ENGLISCH/936: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (200) - an other or another? (SB)


200. An Other or Another?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook,

I am an English student and I wonder if there is or not a difference between the adjectives "an other" and "another" and how to use them. I would be glad if you can help me. Thank you.

Suemi B. (Xijang, Tibet)


Dear Suemi

This is indeed a very interesting question. The usage of "an other" is vanishingly rare in English writings. In contrast "another" is rather commonly used and positively pervasive. This kind of spelling irregularity started back in the 16th century, so I think it would be fair to say that the second has eclipsed the first to the point that the spelling "an other" is even considered unacceptable by many native speakers. But even if "an other" is not preferred and, perhaps, even generally avoided or simply "out of fashion", doesn't mean that it's incorrect English.

Basically there are two ways to use "other". First you can use it before a noun like an adjective: "the other office" or "an other Londoner", if you mean a different office or a different person from London. Secondly, if you mean "an additional thing or person, or if you want to use "other" by itself, like a noun, then it is more appropriate to use "another": "I'll have another."

To put it briefly: In either case, however, it would actually be correct and much more common to use the combined form "another".

However, "an other" does emphasise that you are talking about a different something, whereas "another" implies that you are talking about some other random and arbitrary thing. This subtle distinction could have a hurting or insulting effect, particularly in critical documents such as the rejection of an application.

So if I had to write a candidate for an employment position that he hasn't been chosen, I would not tell him that "another" candidate has been selected, but it does seem appropriate for me to tell him that "an other" candidate has been selected. I have got an aversion to using "another", because that seems to me to be saying that an additional candidate has been selected, rather than a different candidate being selected.

There is one more odd thing about "another". You can use it before a plural expression with a number. For instance I might say:

"I will need another three days to finish the work".
"She has borrowed another twenty pounds".

This might be connected with the fact that plural quantities are often treated as singular in English, so we say: "Five pounds is a lot to pay for a cup of coffee", not: "Five pounds are a lot". Fortunately coffee doesn't cost a fortune, so I will have just "another" cuppa.

Now, thank you for your interest and
good luck with your former studies

Miranda Gobbledygook

30 November 2017

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