Reciprocal Pronouns

When two or more people are doing the same thing and receiving the consequences of that action at the same time we use reciprocal pronouns.

Intermediate
"Reciprocal Pronouns" in English Grammar

What Are Reciprocal Pronouns?

'Reciprocal' means a mutual action or relationship between two or more participants. A reciprocal pronoun indicates a reciprocal or mutual relationship between the participants involved. See the following example:

A and B are hitting each other.

Here, A is hitting B and B is hitting A. There's a reciprocal relationship between A and B, i.e. they are doing the same thing.

English Reciprocal Pronouns

There are two reciprocal pronouns in English language and both are made of two words. We will talk about their differences later in this article.

Why and When We Use Reciprocal Pronouns

Basically, we use reciprocal pronouns to shorten a long sentence by not repeating the same action done by two or more people.

  • First, we need two or more participants or subjects (people, things, or groups) in a sentence in order to be able to use reciprocal pronouns. This means we can't use a reciprocal pronoun when our subject is singular.
  • Second, our subjects must be in a reciprocal relationship or must be doing the same thing.

Let's see some examples:

Sarah and I will meet each other tomorrow.

This sentence shows that tomorrow Sarah is going to meet me and I'm going to meet her. So, it's a reciprocal or mutual action.

We shouldn't lie to one another.

When there are two people involved in the action, this sentence means I shouldn't lie to you and you shouldn't lie to me. But if there are more than two people involved, it means no one in the group should lie to other people.

Joey and Chandler love each other.

This one indicates that Joey loves Chandler and Chandler loves him back. It's a mutual love, therefore, we use a reciprocal pronoun.

Everyone in the group hated each other.

In this sentence, the subject is an indefinite pronoun which refers to all the members of the group and the fact that every member hates the other members.

Warning

As mentioned before reciprocal pronouns show a mutual relationship. Therefore, they are always used in a sentence in which the subject is plural. Using them in a sentence with a singular subject is wrong. Look at this example:

I help each other.

Since you might be curious, the right sentence would be 'we help each other.'

Each other vs. One another

Generally, there is almost no difference between 'each other' and 'one another' and they can often be used interchangeably. But we can say that 'one another' is slightly more formal than 'each other.' So 'each other' is more common. Let's consider the following examples:

We meet each other every weekend.

This sentence is slightly less formal and more common.

We meet one another every weekend.

Both examples have the same meaning. Every weekend, person A meets person B or vice versa.

Tip!

Some strict grammarians believe that we should use 'each other' when there are only two subjects involved in an action or relationship and 'one another' when there are more than two people involved.

The Possessive Form of Reciprocal Pronouns

Using the Possessive Form of the Reciprocal Pronoun 'Each Other'

When we need to use reciprocal pronouns in the possessive case, we must treat them as singular and add -'s to the end. Neither 'each other' nor 'one another' can take the plural possessive form (each others' or one anothers'), because both refer to the individuals within a pair or a group. Let's see some examples:

We helped to take care of each other's dogs.

Both of us or every member of the group helped the other person in taking care of each member's dog.

They often had their meetings in one another's houses.

They often met in the house of one of the members, i.e. every member of the group (whether there are two people or more) should hold the gathering or meeting in their house once in a while.

Reciprocal Pronouns as Subjects

We cannot use 'each other' or 'one another' as the subject of a sentence or clause. The following sentences are wrong:

She and I think each other are smart.

Roger and Suzy believe each other are guilty.

Here is the rule ; 'each other' cannot be the subject.

To correct the abovementioned examples, our best alternative is using the 'split reciprocal' construction.

She and I each think the other is smart.

It defines that; (She thinks I am smart and I think she is smart.)

Roger and Suzy each believe the other is guilty.

(Roger thinks Suzy is guilty and Suzy thinks Roger is guilty.)

Reflexive Pronouns vs. Reciprocal Pronouns

Reciprocal and reflexive pronouns both show a relationship between the subject and object of a sentence, but there is a difference between them:

Reflexive pronouns show that the subject and object are exactly the same while reciprocal pronouns are referring to a mutual (not direct) relationship between two and more subjects and objects.

Take a look at these two examples:

Maria and Melany helped each other.

In this sentence a reciprocal pronoun is used. And it means Maria helped Melany and Melany helped Maria.

Maria and Melany helped themselves.

The reflexive pronoun used in this sentence is plural. And the meaning is; Maria helped herself and Melany also helped herself.

Review

Reciprocal pronouns indicate a mutual relationship between participants. Note that:

  • They cannot be used as the subjects of the sentences.
  • They can be possessive reciprocals by adding 's to them.

Reciprocal Pronouns

examples
each other They are having lunch with each other.
one another All of them were insulting one another.

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