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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
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

In my opinion, the phrase "Every other line is white" is correct, if it means each second line is white. I think the phrases "every other" and "all other" are often misused. "All other" means, well - all. "Every other" means every second (some object). It's confusing, asking the reader or listener to use context or asking for clarification to determine meaning. Make it simple, assigning one meaning to each phrase. "All other" means, well - all. "Every other" is alternating. When a line of children are divided up for a two team sport, every other child assigned to one team, the others to the other team.

This is intended to show how I think the phrases should be used. I understand how some logic can be used to have "every other" mean all, but the English language already has a lot of confusing ambiguous words and phrases, why add another where it dosen't need to be ambiguous? "All other" is all, as in the whole group. I think "All the other kids get to go...." is much more precise and clear than "Every other kid gets to go...." I learned English in school nearly 70 years ago, and we were taught to use this type of more precise phrasing. My suspicion is that over the years people have become lazy, not thinking how to be precise in their writing and speaking. To me, asking the listener or reader to figure out what you mean when it is so easy to be precise is rude.

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Hi Tom - you can always comment on your own posts, and you will be able to comment on any answer as soon as you reach 50 reputation. Answers need to be written as answers to the question not comments, or they run the risk of being removed. The SE sites are a little different from other forums - I highly recommend taking the tour in the Help Center (and you get a badge for it, woot!). I think that you have a good point about changing the phrasing to be unambiguous, and I think it would make a great answer with a little editing. – ColleenV Mar 21 '15 at 2:05

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