Student Stumper 49: “Another” vs. “Other”

QUESTION: What’s the difference between “another” and “other”?  They’re very similar.

ANSWER: Indeed, they’re similar, so the challenge is to find and remember the differences. A learner’s dictionary can help us identify rules and patterns. Then comes the hard part: we need to commit all that information to memory.

Parts of Speech
First, let’s look at the parts of speech. Another can function as a determiner and pronoun. Other can as well, but other can also be an adjective. So both can be used before a noun or they can replace a noun. They can also be used before the pronoun “one.”

another + singular noun: another day, another coat
Let’s stay another day.
I need to buy another coat.
I need to buy another.
I need to buy another one.

other + singular/plural noun: other people, many other people, the other day, my other sister, four other students
I know you don’t like sports, but (many) other people do.  
I saw Christy the other day.
My other sister is a biologist.
Four other students had the same question.
My older sister is a biologist. The other one is still in college.

Only other can be used in a noun phrase with determiners (definite article, possessive adjectives, quantifiers, etc.) Also, another is typically used before singular nouns.

Note how we can’t say:
another people
the another day 
my another sister
four another students

Definitions
Second, let’s consider some overlap in meaning. Both words can refer to something in addition, but another calls for just one more thing or person. That thing or person can come from anywhere as long as it’s the same type. Other refers to an additional thing or things in a pair or a larger set.

This glass has a crack. Can I have another?
The cake is delicious. Yes! I’ll have another slice. 
I want to talk to another doctor and a get a second opinion. 

I found one earring. Where’s the other?
I’m free on Wednesday next week. I’m completely booked on the other days. 

The examples how another means “one more” or “a different one.” Other limits the meaning to “the second one” or “the rest of those.”

Plural Form of Other
We can use the pronoun others to mean “all the rest.”

I have the report from October. Where are the others?
Some people love to wake up early. Others would sleep in every day given the choice.

Another Before Plural Nouns
It’s possible to use another before a plural noun, but the context must make it clear that those things or people belong to a set.

There was a snowstorm back in Boston, so we extended our vacation in Florida for another two days. 
HR has already interviewed several candidates for the job, but they have another three or four people to meet.

Set Expressions
Both words are used in set expressions. These can be learned and practiced as vocabulary items. The key to their mastery would be meaning and context.
Not another one!
One way or another…
In one ear and out the other

Got any tips for practicing this grammar? Feel free to share.

Featured photo by geralt. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/question-mark-note-duplicate-2110767/.

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