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A man who looks up to celebrities will never become one.

Men who look up to celebrities will never become... ones?

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    @All Do not answer in comments. If you have an answer, which may correct a misconception, WRITE AN ANSWER.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 13:27
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    This is my inner logic nerd coming out, but why would you need the second form at all? It describes exactly the same set as the first one.
    – user888379
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 12:09
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    The original sentence appears to be ambiguous. Do you have more context that would help clarify? "One" could be a pronoun that refers to "celebrities" or it could be the number 1, meaning "whole" or "coherent". Perhaps the ambiguity was purposeful, in which case it's going to be hard adapting the sentence to plural while preserving the ambiguity. The posted answers appear to ignore the ambiguity completely and focus on "one" as a pronoun referring to "celebrity".
    – Stef
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 18:10
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    Would this use of "one" be considered a collective noun?
    – Bill
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:02

8 Answers 8

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In this instance, 'such' can be used to refer to plural as well as singular referents:

  • Men who look up to celebrities will never become such.

such [pronoun]

  1. such a person (or persons) or thing (or things)

[Collins]

such [pronoun]

  1. such a person or thing or such persons or things:
  • kings, princes, and such
  1. someone or something indicated:
  • She claims to be a friend but is not such.

[and, by analogy, • They claim to be our friends but are not such.]

[R H K Webster's]

An example of 'such' used as a formal alternative to (singular) 'one':

  • And though he may possess all the faculties which go to make a skilled constructor, he will never become such without knowledge.

[Scientific American_The Constructive Faculty of the Mind; via Google]

And an example of the plural usage:

  • But boys of nine are not yet slackers and loafers. It is our business to give them such an interest in life that they will never become such.

["Sir Leslie Wilson Scout Fund: Why Wolf Cubs?", The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 - 1947), Tue 22 Aug 1933, Page 9. Retrieved from TROVE]

I didn't add the caveats 'dated' and 'quite formal' because the dictionaries didn't, but I certainly agree with Janus's comment.

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    ... Adversaries who disdain peacemakers will never become one. Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 11:51
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    While this may be a very formal expectation, it sounds -very- strange to my ears. Is this a common phrasing in BrE?
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 13:45
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    such is a stand in for one, and not a plural....
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 14:06
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    So you'd say RHKW has it wrong, Lambie? 'such [pronoun]: such a person or thing or such persons or things: kings, princes, and such' And Collins ('such as live by the sword')? Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 14:33
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    @Mitch: No, it sounds just as odd to my BrE ears.
    – psmears
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 15:49
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Sometimes, the "plural" is actually one. Not a plural of course, strictly speaking, but in the example you give, one would be a very natural way of saying what you want to say:

Men who look up to celebrities will never become one.

Or, better:

Men who look up to celebrities will never become one themselves.

This is a relatively common construct, you can find many examples where a plural is used to describe a group and then the singular is still used for an individual. For instance (made up examples, not quotes):

Just because you like doctors, doesn't mean you need to become one.

Being interested in jugglers does not imply I am one!

Since the final one refers to a single individual, it doesn't need to be in agreement with the earlier plural.

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    This answer sounds by far the most natural of all the suggestions currently, at least here in the US. "Such" might be more common in the UK maybe? Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 14:14
  • @DarrelHoffman I don't think so? I learned English on my American father's knee, so AmE, but I've spent more than 10 years living in the UK and no years living in the US, so my idiolect is all over the place. I doubt such would work for celebrities in any dialect though.
    – terdon
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 15:32
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    I think there's a slight difference in examples. In the latter, there's a single you/I which is under discussion, so a singular "one" feels fine (the "one" refers to the one doctor/juggler which you/I would be). However, in the first there are multiple men, so for me "one" doesn't quite work to refer to the multiple celebrities the multiple men would be.
    – R.M.
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 18:11
  • This isn't wrong though I've heard numerous comedians have fun with the inherent ambiguity of this structure. Ambiguity because it could either mean they individually be come one all of them become a single one. This would indeed be more natural than "such" but watch out for possible alternative interpretations. Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 18:14
12

In that context, you can use the pronoun them, which is not a plural form of one but an alternative, different word:

Men who look up to celebrities will never become them.

As an anaphoric pronoun, them can take the place of the word "celebrities" from earlier in the sentence, giving the meaning "Men who look up to celebrities will never become celebrities".

Compare:

in fact, we are not Spartans or Athenians, and will never become them.

(page 67; Bell, David A. “WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS: Dissenting from the Draft.” World Affairs, vol. 170, no. 3, 2008, pp. 59–68. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20672809. Accessed 28 Apr. 2023.)

Grammar notes on one and ones

The word ones can't be used in your sentence, but it exists and can be used in other circumstances: e.g. "I didn't want this one, but the other ones." The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, by Rodney Huddleston, Geoffrey K. Pullum, et al., calls "one(s)" in that kind of sentence a "pro-nominal", rather than a "pronoun": the difference is that the pronoun one found in a sentence like "One must consider many things" takes the place of a whole noun phrase, including articles (compare "The reader must consider many things"), while in a context like "the other one(s)" the pro-nominal one(s) takes the place of a noun, possibly used with a premodifier (compare "the other (red) apple(s)").

In your original sentence, "one" is neither the pro-nominal one nor the pronoun one, but actually a third type of word:

A man who looks up to celebrities will never become one.

