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”.
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!