Do you think this edit was necessary?

So, who is one to believe? (as in "So, who am i to believe?")


So, which one to believe?

Specially considering that the following question in the original text was also specified in a similar manner:

And how is one to back that decision up?



No, the edit wasn't necessary.

As other answers indicate, people can justify changing "who is one to believe?" into "which one to believe?", but I don't think the change is even a significant improvement, let alone a necessity.

Personally, I find "Which one to believe?" rather "clipped" and informal - it looks like a section heading in a magazine article, which doesn't sit well with the relatively formal style of the rest of the text.

The argument that OP is asking which reference source to believe, which therefore can't be "personified" using "who", seems trivial, bordering on pedantic. In any case it would have been a lesser edit to simply change the original "who" to "which". Deleting the word "is" makes an unwarranted change to the tone of the writing.

To summarise, I don't think the edit should have been made. It's irrelevant that some people prefer the revised version - the original certainly wasn't seriously defective, and in such matters I think common courtesy dictates that one should not make trivial changes to another's phrasing.

That last paragraph would be more appropriate if the question had been asked on meta, since it's about how the site should operate - but it's hard to separate "site protocol" from "strict grammar" on this particular issue, since the grammatical error (if indeed there is one) is so trivial.

  • Yeah I agree. I think the new version is a little easier to read, but only as a matter of preference. I don't think the original version was wrong in any way.
    – Lynn
    Dec 20 '11 at 14:10
  • @Lynn: I don't really have an opinion on "easier to read", but if it's only "a lttle easier" that's not really justification for arbitrarily changing the original writer's words. It just looks like a change based primarily on stylistic preference. Which I would accept if, for example, such an exercise were carried out consistently on question titles, since it might make it easier to find specific old questions. But here it just seems like tinkering for the sake of it (or maybe to gain a Copy Editor Badge!). Dec 20 '11 at 15:48
  • To be fair, the edit included a lot of other tidying up. I guess the editor cleaned up a couple of sentences to make them more natural sounding to a native speaker, while he was in there tidying URL links.
    – slim
    Dec 20 '11 at 15:49
  • @slim: That last bit was just in fun. I'm not really having a pop at the editor, so much as reassuring OP here that the justification for this specific edit is tenuous at best. Dec 20 '11 at 16:03

The post that was edited refers to a number of dictionaries, and asks which ones to believe.

Dictionaries are not people. Some books are the voice of a single person -- but dictionaries are usually not.

"Who" refers to people.

"Which" refers to things. A dictionary is a thing.


  • "Of these dictionaries, who am I to believe?" is wrong.
  • "Of these dictionaries, which am I to believe?" is right.
  • +1 for the correct answer. Although dictionaries are anthropomorphizable enough that I wouldn't call the original quote strictly wrong, presumably whoever made the edit would. Dec 20 '11 at 14:40
  • @Peter: Not only are dictionaries "anthropomorphizable enough" in and of themselves - it's also not unreasonable to interpret OP's original "who" as refering to the implied publishers/authors thereof. But although this answer may well relect the thinking behind the change, it doesn't directly address the issue of whether that change was necessary - I don't think so, and it looks like you don't either. Dec 20 '11 at 15:37
  • 2
    I wouldn't have edited the article. However I don't think it's common to anthropomorphise dictionaries. "I consulted Chambers, who told me..." - jars for me. Maybe "I consulted Dr Johnson, who told me..." ...
    – slim
    Dec 20 '11 at 15:43

So, who is one to believe? makes it clear that the question is about people. So, which one to believe? could also be about people, but it could also be about a story or an account or a report. It is also written in an elliptical form. If the question is clearly about people the only reason for changing the first for the second would be to match, in some way or another, the style of the rest of the text. (And can we agree now not to pursue here the who / whom point?)

  • Yes, "who is one to" and "who am i to" are similar in this context but that's it, I just mentioned the "who am i to" in an attempt to clarify the meaning of "who is one to". But the "who am i to" was not part of the original question.
    – drakorg
    Dec 20 '11 at 10:11

Already good answer from Barrie, but let me emphasize another possible reason for the edit

Who is one to believe? / Who am I to believe?

is easier to be taken ambiguously and harder to parse. This is a little bit more obvious in a sentence such as

Who am I to inherit?

which can mean - 1) who will I inherit and also 2) to express a wonder in a sense of "why should I inherit?". I think this parsing ambiguity carries over and that ultimately the

So, which one to believe?

is more clear. While at it you can take out "one" unless you have reasons to keep it, as

So, which to believe?

is even shorter and also understandable.


Your editor was confused; if they had meant just to de-personify the "who", they would have used:

So, which is one to believe?

or (admittedly confusing, but still correct):

So, which one is one to believe?

Instead, they were thinking that you were confused about which/who and whether the verb is was required, or by word order...that you were saying something like "What it is?", for example.


To me 'So, who is one to believe?' and 'So, who am I to believe?' do not ring the same bell. The latter could erroneously suggest something like 'So, who should I believe?' [Capitalizations mine.]

  • The OP did not involve the "who am I to", it was just an attempt to clarify the meaning of "who is one to". The questionable edit is on the transformation from "who is one to believe?" to "which one to believe?". I figure that it was most probably a style-based edit, but I'm not sure, and was wondering if it could have been based on maybe some grammatical point, which I doubt. And if there were no grammatical errors, why should then the editor's style prevail over the author's? I'm just getting the grasp on this forum, please bear with me.
    – drakorg
    Dec 20 '11 at 10:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.