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Every other line is white.

Is this correct?

I know we say "I play tennis every other day" to mean I take a day off and then play then a day off then play, but in the example, it is the subject.

So it felt strange?

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Indeed, every other line is perfectly fine. –  oerkelens May 20 '14 at 10:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The sentence, "Every other line is white" is valid.

Note that there are actually two possible interpretations of every other:

  • Alternating lines are white: (more common)

    • White
    • Another color
    • White
    • Another color
    • White
  • All other lines are white: (less common)

    • One special line
    • White
    • White
    • White
    • White

Generally, the "alternating" interpretation is correct, but occasionally the speaker means "all others". If it's not clear from the context, you may need to seek clarification whether the speaker means "alternating" or "all others".

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Usually the context is made obvious by the speaker referring to a group as a whole (alternating) - or to a single item that a group is being compared to (all other). As a native speaker, I find it's extremely rare that clarification is required. –  Alexander May 20 '14 at 14:38
Particularly in light of @Transact Charlie's answer, I can't really endorse this one while it contains the assertion that every other X is [whatever] is more commonly used to mean alternating X's are [whatever]. As Alexander says, context will almost always make it obvious which meaning applies. But if there's any meaning at all to the idea of saying which usage is more common, I think it's a racing certainty that every other X is used to mean all other X's more often than to mean every alternate X. –  FumbleFingers May 20 '14 at 17:34
@FumbleFingers We could edit this answer to say that both interpretations are possible, without mentioning probabilities. It's probably more informative just to mention that I'm most accustomed to English as it is spoken in the West Coast of North America, and let users draw their own conclusions. –  200_success May 20 '14 at 17:42
It seems extremely unlikely to me that there's any significant regional difference in relative prevalence for the two senses. Note that the distinction turns on every = all far more than other = alternate. Admittedly it's a crude "regional distinction", but comparing every other way, all other ways in NGrams I see little difference between US/UK corpora. –  FumbleFingers May 20 '14 at 17:57

That's right. It means one line is white, the next is not, the next to next is again white and so on.

every other - each alternate

enter image description here

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A very good picture for illustrating "every other line" meaning every second line. But I think one should say that this idiomatic expression may seem a bit curious for non-native speakers. –  rogermue May 20 '14 at 11:19
@rogermue thanks though one (like me) can argue as there're no other lines than white lines ;) But I could not find anything better than this. –  Maulik V May 20 '14 at 12:02

As a native english speaker (UK / Scots) I'd listen to "Every other line is white" and immediately think -- this line is black and all the other lines are white.

Better would probably be "every second line is white".

English is a stupid language.

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Does it matter where the emphasis is? Every other line is white vs Every other line is white (no major pitch movement in the second)? –  jimsug May 20 '14 at 15:10
In my experience (American-English native) "every other" is the more common construction. There is rarely any ambiguity of the context. –  Alexander May 20 '14 at 15:13
Being not a native speaker, I'd like to hear some more opinions on what is the more common interpretation. –  Zane May 20 '14 at 16:41
The interpretation "all lines apart from these ones are white" only makes sense in a context in which "these ones" has been given meaning. For example, "The US flag contains some red lines; every other line is white" means that every line on the flag is white, except for the red ones. But if somebody just holds up the US flag and says "Every other line is white", it's much more natural to assume that they mean "Every second line on this flag is white" than "Every line that is not on this flag is white". (Of course, they're usually called stripes but that doesn't affect anything.) –  David Richerby May 20 '14 at 18:00

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