Q&A: Others vs other’s vs others’

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we're playing well with others…

Q: Hi AWC, have you seen the 2001 film The Others starring Nicole Kidman?

A: Yes, we have – careful though, don’t give away any spoilers.

Q: You mean that there’s lots of fog and a big old house?

A: No, that they were all really Bruce Willis the whole time.

Q: I thought I was meant to say the random things around here.

A: We can do each other’s jobs every now and then.

Q: Aha — great segue. So if you say “each other’s” it has an apostrophe before the S? Not each others’ or each others?

A: That’s right. In this case “each other” is treated as a singular entity – despite the fact that there are clearly two parties involved.

Q: Did you say two parties?

A: Please don’t do a thing about two cakes, two sets of balloons and two DJs.

Q: Fine, I won’t.

A: Good. So, like most singular nouns that indicate possession with apostrophe-S, so too does “other”. When teamed up with “each other” we get an example like: “The school children ate each other’s sandwiches.”

Q: Were any of them Nutella sandwiches?

A: No, the school has banned all nuts due to little Jaxon in year 1 who has an allergy.

Q: I knew a girl once with a peanut allergy. Her name was Anna…

A: That’s nice.

Q: … Anna Phylaxis.

A: Ignoring that. So was it just one question about “others” – or did you have others?

Q: Actually I do have others. Are all three variations possible in English? Others, other’s and others’?

A: They sure are. As we’ve already established, “other’s” is the possessive form of “other”. So for the other two, let’s imagine there are some chocolate bunnies on a table. Three people donated them (as part of some bizarre grammar experiment). So for the plural, we might say “I’ll take these bunnies and you take the others”.

Q: Okay, sure.

A: “Others” without an apostrophe is just your run of the mill plural.

Q: When I was young, my dad once gave me run of the mill. The town didn’t eat bread that week…

A: Sorry to hear that. Anyway, our other example might be: “I’ll take this person’s bunnies and you take the others’ bunnies.” Those bunnies belong to more than one person – a group – hence the apostrophe after the S.

Q: This all seems very greedy…

A: Yes, true. It’s not even Easter yet.

Q: So I could say “Eating all that chocolate affected others’ opinions of her”?

A: That’s right – it’s clear that there are multiple opinions, so they belong to a group.

Q: Any final comments?

A: Well, this chat only scratches the surface of the many hats that the word “other” uses. We might just mention one more time you’ll see “other’s” – as a contraction for “other is”.

Q: Example?

A: “There are two chocolate bunnies left over from the experiment. One is here and the other’s over there.”

Q: Seems rather colloquial. A bit like “This epinephrine pen’s so useful”.

A: Yes, we’d suggest restricting contractions like these to dialogue. But just letting you know they exist.

Q: Good on you – we always have each other’s best interests at heart.

A: There are others who may disagree with you, but that’s just others’ opinions.

Q: Wow, you’re good.

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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