Each vs. Every: What’s the Difference?

She's ready to captivate her classmates with a rousing debate on each vs. every.
She's ready to captivate her classmates with a rousing debate on each vs. every. / Prostock-Studio/iStock via Getty Images Plus

If you’re a native English speaker, you probably follow certain grammar conventions in speaking and writing without even realizing it. Knowing when to choose each over every (and vice versa) is one of them.

You wouldn’t, for example, say, “I got a tattoo on every foot,” because it would imply that you had more than two feet. As Grammarly explains, every can only be used if you’re talking about more than two items, while each works for two or more items. The versatility of the word each doesn’t end there. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it can also function as a noun, whereas every can only be used as an adjective. “Each of us got a tattoo” is perfectly correct (as is “Each got a tattoo,” albeit uncommon). Saying “Every of us got a tattoo,” on the other hand, would likely earn you a few quizzical looks. And “Every got a tattoo” might make people think you’re talking about a person named Every.

But while every can’t be used as a noun, it can link up with certain adverbs in a way that each can’t. “Almost every person got a tattoo” makes sense, as would “nearly every,” “virtually every,” “practically every,” and other similar phrases. “Almost each person got a tattoo” simply doesn’t work (unless someone named Almost Each Person got a tattoo).

The reason it doesn’t work has to do with a subtle distinction between the terms’ connotations: Each emphasizes individuality, while every underscores collectivity. When you say, for instance, “Each person got a tattoo,” you’re highlighting that each person, as an individual, got a tattoo. “Every person got a tattoo,” meanwhile, places greater significance on the fact that an entire group got tattoos. Both sentences are correct, and you might not even mean to stress individuality when you utter “each” in casual conversation.

But when you say “almost every” (or one of the other phrases mentioned earlier) you’re definitely stressing collectivity, whether you know it or not. “Almost every person got a tattoo” is essentially the equivalent of saying “Almost all the people got tattoos” or “Almost the entire group got tattoos.” “Almost each person got a tattoo” is a little like saying “Almost this person got a tattoo, and almost this other person got a tattoo,” and so on. One person can almost get a tattoo, but almost one person can’t get a tattoo. (Someone named Almost One Person can, however, get a tattoo.)