I recently stumbled on a song's lyrics in which the 1st line says:

The great truth is there isn't one

Given the rest of the lyrics, I think the author meant that no great truth exists at all. Yet, I was wondering, in other contexts, could the sentence be interpreted like there isn't exactly one great truth, but either zero or a number of them? Would that grammatically make sense? If not, then what would be a correct phrasing for such a statement?


I am aware there is a logical flaw in the sentence, which is intentional, pretty much as Socrates' "I know that I know nothing". Tuffy's answer develops this point better than I would do. My question seems to be a bit ambiguous and I'll try to clarify it. I am French and in my mother tongue (among others), there is no word being both a cardinal number and a pronoun just like "one" is in English. Hence, I was wondering:

  • can the sentence "The great truth is there isn't one" be only equivalent to "The great truth is there isn't any"

  • or can the word "one" also be interpreted as the cardinal number with the sentence still correct in English language (i.e. we could rephrase the sentence as "There may be zero great truth, or two, or more, but just not one (unique) great truth")?

closed as off-topic by Hot Licks, JJJ, Neeku, TrevorD, Mitch Apr 16 at 14:46

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  • The same phrase can carry a different meaning in a different context, with context inclusive of the reader's assumptions and presuppositions. – Lawrence Apr 13 at 13:41
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    To some extent, the interpretation could vary according to how a speaker emphasised the words. If you meant 'there is more than one', you are more likely to say "... there isn't just one". I don't understand you questioning could it mean "zero": as you said, it means "no great truth exists at all" - which is zero! – TrevorD Apr 13 at 14:02
  • The sentence itself is grammatical—but paradoxical. If there isn't a great truth—then it can't be correct that the great truth that doesn't exist is that there isn't one. It's similar to the following I'm compiling a list of all lists that don't list themself. Do you list the list you're currently compiling or not? – Jason Bassford Apr 13 at 15:36
  • I would not interpret "one" as being a number. I read its as being equivalent to: "The great truth is that it [truth] doesn't exist" – user323578 Apr 13 at 16:39
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because song lyrics are off-topic. – Hot Licks Apr 13 at 17:20

Dima, and welcome to ELU. Your question is an interesting example of presupposition and of a logical conundrum. What you are really suggesting this that the sentence is ambiguous. It is a kind of logical paradox. With your interpretation we can say this.

The one great truth is that there is no great truth. But if "There is no great truth" is true, then the one (and only) great truth is true. In which care there is (at least) one great truth, in which case it must be false, in which case it must be true........ for ever.

But that makes me a bit of a killjoy, doesn't it? It is logically flawed. But it is a rhetorically vivid and pointed way to warn against simplistic answers, theories and ideologies.

Every known claim to be the one great truth has turned out to be in some way insufficient or oversimplified.

But this statement is less striking and memorable.

In fact, all the 'truths' tend to be of the uninteresting kind, like:

Five plus seven equals twelve.

So there is nothing grammatically wrong with the statement you quote. It is logically flawed, because it leads to a self-contradiction, a little like

The statement I am now making is not true.

If this is true it must be false, in which case it must be true, ... ad infinitum.

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