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It's Just 'One of Those' Things

Rob Kyff on

A recent editorial in the Washington Examiner included this clause: "Say you're one of those who is concerned about Trump's actions in the weeks following the 2020 election..."

Paul Johnson of Alexandria, Virginia, emailed me to ask whether the clause should have read, "Say you're one of those who ARE concerned about Trump's actions."

In other words, should the verb agree with "one" ("one who is concerned") or with "those" ("those who are concerned")?

"Hey, wait a minute!" you're undoubtedly thinking. "My English teacher Miss Finklebunky taught us that the singular pronoun 'one' always takes a singular verb."

We're in deep grammatical waters here, and perhaps Miss Finklebunky was merely a wader.

True, "one" does take a singular verb, as it would in the sentence "One who emailed me is Paul Johnson." But when "one" is used in the phrases "one of the," "one of these" or "one of those," the syntactical situation changes.

In the sentence "He is one of those who emailed me," the verb must agree, not with the singular "one," but with the plural "those."

To see why, reword the sentence so it begins with the preposition "of": "Of the people who consistently support our positions, he is one."

But let's face it: This is a very tricky distinction. To see just how tricky, see whether you can select the correct verb in these sentences:

 

1. Miss Finklebunky is one of those teachers who (is, are) knowledgeable about grammar. 2. One of the many traits I admire about good teachers (is, are) their dedication. 3. This is one of the grammar books that (is, are) ambiguous on this issue.

Answers: 1. are (Of those teachers who ARE knowledgeable about grammar, Miss Finklebunky is one.) 2. is (Of the many traits I admire about good teachers, one IS their dedication.) 3. are (Of the grammar books that ARE ambiguous on this issue, this is one.)

In fact, while traditionalists still observe this differentiation, many grammar experts have waved the white flag and now accept the use of the singular verb in "one of those" constructions. As the linguist Dwight Bolinger wrote, "The question is no longer an issue in American English -- for better or worse, it is close to being decided in favor of the singular."

Usage expert Bryan Garner classifies the use of "one of the few that is" for "one of the few that are" as "virtually universal but opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts."

Perhaps Miss Finklebunky was ahead of her time.

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Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His book, "Mark My Words," is available for $9.99 on Amazon.com. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to WordGuy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.


Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.

 

 

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