Is it correct to use the word "both" when referring to different things?

For example:

The twins both went to different colleges

Both David's hands worked at different tasks

I would have thought that it would be correct to use the word "each" instead of "both".

I have come across this a number of times and I'm wondering if I am simply too pedantic.

  • The other reading for the first sentence would be rendered 'The twins went to different colleges' (or 'The twins did not attend the same college' for absolute clarification). // As WV implies, the second sentence would be rephrased. Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 18:08

1 Answer 1


It depends on the intended meaning. In the first one each twin went to more than one college: Alex went to colleges A, B, C... and similar for Bob.

The second one sounds unnatural. If you are talking about David's hands, then you don't need to say both.

Both is a collective noun.

The Cambridge Dictionary has an interesting counter-example though:

I think it's important to listen to both sides of the argument.

  • It's a determiner when used before a NP. I think I'd say when used after a NP also (Both the twins went ... / The twins both went ...). Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 18:09
  • As I thought. The second one is a direct quote from a book I just finished - I added the "(his)" for clarity. Also, in the first one it is meant to mean that each of them only went to one college just not the same as the other.
    – theblitz
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 18:14
  • Then the first one is incorrect. You can disambiguate with "The twins each went to a different college". Your 'both' implies they did the same thing: went to [various] colleges. Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 18:15
  • 1
    I have a prescription that reads "Place one drop in both eyes...". I cringe every time I see it.
    – Jim Mack
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 20:32
  • @JimMack hah! Is half a drop in each eye even achievable? Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 20:42

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