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QUESTION #13 - USING RECIPROCAL PRONOUNS

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Date: [this is an updated old posting, previous to LSEG4 edition]
Q13: " . . . I am from India, and I teach English to students preparing for various entrance exams.

I want to know whether 'each other' and 'one another' can be used interchangeably, particularly when we are talking about categories under which there are sub-categories. For example:

      'Futures and options are similar to one another'--is this correct?

Please help ."


From LT - INDIA


A13.
The question submitted is interesting because it highlights a few collateral grammatical aspects which are frequent instances in our daily activity. Now, before anything else, "each other" and "one another" are not interchangeable. "Each other" refers to groups/series of two persons/elements, and "one another" is used only when the groups/series contain more than two persons/elements.

Secondly, you should note that the meaning of the sentence submitted to us is terribly confusing. Before starting any grammatical analysis, we need to analyze the meaning first; therefore, the meaning must be (made) perfect/complete. In this particular instance, the noun "futures" does not exist. "Future" is a unique noun having only the singular form, similar to "past" or "present".

We wrote back to LT protesting that the meaning of his sentence was absurd--it made no sense to us. His reply was: " . . . about futures and options--these terms are from finance."

Aha! Now things are clear, therefore we can start our grammatical analysis.

There are countless examples in our day to day life when people use specialty or little known words: financial, legal, technical, or colloquial. English grammar allows us to do that, but only when the meaning is made perfect/complete. That means, we have to mark all specialty/(little known) words appropriately, using punctuation. For example:

     "Futures" and "options" are similar to one another.

Although it is obvious now that the words "futures" and "options" refer to something else, the meaning is still a bit confusing. The reciprocal pronoun "one another" is marked in red, because we are not quite done with it.

This is a frequent practice in our day to day life, therefore we would like to emphasize grammatical rules again: specialty, little known, or custom words must be marked by quotes. If it is possible, it is a very good idea to detail/explain specialty, little known, or custom terms. For example:

     The "futures" plan and the "options" one are similar to each other.

Note that the reciprocal pronouns "each other" and "one another" are particular forms of reflexive pronouns: this time the action is reflected/redirected on another member of the group, not back on the subject. In LSEG4 it says: ". . . reciprocal pronouns are used personally, and impersonally--when it makes sense."

Reciprocal pronouns are used to explain that the action is redirected to/on another member of the group/series. In our particular example there is no action performed; we have only a comparison of two static states. Therefore, using any reciprocal pronouns in this instance is an error. The sentence should be something similar to:

     The "futures" (plan) and the "options" (one) are similar.

This is a clear example of uncontrolled meaning in English. Unfortunately, we hear more and more often expressions similar to the one submitted for analysis, and they are motivated as being "specialty" or whatever. There is no such thing, dear readers. Regardless of the domain we work in [say, medical or nuclear physics] ANY MEANING HAS TO BE MADE PERFECT/COMPLETE. English grammar allows us to express any logic meaning correctly; therefore, let's do that, dear friends.
 

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