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This question already has an answer here:

In the construction "one of the [plural noun] who ...", should the verb agree with "one" or "[plural noun]"?

For example, which of the two following sentences is grammatically correct? Or are both acceptable?

  1. She was one of the several children who was sold at the auction
  2. She was one of the several children who were sold at the auction.

marked as duplicate by Matt E. Эллен Jun 7 at 12:26

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    Welcome to ELU.SE. We don't do proof-reading ("Which is correct/What's the error?") questions, and verb agreement is too basic for this site. Such questions are better placed on English Language Learners, but please read their Help on asking first. – Andrew Leach Jul 18 '14 at 6:49
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    @Andrew: this isn't proofreading; it's a specific question about plurality. And I don't know how you'd figure out the answer from the list of general references. I also don't think it's too basic; there's a comment which disagrees with the answer, and it's not immediately obvious that either construction is wrong. – Peter Shor Jul 18 '14 at 11:58
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    @PeterShor By all means edit the question to improve it. "Which is grammatical?" is off-topic. – Andrew Leach Jul 18 '14 at 12:06
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    If the meaning is 'She was one of {the several children who were sold at the auction}', use 'She was one of the several children who were sold at the auction'. If the meaning is 'She was one of {the children we've just mentioned} who was sold at the auction', use 'She was one of the children we've just mentioned who was sold at the auction'. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 18 '14 at 16:49
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    The 2002 reference grammar by H&P et al., CGEL, that I had referred to earlier is: Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. They discuss this type of issue on page 506, in section "(e) Singular override with one of X who . . ." – F.E. Jul 19 '14 at 1:34
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Answered here because this related question has been closed...

Either is correct, but they mean different things.

He is one of the boys who play football.

Translation: There are some boys who play football, and he is one of them.

He is one of the boys who plays football.

Translation: There are some boys, and he is one of them that happens to play football.

  • I agree. Certainly grammatical, although it sounds odd to weird without suitable context: 'Aren't those lads on your street lazy! That Tommy, for example.' ... 'Tommy!? He is one of the boys who plays football.' – Edwin Ashworth Dec 3 '15 at 17:27
  • @EdwinAshworth of course sentences like this are confusing (and should be avoided if we want conversation clean). But it is certainly interesting seeing only one 's' after verb changes whole sense of sentence. "He was one of employees who works during strike." little ignorance while listening and whole group becomes culprit to union! – Amit May 7 '18 at 10:43
  • @Amit Your non-standard writing probably indicates that you'd be better visiting ELL. << But it is certainly interesting seeing that the addition of a single 's' after the verb in examples like this changes the whole sense of the sentence. "He is one of the employees who works during a strike." A little inattention when listening and the whole group becomes answerable to the union! >> – Edwin Ashworth May 7 '18 at 10:48
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" she was one of the several children who were sold at the auction."

Here , "Who" refers to the "children" (plural) . Because of that , the correct verb is "were" .

  • The word "who" in the sentence does not refer to "children", but rather "one", and therefore the correct word choice here is "was". – brasshat Jul 18 '14 at 10:33
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    @brasshat: why do you say that "who" refers to "one" and not to "children" here? How do you know that "who were sold at the auction" isn't a restrictive clause that applies to all of the "the several children"? See Ngram. – Peter Shor Jul 18 '14 at 11:51
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    Well, the preposition "of" takes an object, I take the object as "of the several children, and interpret the "who was sold at auction" as referring to "she", or "one". I suppose upon further consideration that as written, the statement is ambiguous, and "who was sold at auction" could be a modifier of the object of the prepositional phrase. That's just not the way I took it when I wrote my earlier comment. – brasshat Jul 18 '14 at 19:45
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    The natural reading to me is that there were several children who were sold at the auction, and she was one of them, meaning that were is correct. Trying to make it "she was sold at the auction, and she was one of the several children" is extremely awkward and (without other context, at least) leaves "the several children" dangling with no reason to be "the" several children. – Hellion Jul 19 '14 at 2:58
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" she was one of the several children who were sold at the auction."

The main thought of the sentence is "She was - sold at the auction" not "several children who were sold at the auction" which would otherwise be a hanging sentence (sentences that doesn't sound quite complete).

The answer therefore is "she was one of the several children who was sold at the auction" (main sentence is in bold, the rest are only supporting the main sentence).

My preferred way of determining whether to use singular or plural is by isolating the subject... who are we really discussing here? is it the "several children" or is it "she"? once you have come up with your possible candidates, eliminate the others then try each of them, determine if they sound complete.

I am not a grammar person nor a native speaker and I find it hard to understand all the rules in a grammar book so I cant explain the rules per se. if I'm wrong, kindly send me a feedback. This is all a learning process to me. Thanks

  • The question is not asking about "She was/were" but "one of the children who was/were". We are talking about "one of the children" and then identifying that child by "She was". The question asks whether one of the children who... should be followed by was or were. – Andrew Leach Aug 10 '17 at 10:21

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