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Posts Tagged ‘distributive adjectives’

Each, Every, Either, Neither

Distributive adjectives are normally used with singular nouns. They include “each”, “every”, “either”, and “neither” and are used to refer to members of a group as individuals.

For example, the sentence, “The group received informational brochures before beginning its tour” does not specify whether all the group’s members received brochures. Rather, this is conveyed by the sentence, “Each member of the group received an informational brochure before the tour began.” (Note that the use of “its” no longer makes sense, as “its” refers to “group” in the first sentence – since the subject of the second sentence is “each member of the group”, a more personal pronoun, such as “her” or “his”, or a construction that uses no pronoun at all, such as “before the tour began”, is correct.)

As the foregoing example illustrates, “each” is used to specify that a condition applies to all of the individual members of a group:

  • Each book in the series had a foreword by a noted scholar.
  • Each participant was asked to complete a survey.
  • Each of the participants received compensation.

Note that when the noun to which “each” refers is plural, the construction “each of the” is used.

In most cases, “every” and “each” are interchangeable, as far as meaning goes, though they require slightly different constructions:

  • Every book in the series had a foreword by a noted scholar.
  • Every participant was asked to complete a survey.

Note that it would never be appropriate to use “every of the” – as in, “every of the participants”, which is wrong. “Every” is only used with singular nouns.

The primary difference between “every” and “each” is the degree to which they emphasize the individual, versus the group. While “every” suggests “all” (think “everyone”), “each” suggests “every one”. The difference is subtle and intuitive.

“Either” implies one or the other of two options, as in:

  • Either of these movies would be interesting to me.
  • Either title is age-appropriate, but I suggest the former.

The options need not necessarily be mutually exclusive, but it is presumed, when “either” is used, that only one option will be selected. However, you might find while in a restaurant, for instance, that you can’t decide what to order because either of two options on a menu look good – and so you order both.

“Neither” implies not one or the other of two options, as in:

  • Neither pen will do, as I need to sign in pencil.
  • Neither person in the relationship seems to understand the dilemma.

Whilst suggesting the separate identities of two things (the pens, the people), “neither” negates the viability of both.