1

Should it be singular or plural after “each other’s” here.

  1. They touched each other’s nose.

  2. They touched each other’s noses.

Are both correct?

John Lawler notes in another post that each other can be broken up. This would give us:

  1. They each touched the other's nose
  2. *They each touched the other's noses

However, this rewriting of the sentences seems to be slightly different, perhaps because of the definite article, the, before the word other's.


Note:

Of course, it's trivially true in relation to this question that the example (4) would be fine if people had several noses. The asterisk in the example indicates that this is not a grammatical means of indicating the same meaning as given in (1).

19
  • 1
    Work/s in your cited context can be either singular or plural (compare He's a great artist! I really like his work/s), so it doesn't really tell you much about how "each other's NOUN" works in such contexts. A better example context might be, say, They touched each other's nose/s. As you'll see from that chart, most people use the plural there, but singular is far from unknown. Jun 7, 2023 at 14:50
  • 2
    Define "correct". As it happens, my natural inclination was to go for the singular in both the work and the nose examples. But if there was really a concept of "correct usage", it could only apply to nose/s - because as I pointed out, both work and works can often be effectively synonymous. But nose and noses are obviously completely different - you couldn't possibly say something like She's got a great face for a model! I really like her noses! Jun 7, 2023 at 15:20
  • 1
    I don't think the edit was a particularly good one. The reason for closure was not because you asked about "each other's work" vs "each other's works", so changing work with nose still doesn't show research or effort. P.S Use the past simple for the original example: “Researchers cited…” just like you did for "touched"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 7, 2023 at 21:24
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Well, you'll need to vote to reopen it too! Jun 10, 2023 at 9:38
  • 2
    Perhaps it's an age thing. Here's the usage chart for do each other's job/s in the post-war decades when I was picking up my language skills. During that period, the singular was most common, but it's all changed now. Jun 10, 2023 at 16:34

1 Answer 1

5

Correct is somewhat subjective here. One version is more logical; the other is more common. Sometimes you must decide between standing on principle and sounding normal. Says one linguist:

What about the noun that follows “each other’s”—are we supposed to use a singular noun (e.g. “each other’s face”) or a plural noun (e.g. “each other’s faces”)?

The answer is: Both forms are common. Since “each other’s” basically means “(mutually) the other person’s”, and we wouldn’t say “the other person’s faces” (unless the other person is two-faced), it makes more sense to say “each other’s face”. Nevertheless, the plural form seems to be more common in modern usage, so it can hardly be considered incorrect. In summary:

We saw each other’s faces. (correct, more common)
We saw each other’s face. (correct, more logical)

Source: Jakub Marian — Each other’s vs. each others’ in English

In these search results at the Corpus of Contemporary American English, you can see it in action and judge for yourself:

each other 's face
each other 's faces
each other 's nose
each other 's noses

3
  • Not only is the plural more common, but it also has a logical basis (apparently missed by Marian): The subject is plural, and it does not appear that multiple people are touching only one nose (or that multiple people are seeing only one face). Jun 17, 2023 at 0:51
  • @MarcInManhattan — One nose touched per person in the above sentences. Jun 18, 2023 at 0:34
  • Yes, exactly, so plural people touching plural noses. It makes sense. Jun 18, 2023 at 0:49

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