Reciprocal Pronouns in English Grammar
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.
What Are Reciprocal Pronouns?
‘Reciprocal’ means a mutual action or relationship between two or more participants. A reciprocal pronoun is one that indicates a reciprocal or mutual relationship between the participants involved. See the following example:
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.
- Each other
- One another
Why and When Do 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:
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.
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 none of the members.
This one indicates that Joey loves Chandler and Chandler loves him back. It’s a mutual love, therefore, we use a reciprocal pronoun.
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.
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:
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 ‘one another’ is a bit more formal than ‘each other’. So ‘each other’ is more common. Let’s consider the following examples:
This sentence is a bit less formal and more common.
Both examples have the same meaning. Every weekend, person A meets person B or vice versa.
Good to Know!
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
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:
Both of us or every member of the group helped the other person in taking care of each member’s dog.
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 can’t use ‘each other’ or ‘one another’ as the subject of a sentence or clause. The following sentences are wrong:
Here is the rule ; 'each other' cannot be the subject.
To correct the abovementioned examples, our best alternative is using the ‘split reciprocal’ construction.
It defines that; (She thinks I am smart and I think she is smart.)
(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:
In this sentence a reciprocal pronoun is used. And it means Maria helped Melany and Melany helped Maria.
The reflexive pronoun used in this sentence is plural. And the meaning is; Maria helped herself and Melany also helped herself.