I have a vague feeling that there is something wrong with this sentence I wrote: "One of the courses I took that year was John Doe's Introduction to Literature." I feel that the following sentences are OK:

"One of the courses I took that year had very difficult exams."

"One of the courses I took that year was taught by John Doe."

"One of the courses I took that year was titled Introduction to Literature."

But the first sentence I gave doesn't sound right. I thought the reason for this might be that when you say something like "One of the courses was x." and "x" defines the course uniquely (like "John Doe's Introduction to Literature" does), there is no way there could be two such courses, and thus "one of them was ..." is bad usage. But I'm not sure this is a valid reason to reject this usage, and I don't know whether this explanation really captures the reason behind my feeling that this usage is wrong, or at least, not ideal.

So my question is: Do you think this usage is indeed less than ideal, and if so, do you think the reason I gave is the right one? (I'm a non-native speaker of English.)

  • 2
    “I like several actors. One of them is Humphrey Bogart.” Sounds OK to me. Feb 7, 2013 at 4:34
  • @Scott Now that you put it that way, it seemed OK to me, too. How about the original sentence I wrote, does that also seem perfectly fine?
    – ertha
    Feb 7, 2013 at 4:39
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    Your original sentence is fine. In fact I like that one the best of all the ones you propose. That sentence supposes that you took several courses that year and that one of them was John Doe's Introduction to Literature.
    – Jim
    Feb 7, 2013 at 4:44
  • Ok, thanks @Jim (and Scott). I had written it instinctively, and when I came back for a second draft it started to bother me...
    – ertha
    Feb 7, 2013 at 4:48
  • @ertha: Yes, that was what I was trying to say –– that I thought that your sentence, being the same construction as mine, is fine. Feb 7, 2013 at 16:11

2 Answers 2


"One of the courses I took that year was John Doe's Introduction to Literature." is more complete than your other examples. There is actually nothing wrong with it. It is a complete sentence with no overbearance or missing components. Proofreading can sometimes play with your mind and make you question rational sentences. That's why its a good idea to have someone else proofread for you if there is an availablity.

  • Thanks, I wasn't offering the other examples as alternatives to the first one, but had given them to demonstrate what I felt (at the time) was awkward about the first. It doesn't feel that way now, and it does sound like a good idea to have someone else proofread for you :)
    – ertha
    Feb 9, 2013 at 4:43

There might conceivably be a use-mention problem with "John Doe's Introduction to Literature" rather than "John Doe's Introduction to Literature" or "John Doe's 'Introduction to Literature'", in that the professor's course introducing literature might be called Literature 101 or All You Ever Wanted To Know About Writing But Were Afraid To Ask. But it's a very minor point, and most people would say your example is actually better than the suggested alternatives.

  • I had meant to write it in italics, but thanks for the comment/clarification. (I had just made up a course name to replace the one I used in my original sentence, sounds like the John Doe of courses for me is Intro to Literature :).
    – ertha
    Feb 9, 2013 at 4:46

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