“Each” and “every” are both determiners. They also both refer to something as singular. They are even interchangeable in some cases! As such, it’s not surprising that people mix them up sometimes. However, these terms also have slightly different uses, so you need to be careful to avoid errors.
Each vs. Every (Groups of Three or More Things)
Both of these terms can be used to refer to a group of people or things. For example:
We were told to read each book on the list.
We were told to read every book on the list.
In this case, both sentences imply reading all of the books on the list. The only difference is that “each” makes us think of reading the books one by one, while “every” makes us think of them collectively.
But this only works when the group comprises three or more things. And the difference between these terms becomes obvious if we apply them to a group of two things.
Each vs. Every (Two Things)
If you are referring to two people or things, the word you will need is “each”:
He had an apple in each hand. ✓
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He had an apple in every hand. ✗
The first sentence here implies that someone is holding two apples. The second sentence, by comparison, suggests that we’re dealing with some kind of many-handed octopus man.
Every vs. All
Since it is used for larger groups, “every” is like the word “all” in that both terms refer to a group of three or more things collectively. However, “every” is only ever used with singular countable nouns, while “all” is used with plural nouns or uncountable nouns:
Every alpaca deserves a hug.
All alpacas deserve a hug.
If we compare the sentences above, we can see the differences: “every” is used with a singular noun and a singular verb; “all” is used with a plural noun and plural verb. So while thinking of “every” as a synonym for “all” can be helpful, you still need to combine it with singular terms.
Each and Every?
Finally, a quick note on the phrase “each and every.” Some people combine these terms as a form of emphasis when referring to larger groups. This is fine, but it is technically a redundant expression. You should not therefore use “each and every” in formal writing (e.g., a college paper).