one of you is/are... - grammatical correctness

Discussion in 'English Only' started by yuechu, Jan 14, 2012.

  1. yuechu Senior Member

    Canada, English

    I was watching an episode of the 1950s TV show "To Tell the Truth" today. They often use speech patterns/structure/vocabulary which are not often heard nowadays.

    << YouTube link removed. >>
    One of the panelists asks the question (not necessarily word for word): "Are you sure that one of you are this girl?". The TV host then repeats the question with the same verb conjugation.

    I am curious: has anyone heard/seen this structure in use before? Has it traditionally been seen as correct?

    I would normally have considered this incorrect, but I am wondering whether this structure is an acceptable (although perhaps dated and less logical) equivalent to "one of you is"?

    (it also reminds me of the grammar conversation on "What's My Line" about saying "at my left" instead of "on my left"--once again, a structure I have only heard on television)

    Thank you in advance!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 14, 2012
  2. pops91710

    pops91710 Senior Member

    I may well start an argument here, but I was taught that it is only correct to say One of you is, since of you is the prepositional phrase and cannot contain the subject of the verb 'be'.
  3. bicontinental Senior Member

    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    Good evening Bao,
    Q: I am wondering whether this structure is an acceptable (although perhaps dated and less logical) equivalent to "one of you is"?
    A: I'd say it is neither logical nor acceptable. 'One' is the subject and it is singular, therefore the verb must be 'is'. The partitive "of you" seems to be what people mistake for the subject. I can't comment on any possible dated use of this structure, but find it hard to believe that it would ever have been considered grammatically correct. Personally, I just think the panelists were wrong...;)
  4. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    I find it incomprehensible that anyone would consider "one" to be anything other than singular.

    TV does not provide good English to emulate.
  5. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    Searching Google Books for "one of you are", it does seem that it was once more common than it is now. Yet it has always been much less common than "one of you is".

    Over the past 25 years, the "is"-expression is about 30 times more frequent than the "are". For the prior 175 years, it is about 15 times more frequent.

    The OED does not have an example with "one of you", but its earliest example with "one of them" uses "are":
    1588 Everie one of them are bound to give the king to eate.

    Google Books has:
    1795 every one of you are to be severally hanged by the neck

    Now "every one of you" might be considered a special case, but William Render's "A complete analysis or grammar of the German language" (1805) contains a German sentence which it translates as "One of you are wrong."

    In 1896 (A WORK ON ENGLISH GRAMMAR AND COMPOSITION) the sentence "One of you are mistaken." was specifically classed as an error, as I think it has been in all grammars since.
  6. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    In the example sentence, you must be plural.

    However, from amongst the people described as you, only one is wrong.
  7. yuechu Senior Member

    Canada, English
    Thank you all for your answers! (especially, Pertinax, for the research you did!) It did confirm my suspicion that this (illogical) structure must have been more common in the past.

    I am wondering though, Pertinax: how did you know the that "Over the past 25 years, the "is"-expression is about 30 times more frequent than the "are". For the prior 175 years, it is about 15 times more frequent."? Is that from a linguistic study/corpus search? I would be interested in having a look at that resource, if you have the name of it. Quite fascinating, really...

    Would anyone have any similar information about usage of "at one's left/right" vs "one one's left/right", "more than one 'is' vs 'are'" and "less than two 'is' vs 'are'"? I am pretty sure modern grammar has standardized these structures (although correct me if I'm wrong!); however, I have also heard the uncommon variants above (among the two possibilities) by educated speakers from the 1950s (TV shows). Is it possible that some of these grammar rules have changed over time?

    For example, 【"more than one" + are】(without any additions, such as "more than one of them are"), although I have never heard it in real life (has anyone else.. ?), is in fact more logical than the usual 【"more than one" + is】. Has this ever been (is it now.. ?) acceptable according to prescriptivist grammars?
  8. yuechu Senior Member

    Canada, English
    Ah, I think I may have found (at least a partial) answer to the last question:
    According to user paco2004, it seems that both may be acceptable depending on which rule/logic one follows:
    (1) The grammatical rule is "singular verbs to non-plural nouns and plural verbs to plural nouns".
    [EX] This apple is delicious but those lemons are sour.
    [EX] English is a tough language to learn.
    (2) The notional rule is "use plural verbs when we can feel in a non-plural noun more than one person".
    [EX] The audience have got tired of his speech.
    (3) The proximity rule is "choose a verbal form to agree to the form of the nearest noun in the subject noun phrase".
    [EX] Either of your friends are welcome.
    These three rules often conflict each other and the priority for the choice in such a case can vary depending on speaker.

    It seems that most speakers of North American English would tend to give preference to the proximity rule. If I've understood correctly though, I believe in British English, the notional rule is more common. (Is this true? This is just my impression).

    Would any native speakers here have said/heard the structure "more than one are" or "more than one + singular noun + are"?
    Ex. "More than one are coming."
    "More than one person are coming tonight."
  9. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    Under "Google Books" there is an option to select a custom date-range for the publication-date. The number of results returned represents the number of occurrences of the phrase in books published within that range.

