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Take the following sentence:

Are mathematically proficient students, or even mathematically brilliant students, always motivated?

Can students be replaced by ones?

Are mathematically proficient students, or even mathematically brilliant ones, always motivated?

My intuition says yes. If it is acceptable, does it make the first sentence unacceptable?

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    Yes it can, and no, it does not make the first sentence unacceptable. Both sound fine to my ears. If speaking the first sentence I think you would put more emphasis on brilliant. – Mynamite Sep 1 '14 at 16:35
  • Dictionary.com #22 – Canis Lupus Sep 1 '14 at 16:39
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    Yes, it's grammatical, and no, it's optional, not obligatory. The non-specific indefinite pronoun one (plural ones, possessives one's, pl poss ones') can be used for any noun, including (and I think most commonly) nouns describing humans. But pronominalization is rarely required, except in syntactic constructions like tag questions, and indefinite pronominalization is never required, so both sentences are OK. – John Lawler Sep 1 '14 at 16:40
  • Go all the way, ie: Are mathematically proficient students, or even brilliant ones, always motivated? – x-code Sep 1 '14 at 20:00
  • You can replace absolutely every word in absolutely every sentence in absolutely every language. By your reasoning, that would make absolutely everything in all languages unacceptable. – RegDwigнt Sep 1 '14 at 20:35
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Both sentences are correct grammatically. In my opinion, the second sentence sounds better as it avoids repetition.

One is a pronoun (indefinite pronoun), so use it just like any other. Usage of a regular pronoun (ex: "he" for "the man") is always optional. However, using a pronoun avoids repetition and makes the sentence sound better.

  • Both sentences are correct grammatically. In my opinion, the first sentence sounds better as it avoids the anticlimax of 'ones'. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 1 '14 at 17:25
  • I guess that's just a difference in opinions. We can agree on the fact that none of the sentences are "wrong", though. – Ashwin Ramaswami Sep 1 '14 at 20:52
  • And neither is significantly better. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 1 '14 at 21:25
  • Nice answer and advice. Actually though, this kind of "one" is not a pronoun. It is used as a proform, but it is actually a common Noun. This can be shown by that fact that it takes an /s/ suffix for plurals, and can be genitively inflected for case - and when it is, it takes an apostrophe. The "one" that is a pronoun is the "one" that we sometimes use to mean a person or the queen uses to mean you. As in: One can't buy much for a fiver nowadays – Araucaria Oct 4 '14 at 14:27

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