"One" here is what CamGEL calls a determinative, and it's basically used as a stressed, independent version of the indefinite article a(n). "One" here is short for "a celebrity", like how "mine" is short for "my pen" in a sentence like "If you need a pen, you can take mine". But since the plural of "a celebrity" is "celebrities", with no determiner, I think there's no way to form an equivalent expression in the plural. CamGEL more specifically refers to this type of determinative one as "singulative one" (or "ones" for short) and says it "fills the gap resulting from the inability of a to function as fused-head", giving the example "Mary bought a book, and I bought *a/ones as well" (Chapter 5, §7.7., page 387, underlining replaced with bold).

The upvotes on terdon's answer, as well as several comments, show that a significant amount of people who visited this page think "Men who look up to celebrities will never become one (themselves)" sounds natural. I don't like that wording, because I view it as equivalent to saying "Men who look up to celebrities will never become a celebrity (themselves)", and I find it illogical to use the singular predicate "one/a celebrity" in combination with the plural subject "Men". Perhaps my attitude about this is too rigid, and it is in practice a fine way to put it. But I wouldn't choose that wording in the context of something like a grammar test: R.M.'s comment shows that I'm not the only person who finds the number mismatch problematic.

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    To me, that sounds like 'them' is referring to the people, as in "the person will never become like them", and not referring to "becoming a celebrity". But maybe that's just in this specific context. Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 12:51
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    @MichaelBray It depends on whether there's an antecedent already established for "them". If not, "celebrities" would be the default.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 14:40
  • In A man who looks up to celebrities will never become one, is one a pronoun (or a pro-NP) in CGEL (since it refers to the NP "a celebrity")? If so, does CGEL treat this one (as a pronoun/pro-NP) differently from ones (as a pro-nominal)?
    – JK2
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 4:25
  • Do you mean CGEL classifies it as a determinative?
    – JK2
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 6:48
  • Would you also object to other plurals used that way? Is something like those who learn from experts are likely to become one also problematic for you?
    – terdon
    Commented May 1, 2023 at 18:01
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I think that in this case, you don't need a plural. Any individual man can only become 'one', so even when talking of men, each can, or can not, become one.

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In this case, ending the sentence with "one" means that you're leaving off an understood, but unwritten/unspoken part of the sentence: "of them".

In many contexts, we could replace "one" with "a", but it wouldn't make sense to make that change here, unless you include a full noun to go with "a" - like "a celebrity".

A man who looks up to celebrities (a group of people) will never become one of them.
A man who looks up to celebrities (a group of people) will never become a celebrity.

After all, "a man" (literally one man) doesn't become more than one of anything, he joins a group, in this case, of celebrities.

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It perhaps sounds more natural in a different context:

'Do you like these greetings cards?' 'No, I prefer these ones.'

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    But you might as well say no, I prefer these. The addition of ones adds nothing to the sentence other than wordiness and awkwardness.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 7:21
  • This example is explicitly referring to a plural set. You can prefer more than one greeting card, but you can never be more than one person as in the OP's example, so "one" is perfectly appropriate in that context. Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 13:19
  • @DarrelHoffman: The second example in the OP uses a plural subject "Men", which would be more than one person (compare "Those men will become celebrities" to "Those men will become a celebrity").
    – herisson
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 21:56
  • @phoog I disagree. The word "ones" indicates that the other things the speaker prefers are different greeting cards, as opposed to some non-greeting-card alternative. Without "ones" it could mean either.
    – kaya3
    Commented Apr 29, 2023 at 3:10
  • Please don't post answers unless you are providing a new answer to the question. This seems like a comment on another answer.
    – terdon
    Commented May 6, 2023 at 10:23
0

The only pronoun here that doesn't sound awkward to me is "them":

Men who look up to celebrities will never become them.

However, this is a little bit ambiguous because it could be interpreted as meaning that the men will never become the specific celebrities they look up to, rather than become celebrities at all. (That is, will a man who looks up to Tom Hanks never become a celebrity, or will he only never become Tom Hanks?)

So I would just duplicate the word "celebrities":

Men who look up to celebrities will never become celebrities themselves.

The addition of "themselves" is not strictly necessary but it helps to emphasise that the second use of the word "celebrities" does not refer to the same people as the first one does.

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  • I don't think them is ambiguous in your first example. To me, it unambiguously means "they will not become those specific celebrities" and I don't see how else it could be interpreted.
    – terdon
    Commented May 1, 2023 at 18:03
  • @terdon The paragraph you're talking about explains both ways that it can be interpreted.
    – kaya3
    Commented May 1, 2023 at 18:41
  • I know, and I am saying that the paragraph is wrong (IMO, anyway) and the only way it can be interpreted is that the men will never become the specific celebrities they look up to since them refers to a specific group. "Will never become them" will never be understood as "will never become an example of the general case" but will always be understood to mean "will never become one of the specific things I mentioned earlier".
    – terdon
    Commented May 1, 2023 at 18:56
  • @terdon Yes, but the word "celebrities" ambiguously refers to either a specific set of celebrities that the men look up to, or celebrities in general. So "will never become them" = "will never become members of the class of celebrities in general" still doesn't mean "will never become Tom Hanks". Note that in the original singular form of the sentence, "a man who looks up to celebrities", the word "celebrities" also refers to celebrities as a class of people rather than a specific set of celebrities.
    – kaya3
    Commented May 1, 2023 at 20:18
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"A man who looks up to celebrities will never become one of them" sort of fixes the semantics of it.

Become a man? Become one (with nature)? Become one of them.

Beats becoming ones such that they thus are.

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    But there is nothing about A man who looks up to celebrities will never become one that needs fixing. The question is about what happens if you change the subject to "men."
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 7:24
  • In which case I'm the one who doesn't care about the "points", and, so, I can take long enough breaks to re-assess my perspective on what matters to me. Ie, to best learn something involves forgetting it many times. Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 12:35

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