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The following two sentences are taken from A comprehensive grammar of the English language by R. Quirk et al.:

  • "He saw one or other of the men."

  • "All of the compounds to be listed in this section are formed on one or other of the patterns already described."

And there are many more sentences in which "one or other" is used. Can it be considered correct? To my ears "one or other" doesn't seem grammatical. There's "one or another" or "one or the other".... But the above-mentioned one looks a bit strange.

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  • It sounds a'of' to me (an AmE speaker). I feel like an article or two are missing, but adding them in still doesn't work. Can you explain exactly (in other terms) what is the intention of the phrase? Did he see 'more than one man' or did he see 'at least one man' or did he see 'one man, unspecified, of the group of men' or... – Mitch Apr 8 '12 at 12:31
  • Oops. Should have been: "It sounds off to me". I would expect 'one or the other'. – Mitch Apr 9 '12 at 12:28
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It's grammatical and is often used when the writer or speaker isn't sure about the identity of two or more alternatives. He saw one or other of the men means that he certainly saw a man, but didn't know which one.

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  • 1
    It sounds awkward to me, but I'm glad to learn something new here. Thanks, +1. – J.R. Apr 8 '12 at 11:26
  • Thank you very much,Barrie! :) Another question is whether this collocation is used frequently. Having tried to google it, I found almost none with "one or other". Moreover, it's listed in neither Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English nor Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary.. – Desert Apr 8 '12 at 11:44
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    @Desert: There may be a transatlantic difference. The British National Corpus has 268 records of ‘one or other of’, against 25 in the Corpus of Contemporary American English. The OED has 368 citations that include the phrase. – Barrie England Apr 8 '12 at 11:51
  • BTW, can "one or other" be considered a collocation? – Desert Apr 8 '12 at 12:44
  • @Desert: ‘Collocation’ describes two or more words that are frequently found in close proximity, like ‘thunder and lightning’ or ‘law and order’. I’m not sure ‘one or other’ is quite the same. – Barrie England Apr 8 '12 at 15:11
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In the pattern ~ of the [noun], ~ cannot be filled by an adjective, which is what other is usually considered to be. It is most common for that slot to be filled by a determiner. There are examples of adjectives becoming reanalyzed as determiners (e.g., several), so this suggests that, for this author, other is a determiner. Examples outside the particular string one or other of the are attested but rare.

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