Yet another confusing grammar point…
Other, another, and the other are terms that students should be familiar with at a fairly low level. They appear in most beginner and intermediate‑level textbooks as well as on tests such as the TOEIC. Yet a lot of students seem to have trouble grasping when to use these adjectives. (I’m using Merriam-Webster’s categorization of “adjectives” for these terms, but personally, I usually refer to them as articles or determiners since I think that’s closer to the role they fill—but that’s a discussion for another blog post!) Once I started explaining these terms with the following chart, my students had an easier time keeping them straight. I hope your students will find this chart useful, too!
|General (a, an, X)||Specific (the)|
e.g., I'm still hungry. I want another sandwich.
e.g., No, not that pen. I want the other sandwich.
|Plural (more than one)|
e.g., Do you have any other books I can borrow?
e.g., No, not those songs. Let's listen to the other songs / the others.
Notes for teachers on General vs. Specific:
- Explain that GENERAL refers to an object that there are many of (one of many). Usually we can’t see this object.
- Explain that we use "a" or "an" for a singular, general count noun, and that "another" is "an" + "other."
- Explain that we don't use an article for plural, general count nouns, so "other" stands on its own.
- Explain that SPECIFIC refers to an object that there is only one of. Often we can see this object, and/or both speaker and listener know of this object.
- Explain that we use "the" with singular and plural specific nouns, so we use "the" + "other."
Notes for teachers on Other, Another, and The Other:
- For ANOTHER and OTHER, point out that there are no other sandwiches or books around (we would normally say these sentences when we can’t see a sandwich or other books).
- For ANOTHER, point out that the noun that follows is a singular count noun (doesn’t end in ‑s).
- For OTHER, point out that the noun that follows is a plural count noun (ends in -s) OR a non‑count noun (doesn't end in ‑s).
- For THE OTHER (singular), demonstrate with two pens (preferably different colours) on the table in front of you. Say “No, not that pen” (and point to the red pen). Say “Pass me the other pen” (and point to the blue pen). Point out that we can see the other pen.
- For THE OTHER (plural), draw two quick pretend playlists on the board. Say “No, not those songs” (and point to the first playlist). Say “Let’s listen to the other songs” (and point to the second playlist). Point out that we can see the other songs, or both speaker and listener know which songs are being referred to.
- For THE OTHER (plural), point out that if the noun is already mentioned, we can drop the plural noun after ”other” and make it “others.” Demonstrate again with the previous example, but say “Let’s listen to the others” when pointing to the second playlist.
- Point out that THE OTHER is used for both count and non‑count nouns.
I hope your students now have no other questions about these terms! Here is a ready-made resource with a practice task.
This is a great blog. I will be telling the other teachers here about this. I am working currently as principal at a High School in Shanghai, China.
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Thanks, Mr. C! You're a principal now? Congrats! We've both come a long way from when you used to teach me music in elementary school! :)
Thank you Tanya. This will lead to some good conversation in my Englih Corner group.
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Glad to hear that, Mary!
Would love to see lesson/resource/video on determiners. I find this a useful term, but get a bit lost explaining it. :-)
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Thanks for the suggestion, Sharon! At Ellii we tend to separate determiners into "articles" and "quantifiers" rather than lumping them all together under the umbrella "determiners." But you've given me food for thought—a blog post explaining these differences would be helpful. Thanks for commenting!
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