“One of”: Singular or Plural?

Summary

One of a group is singular.

Example
  • One of the students is/are tired.

When “one of” is followed by who or that, check who is being described: the entire group or one of them.

Examples
  • One of the students who are studying is sitting on the table.
    Who’s studying? The students are. Who’s sitting on the table? One of them is.
  • One of the students, who is studying for the test, is a budding poet.
    Who’s studying? One of the students is. Who’s a budding poet? This student is.

Singular or plural verb with one?

When one of a group is the subject in a sentence (e.g., one of the students), use a singular verb like is and has. This is because the subject of the sentence is one, not the plural word that follows.

Examples
  • One of the students is right.
    Who is right? One of the students is. The subject of the verb is “one,” not “the students.”
  • One of my friends is calling.
    Who’s calling? One of my friends is.

Here are some more examples.

Examples
  • One of my cousins is/are visiting us from Fiji.
  • One of the children has/have brought a tarantula to the picnic.
  • One of the boys playing in the park is/are my son.
  • One of the girls has/have a bicycle.
  • One of the cats is/are playing with its shadow.
  • One of my dogs loves/love to visit the vet.

In questions as well, remember to use the singular verb.

Examples
  • Is/are one of your children a writer?
  • Is/are one of you available to help on this project?
  • Has/have one of them called yet?
  • Is/are one of the students a basketball player?
Note

When “one in many” is the subject of a sentence, it traditionally takes a singular verb. Purists argue that the subject is still the noun “one,” which is singular.

Example
  • One in five students is eligible.

However, others argue that “one in five” is a plural subject, since it refers to more than one person, or twenty percent of the population. Thus, using a plural verb with “one in five” is not wrong.

Example
  • One in five New Yorkers have been vaccinated.

One of . . . is or are?

One as the subject of a sentence is singular, even when followed by a plural pronoun like them or us. Use singular verbs like is and has.

Examples
  • One of them has/have the secret formula.
  • One of us is/are telling the truth.
  • One of us has/have all the winning cards.
  • One of them knows/know the answer.
  • One of these is/are the right answer.
Tip

Like one, the word each is singular.

Examples
  • Each of us has/have a flashlight.
  • Each of them is/are a winner.
  • Each of the students has/have a pencil.

One of . . . who is or are?

When “one of” is followed by a relative pronoun like who or that, 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 of the group or the entire group?

Example
  • The students who are applying to universities this year are waiting in the classroom.
    Who’s waiting in the classroom? The students who are applying to universities this year are.
    One of the students who are applying to universities this year is waiting in the classroom.
    Who’s applying to universities? The students are. Who is waiting in the classroom? One of them is.

There are two clauses in such sentences: the main clause (“one of the students is waiting in the classroom”) and an embedded relative clause (“who are applying to universities this year”). The subject of the relative clause is “who,” which refers to “the students” and is plural. Thus, the verb used in the relative clause is plural (“who is/are applying”). But the main clause still has a singular subject (“one”), and the verb used in the main clause should still be singular (“one of the students is/are waiting in the classroom”). Here is another example.

Example
  • One of the cats that loves/love pizza is/are meowing outside the door.
    Who loves pizza? The cats love it. Who is meowing outside? One of them is.

However, when the clause starting with who or which is enclosed within commas, it describes one of the group, not the entire group. We then again use a singular instead of a plural verb.

Examples
  • One of the cats, which loves pizza, is meowing outside the door.
    Who loves pizza? One of the cats loves it. Who is meowing outside? This cat is.
  • One of the students, who is applying to universities, is waiting in the classroom.
    Who’s applying to universities? One of the students is. Who is waiting? This student is.

Whether to use a singular or plural verb after who in “one of the” constructions depends on who is being described: the entire group or one of the group.

Tip

Unlike one, the pronoun none, which means “not one” or “not any,” can take either a singular or a plural verb, depending on whether you are referring to one of the group or to the group as a whole.

Examples
  • None of the students is here.
    none = not one
  • None of the students know the answer.
    none = not any

Find more examples in this article on whether none is singular or plural.

Examples from literature

Here are some examples of “one of the . . .” as sentence subject in the writings of famous authors. Note how they use singular verbs like is to agree with the subject one.

Examples
  • 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 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)

In contrast, in the following examples, the writers use plural verbs (have, look) after the word who to agree with the plural nouns (women, people) instead of with “one.”

Examples
  • If she had been left alone she would have gone on, in her own way, enjoying herself thoroughly, until people found one day that she had turned imperceptibly into one of those women who have become old without ever having been middle aged . . .
    Doris Lessing, The Grass Is Singing (1950)
  • She was one of those people who look teary-eyed when they blush.
    Anne Tyler, Vinegar Girl (2016)

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Did You Know?

Titles like president and prime minister are not always capitalized.
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