assuming from your "extended forms" that you understand the logic involved (and thus by implication, the strictly grammatical position). So far as I can see, the "definitive answer" is that the "wrong" form is used at least sufficiently often that it smacks of pedantry to label it thus. But I will admit I'm intrigued that David finds the (to me, "verbosely punctilious") extended version "more mellifluous", but I don't see even that helps much with the "correct/incorrect" classification. – FumbleFingers Mar 11 '14 at 23:04
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Per my first comment to the question, "guesstimates" from Google Books: one person's word against another's -4990, one person's word against another - 3120. So you could say the "full" version "wins". But they're only estimates which are often wildly inaccurate - on a more specific search where I can actually check them all, it's another - 27, another's - 21.

The logical position - since it's always "your word against his" (not "your word against him"), obviously OP's version should also use the possessive.

But in practice many (perhaps even most) writers apparently choose to ignore that. And it's a pretty safe bet they're even more likely to do this in speech (people tend to write more "correctly" than they actually speak). And I rate the "grammar" of speech higher than that of logic and textbooks.

I personally find the "logically/grammatically" correct version unnecessarily cumbersome. There's no case for claiming the meaning could possibly be affected - we all know what it means, and it would be perverse to suppose "you against him" means anything different in such contexts than "your word against his word".


TL;DR: Pedantically speaking, you "should" use the possessive apostrophe. But I wouldn't bother.

As it happens (and as I just commented to @David's answer) I noticed "I asked her for a list of Charles' friends" when watching Missing, 1982 last night. Only one "s" was enunciated, which seems perfectly normal to me. If the context already strongly implies the possessive, why throw in another awkward consonant? So many people don't, it just seems pointless to claim they should.

  • +1 because this damned near borders on a concession speech! ;-p How do you do the more specific search, BTW? I was trying to do that, but could only get an NGRAM. Or is it a specific search of Google Books? – David M Mar 12 '14 at 2:47
  • @David: Do my four links not take you to exactly the Google Books searches? They do for me (only for some reason the another's one has now dropped from 21 to 20). I just paged through to the final "verified" totals after including the extra word "just" before "one". The verified totals being what it could actually show me, rather than what it "guessed" it would have before being forced to find and display them all. If you click through to each link, and then click on the "search books" magnifying glass, you'll see the initial guesses of 55 and 49 that I got before paging through. – FumbleFingers Mar 12 '14 at 3:21
  • Only link I'm seeing is the one for Missing, 1982. – David M Mar 12 '14 at 4:04
  • Ohhhhhh comments above. Nevermind. – David M Mar 12 '14 at 4:05
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My understanding has always been that "another's" is correct.

Granted that both are grammatical, it still sounds more mellifluous (to my ear anyway) to say another's.

I agree that using another makes the (reasonable) assumption that it is against another person's word. But, you could also read that as their word against another person (not their word).

One person's word against another [person].

makes the same grammatical sense. (i.e. It is their insult against someone.)

Whereas, using the second possessive makes the meaning unambiguous.

One person's word against another's.

I cannot see any ambiguous meaning here. It can only be referring to the other person's word.

While I personally would choose the less ambiguous of the two, I think a case could be made for either usage.

  • I seem to be disagreeing with you a lot lately! I really can't see how it's "more mellifluous" to add that extra 's. The only justification for turning it into a tongue-twister is to avoid the risk of being set upon by Grammar Nazis - to my ear it just sounds clumsy, even if it's "justifiable" by strict grammar and logic. – FumbleFingers Mar 11 '14 at 22:00
  • @FumbleFingers it must be an accent difference. With my American accent it sounds better with it and flows better. – David M Mar 11 '14 at 22:26
  • Well, I realise this NGram might be distorted by usages that don't match our current context, but I'm not convinced that would be enough to affect the overall "preference". And switching to UK corpus instead of US doesn't indicate any significant difference on either side of the pond. – FumbleFingers Mar 11 '14 at 22:31
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    @FumbleFingers I have revised my answer above to make clearer which portions are my personal opinion. I personally don't see it as being a tongue-twister, you are entitled to disagree with that. – David M Mar 12 '14 at 0:24
  • Enough already! I bet if you had a friend called Charles, you'd always enunciate the extra "s" whenever you mentioned anything of his! But I more than suspect most actual parents of Charleses don't bother. (And all those Charleses's parents can't be wrong! :) – FumbleFingers Mar 12 '14 at 2:25
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  • One person's word against another person's word.

  • One person's word against another's word.

  • One person's word against that of another.

  • The word of one person against that of another person.

  • The word of one person against that of another.

Any of those is fine, IMO, and they all mean the same thing. And IMO this doesn't mean much at all:

One person's word against another. (Another what? Another word?)

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