    I too would be interested in whether "more than one" was more often plural in the past. Its current status as a singular represents a triumph of syntax over semantics.
  10. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    The notional rule often trumps the "grammatical" rule for collectives in BrE as seen in the different usage compared to AmE, while in AmE, the grammatical rule trumps the "logical" sense by adhering to grammar for singular collectives but switching to plural to match the sense later in the sentence.
    The "proximity" form is, in my mind, simply an observation that many people are not very good at keeping their mind on the identity of the subject of the sentence, especially when it is separated from the verb by more than they can "handle" - it is a noted usage but should not be considered a "rule" and should not be followed by those learning English.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2012
  11. sphaerenklang New Member

    English - British
    The examples of 'Every one of you/them are' can be parsed as a composite noun phrase 'Every one of you', which is plural, similar to 'All of you'. As remarked by Pertinax, this seems to be a practically obsolete usage, but it has some logic to it.

    Thinking of composite noun phrases, you should also ask whether they are third person (like 'she'/'they') or second person (like 'you'). Logically, you come to the conclusion that 'one of you' is second person singular whereas 'one of them' is third person singular.

    Therefore, the old-fashioned usage would indeed be 'one of you are the girl' but, for example, 'one of them is the person'. In this case it's not plural vs. singular, it's second vs. third person. And it does make sense on its own terms!
  12. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    Logically, you come to the conclusion that 'one of you' is second person singular I don't. (Not to mention that you is in the objective case/ and of you is adjectival)

    I don't see the confusion here.

    Let us represent the members of the group whom you are addressing as "O" ...

    OO -> "One of you is red." (one, from amongst you all, is red) or One is red

    To make it clearer:

    OOOOOO(John)O - One of you is John.

    the focus is upon "one"

    OOO(John)OOO(John)O - two of you are John/red; two are John/red

    Of you [lot], one is guilty.

  13. sphaerenklang New Member

    English - British
    I don't see any confusion either. The fact is, as shown by Pertinax, this construction ('one of you/them/us') has historically been parsed in two different ways, which then take different verb conjugations. There is an older/less frequently used way and a modern/more frequently used way. You just explained the modern way, which is to see 'one' as the object and 'of you' as an incidental modification.

    I was attempting to explain or elucidate the older and less frequent usage, where the verb seems to agree with the composite noun phrase taken as a whole. Under this view, 'every one of you' is second person plural, 'only one of you' is second person singular, etc.. This would explain the usages 'One of you are the girl', 'One of you are wrong', etc. which are now seen as obsolete.

    If there is any confusion it would be caused by the view that there is only ever precisely one correct way of parsing a sentence, which, historically, is not true.
  14. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    I'm not very bright, so it seems to me that "one" is "1" and therefore singular, whether or not it is "of you," "of us," "of them," "of the seven billion people now alive on earth," or of any other group.

    One flies over the cuckoo's nest.
    One of the patients flies over the cuckoo's nest.
    One of them flies over the cuckoo's nest.
    One of the elderly male patients in all of the mental hospital's fifteen diagnosis-specific wards flies over the cuckoo's nest.
    The patients fly over the cuckoo's nest.
    All of them fly over the cuckoo's nest.
    All of the patients in this very unusual and exceedingly badly managed hospital fly over the cuckoo's nest.
  15. pops91710

    pops91710 Senior Member

    In subject/verb agreement, syntax changes the rules according to the proximity rule:
    As far as the notion rule goes, it is not observed here in the USA as closely as it is in BrE. In British publications I read all the time that some company "have introduced a new model" or "the company have" done something. Example: "This year Nikon have improved the D700x with new features...." In the USA it would say "Nikon has" treating Nikon as a singular. I can't swear to it, but I don't believe I have ever heard anyone say “the audience have…. “

    This blows my mind!
  16. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Oy fink vey wernt very good at grammar an' just dint wanna sound schewpid by sighin' "Are you sure ... you is ..." :D:D:D
    (I think they weren't very good at grammar and just didn't want to sound stupid by saying)
  17. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    The "proximity" rule only applies when there can be two possible subjects to a verb (as in an "Either (singular noun) or (plural noun) is/are verbing". It is sometimes used, ahem, "incorrectly", when the only possible subject is separated by some words from its verb and the speaker uses a verb form "for the closest noun" - even if that noun is the object of the verb being used :eek: - this stems from a misunderstanding of this so-called "proximity" rule.

    The notion "rule" has everything to do with whether the (singular) collective noun refers to the group or the members. In the BrE usage, Nikon is considered "they" not "it". In American usage it would start with "Nikon has done X" but all subsequent forms would refer to they : "Next year they will update their lower line of cameras. Note that it would not (often) be "It will update its line ...".
    Consider: "San Francisco has done well this year and it/they might even win the SuperBowl again". In AmE usage I am sure the choice would be "they" and not "it". That is why I say the AmE usage adheres to the strict "grammar" rule only for the first verb associated with a collective - simply because the word is singular grammatically - even though it becomes clear in the rest of the sentence that its sense is plural. (That blew my mind when I moved from the UK to the US :D ) In the UK this would be plural all the way : "Fulham have done poorly this year so they will probably not win the FA Cup :D "
  18. pops91710

    pops91710 Senior Member

    Well, at least with your explanation of the proximity rule I feel settled and vindicated.
  19. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I hadn't tipped my hand with the explanation, but I do agree with you that in this case there is only one possible subject for the verb (the one in "one of you") and it is singular, so the proximity rule does not come into play!

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