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Which one is correct:

  1. They each tells a story.

or

  1. They each tell a story.

Does "each" change the plural form of the verb? Thanks.

  • Similar question from English.SE: 'Each' with plural or singular verb – apsillers Mar 31 '15 at 14:44
  • 2
    Your #1 version is ungrammatical; your #2 version is fine. Your use of the word "each" in your examples does not affect subject-verb agreement (which should be plural in number). -- The word "each" that is used in both of your examples is functioning as a quantificational adjunct (CGEL's terminology), and is semantically associated with the subject (the subject is "they"). Consider: "They each would have to tell a story", "They would each have to tell a story". -- For more info there's CGEL pages 102 [36], 413 [13], 428 [7]. – F.E. Mar 31 '15 at 18:08
  • @F.E. Are there posts or links about how to choose a grammar book? reviews and comparison between grammar books? – Tim Mar 31 '15 at 18:22
  • It depends on your needs. For instance, for my needs, I need a solid grammar reference to defend myself from pedants, and to defend my own prose from pedantic editors. The 2002 CGEL is an 1,800 page reference grammar that is rather concise (equivalent to 4,000 pages of a textbook); it is a good place to begin when researching grammar issues. (cont.) – F.E. Mar 31 '15 at 18:32
  • (cont.) As for people who want a more typical grammar textbook (300-500 pages), er, that's going to be mostly pot-luck. I guess it depends on whether you are a linguistics student, or a writer, or etc. You might want to use Amazon's "look-inside" feature to judge the books, and read the buyers' reviews. -- As for posts on grammar books, I think there are some existing ones around, either on meta-ELL or meta-EL&U. – F.E. Mar 31 '15 at 18:32
13

When each is used as a pronoun, it is always singular:

Each of my children tells a story.

However, here, it looks like each is an adverb that modifies tell:

They each tell a story.

They tell one story each.

This makes it clear that each person tells a story. Without each, maybe they are telling one story as a group. Consider the difference between the two sentences:

The students line up on the stage, and they sing a song.

The students line up on the stage, and they each sing a song.

In the first case, we get one song. In the second case, we get many songs (one song per student).


Some people might argue that this use of each is grammatically an adjective modifying they, indicating that each member of the subject ("they") should be considered separately. I'm not sure if an adjective can supply that kind of semantic meaning to a sentence, though. Consider the word together, when used an adverb:

They sing a song together.

It is very clear to me that together does not modify they as an adjective; it modifies sing as an adverb. It makes sense to me that the opposite sentence uses each an adverb as well. However, I might be wrong and welcome clarification from a more knowledgeable grammarian.

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