8

Here's a paragraph cite from a magazine:

"... When we found out that our proposal was one of only five that had been accepted, it felt like God had stepped in to help us start our business."

My question is, is the sentence "one of only five"'s grammar correct?

Shouldn't it be"one of the only five" or something like this?

  • 2
    No, adding "the" might imply that several 'lots of five proposals' had been submitted, and only one of those lots of five had been accepted, yours being one of the accepted lot. But the intended meaning I believe is that of all the proposals submitted, only five were accepted and yours was one of those five. Can you see the possible difference in meaning? – BillJ Aug 31 '16 at 10:54
  • 3
    @BillJ I don't really see the potential in this sentence for the five to refer to a collective/lot. Do you have an example sentence in mind? – shawnt00 Aug 31 '16 at 14:04
  • "one of only five" means that the pronoun "one" is being modified by an adjective prepositional phrase "of only five" / it is saying already that there are five proposals, and you don't need to be specific with the definite article "the" to point out "five." What is helping the five to be specific is the adjective "only" is modifying the object of the preposition "five" to mean these five and no others. See the definition of "only" as an adjective: "existing with no other or others of the same kind" and "kind" would stand for "proposal." merriam-webster.com/dictionary/only – Arch Denton Sep 3 '16 at 10:00
11

This painting is one of three the artist painted of his mother.

The artist painted three paintings of his mother. This painting is one of them.

This painting is one of only three the artist painted of his mother.

The artist painted only three paintings of his mother. (The speaker thinks three paintings of his mother is a small number of paintings, small enough to be mentioned as a fact in its own right.) This painting is one of them.

This painting is one of the three the artist painted of his mother.

The artist painted three paintings of his mother. (The speaker is referring to that trio of paintings as if the listener is already aware there was a trio of paintings, or to introduce the fact that there was a trio, possibly because the speaker intends to discuss all three.) This painting is one of them.

This painting is one of the only three the artist painted of his mother.

Same as immediately above, in terms of the assumption that the listener is aware of the three, or to introduce the fact that there were three, coupled with the idea that three is a small number.

P.S. This last version, "one of the only three", strikes my ear as odd, but it is well attested.

  • Any use of the word "only" with a number other than "one" grates on me, because "only" originally meant "one-like" or "one of a kind". In many cases ("only child") it still means that. But like its cousin "unique", it now has come to also mean "rare", watering it down so that we no longer have a single word that means "one of a kind". – Monty Harder Aug 31 '16 at 20:23
  • But we can say without any jarring whatsoever: These are the only two I have left until the new shipment arrives. It's when we turn "the only two" into a partitive set that things start going off: This is one of the only two I have left. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 31 '16 at 22:36
  • "Well attested" it may be, but many odd things are that. There are plenty of poor writers out there. – Robusto Sep 1 '16 at 15:14
  • google.com/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 1 '16 at 15:17
9

Yes, "one of only five" is grammatically correct. So is "one of the only five". The word "only" can be an adverb or an adjective, depending on what it modifies.

We use only as an adjective to mean that there is just one or very few of something, or that there are no others:

  • He was the only person in the room.

We use only as an adverb to mean that something is limited to some people, things, an amount or an activity:

  • Only a few hundred houses survived the hurricane without any damage.

- Cambridge Dictionary

Whether the is present or absent, your sentence has the sense that

  • many proposals were submitted;
  • you submitted one proposal;
  • five proposals were accepted; and
  • yours was one of the five proposals that were accepted.

The question that remains relates to the difference between

  1. one of only five that were accepted; and
  2. one of the only five that were accepted.

In both cases, only is used to indicate that there are very few of something, so both use only as an adjective. There is only a nuanced difference between the two cases.

In #1, the emphasis is that your proposal was one of very few that were accepted.
In #2, the emphasis is that yours was within the set that was accepted.

  • 2
    I don't see anything wrong with one of the only five proposals… - it seems equivalent to one of only five proposals… to me. – nekomatic Aug 31 '16 at 13:57
  • I'm a bit confused, are you saying that "one of thé only five that had been accepted" might means I Had sent only five proposals, and one of the only five is accepted?😳 – Jasmine Kuo Sep 1 '16 at 7:20
  • @JasmineKuo I'm in the process of redrafting my answer as a result of nekomatic's comment and some discussions with others in chat. Please give me a day or so to collect my thoughts. But I'm not saying that the sentence means you sent 5 proposals. The sentence says you only sent one, regardless of whether "the" is present or absent in the sentence. – Lawrence Sep 1 '16 at 7:37
  • @JasmineKuo I've redrafted my answer, and I think it's clearer now. If you prefer my previous answer, let me know, and I'll roll-back to it, and move the current one to a new answer. – Lawrence Sep 1 '16 at 13:07
  • @nekomatic Thanks for your comment. Yes, they're pretty much equivalent. I detect a nuanced difference, which I've expressed in my redrafted answer. In any case, both are fine. – Lawrence Sep 1 '16 at 13:09

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