Lately this combination of words have been showing up everywhere.

  • One true king.
  • One true way to find something
  • One true God
  • One true Morty

etc. What is the history of this word combination?

  • 1
    The substance (if not the precise syntax) of [the] one true God, for example, almost certainly predates anything we would recognise as "English" today. What kind of answer are you expecting? Jun 14, 2018 at 13:04
  • Are you okay with similar phrases in other languages. Here's a 5th century Latin equivalent of "One True God": loebclassics.com/view/augustine-city_god_pagans/1957/…. I'd be surprised if this is the first.
    – Jetpack
    Apr 26, 2019 at 15:14

2 Answers 2


The dictionaries I checked (OED and MED) did not have examples of "one true" in this sense, so I had to do my own searches. Due to how difficult it is to search for phrases in Middle English I'm pretty sure there are earlier examples I haven't found (since in ME one was spelled 30+ different ways and true was spelled 20+ different ways).

The earliest example I found is from 1485:

Charles, the noble Emperour, after he had̛ taken moche payne for to mayntene the name of god̛ for tenhaunce the crysten fayth, and to brynge al the world̛ in one trewe fayth and̛ byleue, & that he had̛ goten many contrees, he purposed neuer more to fyght ne to make bataylle, but to reste & lede forth a contemplatyf lyf, in thankyng̛ his maker of þe grace that he had̛ gyuen to hym in surmountyng̛ hys enemyes.
Lyf of the noble and Crysten prynce, Charles the Grete

The next earliest examples I found are from Thomas More in 1533, all from the same work:

  • one trew catholyke fayth
  • one trewe fayth
  • one trew chyrch of Crist
  • one trewe worde

As lbf's answer says, true (without "one") in this same sense (i.e. "real, genuine, etc.") was first used in the late 14th century, in this quote from a translation of De Proprietatibus Rerum (a1398):

It is harde..to knowe bitwen þe verry precious stones and fals, for ofte þilke þat ben false and gilefulle semen most liche to hem þat ben trewe and verray, so þat vnneþe me may knowe bitwene þe trewe and gilefull.


one true x,y or z ; etymology thereof:

Sense of "consistent with fact" first recorded c. 1200; that of "real, genuine, not counterfeit" is from late 14c.; that of "conformable to a certain standard" (as true north) is from c. 1550. Of artifacts, "accurately fitted or shaped" it is recorded from late 15c. True-love (n.) is Old English treowlufu. True-born (adj.) first attested 1590s. True-false (adj.) as a type of test question is recorded from 1923. To come true (of dreams, etc.) is from 1819.


My sense is that 'one' is self-explanatory and does not need etymological interpretation nor is it necessary. But if one desires: etymonline

I found no one etymological explanation of 'one true X'.

  • Is that not just the etymology of true, rather than one true? Jun 14, 2018 at 13:50
  • see my edit if you will.
    – lbf
    Jun 14, 2018 at 16:53

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