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I saw the first sentence in a book, and I thought it was a mistake. I googled it and realized that many writers had used it on the websites. But then I googled the second sentence and found many people saying it that way. For me, the first one makes more sense, but after I saw the second one, I felt confused. Do they have the same meaning? If so, which one is grammatically correct?

  1. He was one of those people who seem fated to be hurt and thrown aside in life.
  2. She is one of those people who seems to be able to withstand anything.
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    Which do you mean -- "people who seem" or "one who seems"?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 22:01
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    They are both "grammatically correct": in the first, seem goes with people; in the second, seems goes with one [of those people]. I prefer (1), as it appears it's the group which is being described in both cases, and one person is being picked out from that group.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 22:02
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    I started to write an answer, but saw this answer on the English Language Learner site and, well, it says everything I would. ell.stackexchange.com/questions/10890/…
    – Val
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 22:13

1 Answer 1

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TL;DR: In cases like yours, either version is correct; the plural form seem is what we would expect, but the singular seems is a common alternative. (My source for the following analysis is The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Huddleston & Pullum (2002), p. 506).

Note that a noun phrase like one of those X who can have one of two structures: the relative clause is usually modifying X, but in certain circumstances it can also serve as a modifier of one. Take these examples, using square brackets to indicate the syntactic structure:

  1. He's [one of [those people [who always want to have the last word]]].
  2. He's [[one [of her colleagues]] who is always ready to criticize her].

Note that (2) does not imply that there are multiple colleagues always ready to criticize her; the relative clause is merely giving a further description of the man in question. But in (1) the relative clause is modifying people, so we have a plural verb form to agree with it.

However, even in cases like (1), people often use singular verb forms anyways:

  1. He's [one of [those people [who always wants to have the last word]]].

Huddleston & Pullum attribute this to (a) the salience of the singular word one and (b) the influence of structures like that in (2).

For my part, I think that version (1) with a plural verb sounds better than version (3) with a singular verb, but that's a matter of taste.

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