Q&A: Others vs other’s vs others’

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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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