‘Second’ vs. ‘other’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

Imagine the following scenario: you are sitting next to a relative at a family gathering. There are two bottles that you cannot reach, and you would like to take one of them. You ask your neighbour: “Could you please pass me the bottle?” He can’t see which of the two bottles you are pointing at, so he points at one of them and asks: “This one?” As it happens, it wasn’t the correct one. How should you break this through to your neighbour?

In some languages, you’d literally say “No, the second one.” In English, however, when there are only two options, we refer to the “second” option using the word “other”, i.e. the correct way of saying that is:

A: Could you please pass me the bottle?
[pointing ambiguously at two bottles]
B: This one?
A: No, the other one. (correct)
A: No, the second one. (unnatural)

Of course, this principle applies to every situation when you are referring to “the other” of two objects or people, for example:

The other player in the last chess match was Kramnik. (correct)
The second player in the last chess match was Kramnik. (wrong)

This article was based on my guide to the most common mistakes in English, which explains many similar topics. Why don’t you check it out?

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