Lesson #241: ‘Each other’ vs ‘one another’ through George Eliot’s ‘Daniel Deronda’

📗 Our novel today is George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876), which tells the story of two characters on a quest to find out their meaning in life and their place in the community they live in. While each of them has personal questions and struggles to face, sometimes they are able to share those experiences with each other.

This gave me the idea for a lesson on that exact topic: the differences (if any) between how we use ‘[one] another’ and ‘each other’ in English. As always, I will offer

  • definitions of ‘each other’ and ‘one another’ as reciprocal pronouns,
  • some explanations of how they are used, and
  • some illustrations taken directly from Eliot’s classic.

Lastly, we will look at how to use ‘each other’ and ‘one another’ either as direct or indirect objects in a sentence.

👉 This is a tricky point for many language students, so stay tuned till the end!


📝 RECIPROCAL PRONOUNS

✍️ To begin with, ‘each other’ and ‘[one] another’ are both reciprocal pronouns, meaning that some action involves someone else. In other words, the action goes from one person to another and is later reflected back somehow to the person or thing that started it.

You might describe it as a shared or returned exchange.

Don’t confuse reciprocal with reflexive. ⚠️ Reflexive pronouns refer to one person doing something to herself/himself. ✒️ E.g. I hurt myself when I was cutting the vegetables, she taught herself German, etc. No one else is involved.

Some say that ‘each other’ involves only two people (🧍‍♀️ 🧍), whereas ‘one another’ involves more than two (🧍 👫👫), but in practice the ‘each other’ and ‘one another’ are often used interchangeably.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these reciprocal pronouns.


📝 ANOTHER

‘Another’ simply means ‘one other person or thing’ of the same kind as someone/something already mentioned or known about.

✍️ It can be used as a determiner, a pronoun, an adjective, even a noun.

📗 ‘“Yes, we should be glad of something popular now— another song from you would be a relaxation,” said Mrs. Arrowpoint, who had also come near with polite intentions.’

– George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (emphasis mine)

📗 ‘Clearly it was faint praise to say of him that he was not disgusting: he was almost charming; and she felt at this moment that it was not likely she could ever have loved another man better than this one.’

– George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (emphasis mine)

👉 When we want to indicate possession, we treat ‘another’ as we would any other noun, writing it with an apostrophe followed by an ‘s’:

📗 ‘I had seen so many in my life who made themselves glad with scorning, and laughed at another’s shame.’

– George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (emphasis mine)

💡 NOTE: Here Eliot has not included the word ‘another person’s shame’ because it is implied (shown without being told directly). We often do this in English to avoid the repetition of unnecessary words (such as ‘man’, ‘child’, or ‘person’).


📝 ONE ANOTHER

‘One another’ emphasises that each of two or more people or animals are doing something together or in relationship to the other(s) in a group.

👉 It is more forceful and emphatic than simply saying ‘another’.

📗 ‘“But I wonder whether there is much of that momentous mutual missing between people who interchange blank looks, or even long for one another’s absence in a crowded place.”’

– George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (emphasis mine)


📝 EACH OTHER

‘Each other’ refers to each individual member of a group where each person does something to or for other members.

✔️ It is therefore synonymous with ‘one another’.

📗 ‘They were not talking to each other: she was leaning backward in her chair, and he against the wall; and Deronda, happening to observe this, went up to ask her if she had resolved not to dance any more.’

– George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (emphasis mine)

📗 ‘“Upon my honour I do mean it, though,” said Hans, facing round and laying his left hand on Deronda’s shoulder, so that their eyes fronted each other closely.’

– George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (emphasis mine)

📗 ‘“… The day is closing— the light is fading— soon we should not have been able to discern each other. But you have come in time.”’

– George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (emphasis mine)

📗 ‘It seemed one impulse that made the two men clasp each other’s hand for a moment.’

– George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (emphasis mine)


📝 ‘EACH OTHER’ & ‘ONE ANOTHER’ AS DIRECT OR INDIRECT OBJECTS IN A SENTENCE

You may be wondering whether we need to use ‘to’ before either ‘each other’ or ‘one another’.

It all depends on whether ‘each other’ or ‘one another’ is an indirect object, in which case it does require ‘to’ before it (e.g., ‘they gave Christmas presents to each other/one another’).

✍️ TIP: Alternatively, we could rearrange such sentences to read more fluently as follows: ‘they gave each other Christmas presents’, without the ‘to’, which is closer to how native English speakers would express this. Unless you rearrange a sentence like this, with the indirect object placed before the direct object in a sentence, you will always need to insert ‘to’ or some other preposition (e.g. ‘against’, ‘from’, etc).

📗 ‘They were not talking to each other: she was leaning backward in her chair, and he against the wall; and Deronda, happening to observe this, went up to ask her if she had resolved not to dance any more.’

– George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (emphasis mine)

✍️ However, when ‘each other’ or ‘one another’ is the direct object (e.g., ‘they love one another’) then there is no need for ‘to’ in the sentence.

I trust this Lesson has provided you with enough examples to help you understand how these reciprocal pronouns are used in English. As always, if you have any questions you can send them to me via the contact form on the home page here. I will be happy to help!