A prominent headline alleged as follows on page 5 of the August 1 number of Nairobi’s Daily Nation newspaper: “Central leaders tear into each other in bid to host DP Ruto”. It may be a good investment to show such concern for a person who may be your next president in the squeezing of a lemon. But it was also an example of our media’s habit of confronting even our visitors with terms which only locals can understand.
Here we came across just one more example of that extremely bad habit. I am referring to the apparent inability by East Africa’s users of English to distinguish between the expression “each other” and the expression “one another”. But let me first reaffirm that, indeed, the two expressions are legitimate.
The only problem for Kenyans, Tanzanians Ugandans, Zambians and Zimbabweans is that they habitually use “each other” and “one another” interchangeably every day that the sun rises in the orient. The problem is that each other and one another do not mean exactly the same thing. Therefore, they cannot be used interchangeably.
"Each other" refers to a mutual action or exchange between any two individual persons or things, whereas "one another" refers to any such action involving more than two individuals. Yet in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, we use the expressions "each other" and "one another" virtually interchangeably all the time. We use them, that is to say, as if they mean exactly the same thing.
Let me emphasise, however, that "each other" and "one another" are not synonyms. For "each other" refers only to two individuals, whereas "one another" involves more than two individuals. "One another" involves at least three persons. That is why the two expressions "each other" and "one another" cannot be used interchangeably.
Raila Odinga, William Ruto and Moses Wetang’ula are in the extremely bad habit of hurling very uneducated words to criticise one another. Somebody ought to warn them and Kenya’s other politicians that, in this manner, the twain and other culprits do not score any marks from the minds of properly educated Kenyans, a section whose number is increasing apace every year.
In other words, the expression "each other" is used to describe any mutual action between any two — but only two — individuals, whereas the expression "one another" is used to refer to any mutual action among three or more individuals. The general point, then, is that the two expressions (each other and one another) do not mean exactly the same thing and that the difference is important.
The expression "each other" describes two grammatical individuals in mutual action or reaction, whereas the expression "one another" describes any number of such subjects above two engaged in such an action and reaction. It is highly important to be aware of that difference every time you try to communicate in English.
Philip Ochieng is a retired journalist. [email protected]