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In the sentence, "He is one of the only doctors who does the procedure," is "does" or "do" correct? I have not yet found a definitive answer in other sources.

marked as duplicate by tchrist Sep 19 '16 at 1:12

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  • That's a very strange sentence, it doesn't work. The correct sentence would be one of "He's the only doctor who does the procedure"; "He's one of only <n> doctors who do the procedure" where <n> is an exact count of the number doing the procedure; "He's one of only a small number of doctors who do the procedure" or "He's one of the very few doctors who do the procedure". Notice that the third person singular 'does' is only used when only one doctor carries out the procedure. – BoldBen Sep 18 '16 at 23:31
  • 2
    related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/185714/… – Centaurus Sep 18 '16 at 23:42
  • I don't like "one of the only" ... I prefer "one of the few". – GEdgar Sep 19 '16 at 0:07
  • Also related: Which is the correct verb form with Who? – sumelic Sep 19 '16 at 3:13

According to Merriam-Webster:

one of the only: one of very few: one in a small class or category That was one of the only times I ever saw my father cry. This is one of the only places in the world where the plant is found.

So while the phrase may seem strange, it represents acceptable usage. I have encountered it numerous times, e.g., "He is one of the only persons to have done X."

Accepting the M-W definition, one can rewrite the questioners's sentence as follows:

"He is one of very few doctors who [do or does] the procedure."

Given that "who" in the relative clause refers to "very few doctors", which is plural, the verb in the relative clause must be plural. So, the correct verb is do. Re-replacing one of very few by one of the only, one obtains the following correct sentence:

"He is one of the only doctors who do the procedure."

  • 1
    Richard, after reviewing the links, the consensus seems to be that "do" is correct. However, these pages also present arguments for "does."At english.stackexchange.com/questions/185714/…, an answer proposes: Either is correct, but they mean different things. "He is one of the boys who play football." Translation: Some boys 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. What would you say about this? – KDP Sep 20 '16 at 11:19
  • @KDP After reviewing the post and mulling it over, I would agree that both are correct but mean different things. Interestingly though, the use of the word only in the current OP's question would seem to preclude the second meaning. That is, the following doesn't make sense: "He is one of the only boys who plays football." Translation: There are some only boys, and he is one of them that happens to play football. Do you see any way to make the second meaning work given the use of only? – Richard Kayser Sep 20 '16 at 22:30
  • No, I don't. Your answer works for me. Thanks. – KDP Sep 21 '16 at 2:07
  • @KDP I'm glad. Thanks for the engagement. I shouldn't have referred to you as *the current OP." :-) – Richard Kayser Sep 21 '16 at 2:11

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