An Introduction to Reciprocal Pronouns
  • 4-minute read
  • 7th July 2023

An Introduction to Reciprocal Pronouns

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun in a sentence. There is an abundance of pronouns, and they can be divided into various categories depending on how they act in a sentence. Most people are familiar with the common personal pronouns I, he, she, we, they, etc. But this article focuses on a smaller category of pronouns, a category so small it only has two members: reciprocal pronouns.

What Is a Reciprocal Pronoun?

The definition of reciprocal is “shared, felt, or shown by both sides.” Reciprocal pronouns, therefore, indicate a mutual relationship between two or more subjects or objects. These subjects share the verb in a sentence equally with each other.

And this leads us to our next point. The two reciprocal pronouns in the English language are each other and one another.


No discussion of pronouns would be complete without talking about antecedents. In grammar, an antecedent is a noun or noun phrase that gives meaning to a pronoun. In other words, it’s the person, place, or thing that is replaced by the pronoun. Consider the following example:

My cats Fluffy, Cha-Cha, and Mr. Whiskers all share their toys with one another.

Fluffy, Cha-Cha, and Mr. Whiskers are all the antecedents of the reciprocal pronoun one another. All three cats share the action of the verb (as well as their toys) equally.

Fluffy and Mr. Whiskers really enjoy playing with each other.

Again, Fluffy and Mr. Whiskers are the antecedents. The reciprocal pronoun each other indicates that both cats share the action of the verb enjoy equally.

Using Each Other vs. One Another

Both of our reciprocal pronouns are used the same way grammatically. The main difference between them is the number of antecedents they represent. Use each other to demonstrate a relationship or action between two antecedents. Use one another when you’re talking about three or more antecedents.

Fluffy and Cha-Cha often groom one another.
Fluffy and Cha-Cha often groom each other.
All three cats fall asleep with each other in a large cuddle puddle.
All three cats fall asleep with one another in a large cuddle puddle.

Besides the number of antecedents, the other difference between the two pronouns is that each other can be split in the sentence.

Mr. Whiskers likes to play rough, and Cha-Cha doesn’t. Each cat gets annoyed by the other on occasion.

Again, you can split the pronoun when you’re talking about two subjects. One another can’t be split like this and retain the same meaning, so you can’t split your reciprocal pronoun if you’re talking about three or more subjects.

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Be Careful

Reciprocal pronouns are often mistakenly replaced with plural reflexive pronouns. Plural reflexive pronouns are those that have -selves at the end of them (ourselves, yourselves, and themselves). Swapping reflexive pronouns for reciprocal pronouns alters the meaning of the sentence. For example:

Fluffy and Cha-Cha often groom each other.

In this example, Fluffy grooms Cha-Cha and Cha-Cha grooms Fluffy. In contrast:

Fluffy and Cha-Cha often groom themselves.

When we swap the pronouns, we are indicating that Fluffy grooms Fluffy, and Cha-Cha grooms Cha-Cha. The meaning of the sentence has changed.

Quick Tip

Reciprocal pronouns, unlike most other pronouns, can’t be used as the subject of a sentence or clause. They can only be used as the object of a verb or preposition. While using them as the subject will sound odd to native English speakers, it’s not always as obvious to EAL speakers.

One another cats share a food bowl.
The cats share a food bowl with one another.
Each other chases the cats around in play.
The cats chase each other around in play.


Are there really only two reciprocal pronouns?

In the English language, yes. One another and each other are the only two reciprocal pronouns we have.

What’s the difference between them?

Each other is used when you’re talking about two subjects. One another is used when you’re talking about three or more. This may seem counterintuitive, but one way to remember it is to think about the illogical phrase one equals many.

In Conclusion

Because there are only two of them, dealing with reciprocal pronouns is a little easier than dealing with other types of pronouns. If you remember the rules about their numbers (each other is used for two subjects, one another is used for three or more subjects) and sentence role (always the object, never the subject), using them will be as easy as cuddling kittens.

Want to make your writing shine? Proofed’s editors can help you polish your document. Give us a try for free. And check out other helpful tips in our Writing Tips and Academic Writing Tips blogs.

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