'Others' Without a Clear Antecedent

One of the weirdest words I catch making mischief in the articles I edit is  “others.”

Every once in a while, I come across a sentence that uses “others” like this: “Smith’s poems have appeared in the New Yorker, PoetsQuarterly, and Reflections, among others.”

It’s the kind of thing that you could let slip by you a thousand times and think nothing of it till one day you pause just long enough to ask: other whats? In sentences like these, which actually come up quite a bit in certain kinds of feature articles, the term “among others” is used as a sort of catch-all to suggest there are more than just the things listed. But it doesn’t quite work whether there’s no clear thing that “other” refers to.

 None of my usage guides has anything to say on the subject. So I’m left with no source but my little old self to say that this is wrong.

 “Other” can be a number of different parts of speech, but in our example sentence it’s functioning as a pronoun. The job of a pronoun is to stand in for a noun – preferably one the reader will immediately associate with it.

 When you say a writer was published in “the New Yorker, Story Quarterly, and Reflections, among others,” there’s no noun to which "others" clearly points. We can use the term “unclear antecedent” to describe this, even though an unclear antecedent usually means sentences like “Donald and Peter got in his car,” in which it’s unclear what “his” refers to.

 In our original sentence, “others” seems to refer to other publications. That’s a good clue for how to fix it: “Smith’s poems have appeared in the New Yorker, PoetsQuarterly, and Reflections, among other publications.”

 In this case, we’ve swapped our pronoun “others” for its adjective form, modifying the noun “publications.”  Another approach would be to find someplace earlier in the sentence to squeeze in an antecedent: Smith’s poems have appeared in publications like the New Yorker, PoetsQuarterly, and Reflections, among others.

In my view, the original sentence has to be changed using one of these two approaches -- if not recast altogether.

Interestingly, a nearly identical sentence poses no such problem: “He has edited the work of Henry Roth, Oliver Stone, D.M. Thomas, and others.”

 What's the difference? In this case, “others” is not a pronoun. It’s a full-fledged noun. According to American Heritage Dictionary, as a noun “other” means “a different person or thing” or “an additional person or thing.” So in this case, it doesn’t need the word “person” before it to make clear it’s a person. That’s already built into the definition.

 

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