“One of”: Singular or Plural?
“One” of a group is singular (one of the students is working on the project; one of them has an idea). When “one of” is followed by “who” (one of those who), use a singular or a plural verb depending on whether you are referring to one person or to a plural set.
One of them is or are?
With “one” of a group (e.g., one of the students, one of them, one of us), use singular verbs like “is” and “has.” The subject of such a sentence is singular: “one” out of many, even when followed by a plural noun or pronoun.
- One of the students is/
arestill working on the assignment.We are referring to one person: one of the students. Use the singular verb “is” instead of the plural “are.”
- One of us has/
haveto be right.
- One of them knows/
- One of my friends is/
- One of the children has/
havebrought a tarantula to the picnic.
- One of those kids playing in the park is/
- One of their rooms has/
havea view of the sea.
- One of my cats needs/
needto see the vet.
- One of them is/
aretelling the truth.
- One of these is/
arethe right answer.
- One of those players has/
havethe winning cards.
- At least one of these species is/
areat risk of extinction.
In questions as well, use the singular verb.
aren’tone of them a famous actor?
Like “one,” the word “each” is singular.
- Each of us has/
havea role to play.
- Each of them is/
- Each of the students has/
One of those who . . . is or are?
When “one of” is followed by “who,” use a singular verb to describe “one” but a plural verb to refer to the plural noun. Check what the verb is referring to: one person or thing, or a plural set.
- One of the students who are applying to universities this year is waiting in the classroom.
The students are applying to universities. One of them is waiting in the classroom.
- One of the people who work here is a mole.
- She is one of those people who are always late.
- He is one of the few writers of his generation who have dared to write a novel in verse form.
But there is also the matter of notional agreement: a writer may want to emphasize and describe “one” rather than the plural set and thus use a singular verb.
- She is one of those people who is always late.
Strict grammatical agreement would dictate use of the plural verb to agree with “those people.” But the writer wants to describe her, rather than the people. Notional agreement (who the writer or reader thinks is being described) allows for use of the plural.
- He is one of the few writers of his generation who has dared to write a novel in verse form.
- One of the people who works here is a mole.
Such usage is generally considered acceptable. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, for example, allows for the use of both singular and plural verbs in such constructions, providing examples of both forms of usage. Note that in formal texts, use of the plural is preferred. In informal styles and everyday usage, use either a singular or a plural verb with “one of those who,” depending on whom you are focusing on: “one” or the plural set that follows.
When who is preceded by a comma, it describes one of the set, not a plural set. You should then always use a singular instead of a plural verb.
- One of the students, who is applying to universities, is waiting in the classroom.
One of the students is applying to universities and this same student is waiting in the classroom.
- One of my friends, who is a writer, has written a novel in verse form.
“One in . . .” may be either singular or plural based on notional agreement, although the strictly grammatical singular verb is preferred in formal styles.
- One in five residents has/have been vaccinated.
- One in ten patients develops/develop severe symptoms.
The Chicago Manual of Style (used in academic and book editing) suggests using the singular verb in formal writing, while the AP Stylebook (followed in U.S. journalism) suggests using the plural verb.
Examples from literature
Here are some examples from published content of “one of” as sentence subject. Note the use of singular verbs like “is” and “was.”
One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.— Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
One of the biggest jobs we all face in combat is to overcome fear.— Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)
One of the gravestones in the cemetery near the earliest church has an anchor on it and an hourglass.— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
One of the quainter quirks of life is that we shall never know who dies on the same day as we do ourselves.— Philip Larkin (ed. Anthony Thwaite), Letters to Monica (2010)
One of her ambitions was to own a watch on which she could change the time whenever she wanted to.— Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (1997)