Thursday, May 9, 2013

one of the (singular): Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, May 9, 2013

one of the (singular)
In phrases like “pistachio is one of the few flavors that appeals to me,” I think you should use the singular form for the verb “appeals” because its subject is “one,” not “flavors.” However, note that usage experts are all over the place on this subject and you’re not likely to get into much trouble by using the plural, and some authorities absolutely prefer it.

8 comments:

  1. Tom, I have to disagree. Here the subject "flavors," though a genitive in the main clause, governs the verb "to appeal" in the relative clause as subject. The singular formulation is rare in literature before the later twentieth century, for example, and for good reason. It's also nonstandard in other Indo-European languages, to the best of my knowledge. This is essentially a mass malapropism caused by attraction between the end of the main clause and the verb in the relative clause. It's now dominant, but it's just as wrong as "between you and I" (also arguably dominant and endlessly parroted).

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. As noted in the entry, this advice is usage-driven; and as the evolution of usage has always shown us, there will not always be strict adherence to logic. Sometimes you just have to play it as it lays.

      That said, I'll take the opportunity here to state again that while I maintain this blog and am responsible for the content in that I am the editor of this material, all entries and usage advice comes from Paul Brians himself, author of the Common Errors in English Usage Web site and book.

      To expound on your point, I will say that you argue in the example sentence the pronoun "that" refers to "flavors" and not "pistachio," so "appeal" logically fits in this case. Perhaps the entry could be worded a bit differently to reflect this fine point, but overall I agree with the usage advice here: It is just fine to follow the pattern we have all learned about ignoring the prepositional phrase as one would in a sentence such as "One of these people is not telling the truth," even when there is a (potentially ambiguous) relative pronoun involved.

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    2. Understood, but "One of these people is not telling the truth" doesn't strike me as a germane example. "One of those people [who don't tell the truth]" would be a different story. It's impossible to drop the relative pronoun without changing the meaning of the sentence. Anyway, thanks for your response.

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    3. Thank you, too, for the response. The sensible Diane Hacker agrees with you that the plural verb is always required, but she does agree with me that the advice that educated writers follow of ignoring prepositional phrases when determining the number of the verb is part of what creates a problem in "one of those ___s who/that" sentences.

      You have improved this entry by forcing me to address the issue of labeling "one" as the subject of the verb, which, no, it is not. I also wrote more about this usage topic in another blog post.

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  3. Hi Richard, I'm a english learner. Why " between you and I" is incorrect? I usually use you and me but I don't know why. I know for example that "me too" is incorrect as well and it should be " I too". Right?

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    1. Because in this case both pronouns are objects of the preposition "between." Exceptions involving I/me are idiomatic, but this is not one of them.

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