Which part of speech is "each" in this sentence?

They each gave me a kiss.

Some thoughts:

The dictionary says "each" can be an adjective, pronoun or adverb.

Adverb? That sounds plausible by analogy from:

They together gave me some money.

But the dictionary's examples for adverbial usage are only things like "ten cents each." So maybe not.

Adjective? The dictionary says:

usage: When the adjective each follows a plural subject, the verb agrees with the subject: The houses each have central heating.

But does that mean "each" is modifying "They"? That sounds weird.

Pronoun? According to this view, "They" and "each" would form an apposition. This "apposition" theory may get support from something like:

They could none of them say anything useful.

if you are (a) inclined to see an apposition of "they : none of them" because "none" is not a dictionary adverb and (b) big on consistent treatment of similar structures.

In sum, the question is on standard treatment by traditional grammar of "They each." (I am adding this remark here after receiving some answers that were very valuable but not a reference to traditional grammar on the exact typographic form "They each.")

Please give me your source or authority for the answer if at all possible.


4 Answers 4


Each is a Quantifier. Quantifiers, like Articles, are a kind of Determiner.

The quantifiers each and all (but not some or every) can undergo Quantifier-Float,
  for example     Each/All of them kissed her   ==>   They each/all kissed her.
  but not     Every man/Some men kissed her   ==>   *The men every/some kissed her.

In other words, while quantifiers normally occur before the noun phrase they determine,
in some cases they can occur before the verb phrase, like an adverb or a negative.
This does not mean they are adverbs; it just means they're acting like adverbs.
Just like the fact that a gerund may be acting like a noun in some cases doesn't make it a noun.

  • 1
    Well, if it walks like a duck ...
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 16:35
  • 1
    I am sorry to get vulgar, but looking at your profile and the other answer you linked I realize that I've just hit the jackpot! Your brief history of the "Top Eight" tells me I didn't know what I meant by "traditional grammar."
    – Catomic
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 17:03

The term "adverb" might describe "each" in regard to its place in the structure of a clause, but it doesn't correctly describe its function, which is that of a quantifier of the subject noun phrase (typically) or some other noun phrase in the clause. It is usually analyzed as a floated quantifier, which in your example would come from the subject: "Each of them gave me a kiss."

You can read McCawley's discussion of floated quantifiers in TSPE on line starting at page 98 here.

After reviewing McCawley's discussion, I realize that there is a noteworthy complication with the original example, due to the fact that the subject is a pronoun: "They each gave me a kiss." The "each" could be a derived adverb, derived from the original quantifier, as I wrote above, but there is a structural ambiguity here. The "each" could still be within the subject noun phrase, presumably still a quantifier, because it might get to its position after "they" by McCawley's rule of quantifier-pronoun flip. In that case, it is not an adverb at all.


Each above is used as an adverb, not as a pronoun as defined in Merriam-Webster.

: to or for each: We were allowed two tries each.

In Oxford Dictionary it is explained in more details:

[Adverb] To, for, or by every one of a group (used after a noun or an amount):

"They each gave me a kiss" can be reconstructed to "Each (Pronoun) of them gave me a kiss" or They one by one/individually gave me a kiss.

  • Thanks, but the Merriam-Webster example is a "ten cents each" type, meaning "per" some unit. The Oxford dictionary's "after a noun or an amount" also looks suspiciously like a reference to "amount per unit" type of usage. I would really like a source that unambiguously uses an example like "They each." I think I need that to override the bit about "When the adjective each follows a plural subject."
    – Catomic
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 6:25
  • Why do you think there is a difference between Ten cents each and "They each"? Becasue they is not a unit? It is not a unit in "We were allowed two tries each". It can be changed to "We each were allowed two tries". No difference there. It proves it is used as an adverb.
    – user140086
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 6:32

I would explain "They each gave me a kiss" as a shortening of " They, each of them, gave me a kiss". In the long form "each" in "each of them" is a pronoun. And I wouldn't rack my brain what word class "each" is in the shortened form "they each".

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