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.

  • 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

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.

  • 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
  • 1
    @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. 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. Apr 8 '12 at 15:11

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.


Other is in the status where it is in a coordination with one, which is a determinative and can readily functions as determiner in the construction one of the men.

Since this is a coordination, according with the general rule other should be able to stand on its own in this position giving other of the men, which sounds to me at best very awkward.

However, this kind of construction one or other of the men, though not common, is indeed found in text from famous writers and should be attested.

Moreover, cases where I observe this construction all involve a set of only two members rather than one with multiple members, which is indicated by Barrie England in his answer.

And there are other cases where a head noun is present such as one or other man of the twins, in which case other is an adjectival modifier from my point of view, which normally cannot stand as a fused head as one, just as explained in the answer of Brett Reynolds.

So I suppose that the construction one or other of the men is some kind of idiom, in which case other may be an alternant of another, which is a determinative and can occur in this function as readily as one can, or a fused modifier-head not commonly found elsewhere.

This is pure supposition and I do not have any further evidence.

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