12

If a possessive noun, which is plural, is preceded by "each", then should it use the singular or plural possessive form?

For example, which of the following is correct?

  • spend time in each other's presence
  • spend time in each others' presence
  • 1
    If this is not to be something more than off-topic proofreading, you should expand upon your research, your thinking, and your question. – tchrist Nov 22 '12 at 15:51
  • 4
    There are apparently 650,000 instances of in each others' in Google Books, so if this really is General Reference, that's still a lot of published writers getting it wrong. For that reason alone, I'm not going to closevote. – FumbleFingers Nov 22 '12 at 18:05
  • I have voted to close this question. It is based on a false premise and has led to an off-topic debate about a specific example. Note: The false premise is that a plural noun can be preceded by 'each'. It can't because 'each' is always singular. This is independent of whether there is a possessive. The false premise is stated implicitly but glossed over in the first clause of the first sentence. – chasly from UK Sep 29 '15 at 21:24
  • @chaslyfromUK: where is the off-topic debate? The top-voted answer says the same thing you do in your answer, just shorter. Another answer, although it has clearly been controversial, gives an example of why some people might use each others'. The third answer is just wrong, yes. That's hardly a lot of answers. – herisson Sep 29 '15 at 21:50
  • 1
    @sumelic - That is a fair comment. I should not blame the OP for the ensuing debate. Instead I should, and do, blame the OP for sneaking in a controversial assumption in the first sentence. The assumption is that you could say for example, "each men" or "each rabbits" or "each oases" or use 'each' with any other plural noun. This assumption invalidates the rest of the question. I'd give dictionary and grammar support for my view that 'each' cannot be followed by a plural but then that would become an off-topic answer to a question that I don't accept in the first place. – chasly from UK Sep 29 '15 at 22:00
13

Each other is singular, so the correct possessive is each other's.

Edit:
I found some controversy on this on the web because each other implies that there are multiple people involved, hence people think it is plural and should be written each others'. This, however, is wrong as each is always singular.

  • 6
    Controvery may exist, but it is misled and misleading, because quite simply each takes a singular, always. You do not and cannot say each *men; you only and always say each man. That shows why each others' is necessarily wrong. – tchrist Nov 22 '12 at 15:56
  • @tchrist: However, "each other" doesn't behave exactly like "each man": we would say "each man's presence," not "each man's presences." Your argument suggests that we should say "each other's presence", but we don't. – herisson Jun 16 '17 at 7:41
  • @sumelic but each other's presence is exactly something I'd say. Why wouldn't you? – Bob Stein May 26 '19 at 17:25
0

You may find that style guides say that it must be other's, but both can be defended, other’s because presence is singular, others’ because there is a degree of mutuality in the state described. As Pam Peters put it in ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’, ‘the formal grammar of words and the notional grammar of the underlying semantics are at loggerheads.’

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can omit the apostrophe altogether.

  • 2
    Hmm. There's a fine line between being adventurous and being mistaken. Like jumping over a wall to find a forty-foot drop on the other side. – Andrew Leach Nov 22 '12 at 15:52
  • When do you use each with a plural noun? Never. It must be each man, never each *men. That puts to bed any possibility of each *others'. – tchrist Nov 22 '12 at 15:58
  • 1
    @tchrist. Pam Peters (see my answer) considers the sentence The group read each other’s / others’ letters. She comments ‘there are multiple participants “in the group” . . . other’s seems a little awkward when the noun following is plural (letters) and the wording implies more than a single exchange.’ But remove the apostrophe altogether and any problem disappears. – Barrie England Nov 22 '12 at 16:06
  • 1
    @Edwin Ashworth. The John Lewis restaurant in Reading has a sign over the counter for younger eaters that proclaims Childrens. Kingsley Amis gave the example Those things are my husband’s compared with Those things are my husbands. In practice, context, will remove most ambiguity. There are no apostrophes in speech. – Barrie England Nov 22 '12 at 18:55
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach: Even in that example, the parents don't 'possess' the evening, but an example which shows attributive use perhaps even more clearly is teachers college. – Barrie England Nov 22 '12 at 19:25
-2

Surely it's always each others
Each other is a (reciprocal) pronoun, so in its possessive case it becomes a possessive pronoun.
None of the others: its, his, hers, yours, whose etc has an apostrophe. Adding one is generally seen as a sign of poor literacy.

  • 1
    This answer is based on a false rule: not all pronouns lack an apostrophe in the possessive form. For example, this is not true for indefinite pronouns like "one's, someone's, somebody's." – herisson Sep 29 '15 at 21:24

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.