How To Stop Confusing 'Another' And 'Other'

How To Stop Confusing 'Another' And 'Other' cover

Here is a practical scenario you might encounter the next time you plan to buy a gift for your friend or friends. Read this article to figure out when it’s appropriate to ask the sales clerk for ‘the other’ thing or ‘another’ one of the things you want to buy.

I often hear people say sentences like “Another students don’t study hard”, or “Give me please the other cup of coffee”. I know it’s all because another and other sound quite similar, but that’s not an excuse. They still differ in meaning. So let’s find out where this difference lies.

Case 1:

Let’s say you’re a tourist and you go to a store to pick a souvenir for one of your friends. You’re a lazy friend, so you don’t want to bother yourself with choosing the right gift and you decide a cup will do. The sales clerk shows you one cup, but you don’t like it. You’re picky. So you ask him:

  • “Please, can you show me another cup?”

What does it mean for the sales clerk? This “another cup”. If the sales clerk could read your mind, it’d be easy. But here we need something more to understand what is meant. Say you let the sales clerk know, somehow, that you don’t like this first cup, so when you ask for another, he figures you would like to see a different one. Different color, perhaps, different shape, a different picture on it, whatever. Just different. This is the main word in this case.

When the second thing you want to get is different from the first one, it is the other thing.

Case 2:

Let’s say you’re completely satisfied with the first cup you saw, but you have two friends back home you’d like to bring some souvenirs for as well. Well, you’re still lazy about choosing, and you ask the sales clerk, again, to give you another cup. However, this time he reads your mood very well and brings one more cup without taking the first one away. Voila! You’ve got two cups for both friends of yours.

So when the second thing is just one more of the same thing, it is also another.

By the way, when the context is clear, you can omit the word cup. Just “Can I have another?” is totally grammatically correct.

Let’s move on. We have two cups. And from this moment on they form a group. A group of two cups. Now you’re ready to pay, and the sales clerk tells you that cup number one is cheaper than cup number two. Of course, the sales clerk wouldn’t have said cup number one or two. He or she would say the following:

  • “This cup is cheaper than the other”.

So here we start using other with the article 'the'. This is because firstly, we have a group with a limited number of items, and secondly, there are only two of them. In a group of two items the first is one, the second is the other. That’s what you should keep in mind.

I know what you’re going to ask me now! What if there is a group of more than two items? Three or four? What should we use in this case?

Again. Say we have a set of four cups. Cup #1 is one. Cup #2 is, heads up, another. Cup #3 is also another. And the last cup, Cup #4, is the other. So the rule is simple.

The last item in a group, when listed, is always the other. The first is one, and each item in between is another.

Our story in the store continues. Let’s imagine that all of a sudden you remember that two more friends of yours are expecting some gift from abroad. The sales clerk, hoping deep down that you have an endless supply of friends to buy gifts for, brings you two more cups and says these are more expensive but are of higher quality.

So now cup number one is of the lowest quality and the cheapest (it will probably go for the least close friend of yours). The other cups, or just the others, are relatively expensive and of higher quality. Again, a group with a limited number of items. But now if you want to make one item special and refer to the rest, not one by one, but as a whole, you should say the others. And no matter how many items in your group - a dozen, a hundred, a thousand - if you know their number, this is a group, and only another or the other can be used here.

Now it’s time to pay, grab our cups, and leave the store. Unless you have only four friends, you can keep on shopping and looking for other gift shops to buy other souvenirs for some other friends. So every time we go beyond, and this is the main word here, it is very likely that you start using the word other or its plural form others without any articles. We don’t know the number of items, or it’s not important. For example:

  • You’ve bought too many cups. Are there any other souvenirs in this city?
  • I can’t read these books over and over. I need others.
  • Some people are nice, others are mean.

We are now talking about people, by the way. You can tell me that there’s a limited number of people on the Earth. So is it correct to say “I don’t like the other people?” Of course not. We can’t dislike the rest of the seven billion people. We dislike people in general without specifying how many. So the correct sentence should be:

  • “I don’t like other people” or just “others".

However, do not forget that context defines everything. If you meant to express people in a particular group, and both you and your friends understand what you’re talking about, then, certainly, you can say “I don’t like the others”. Saying this will mean the other members of your group.

OK! Let’s briefly recap everything:

  • One more or [a] different thing: this is another.
  • The second in a group of two or the last in a group of more than two: this is the other.
  • The rest of the group: they are the others.
  • And finally, those beyond the group: are just others.

That’s about it. I hope you can become close friends with these two pronouns. Anyway, always be wary of the two differences and do not get confused. See you around! Take care!

Hero image by Quincy Alivio (CC0 1.0)