I want to know what the constraints are on using the phrase one of the.

Is it used correctly in this example?

He is one of the soldiers who fight for their country.


The verb fight has to be plural here. The reason is that the relative clause has to refer to soldiers, not one. The fact that their is used should already be considered evidence of this (or it would have been his).

If who fights for their country referred to one of the soldiers, that means the paratactic (= with coordinate clauses) equivalent would be thus:

*He is [ [one of the soldiers] who fights for their country].
*He is one of the soldiers, and he fights for their country.

But what we really mean by that sentence is this:

He is [one of [the soldiers who fight for their country] ].
There are soldiers who fight for their country, and he is one of them.

We don't mean to say he is one of the soldiers: that is not relevant. Which "the" soldiers, anyway? What we want to say is that he is among a certain kind of soldiers, namely those who fight for their country, so we use a defining relative clause to define the kind of soldiers that he belongs to. The kind of soldiers has to be defined first, before we assign him to this group. That means the relative clause refers to the soldiers only; only after that is one of added.


The general rule for usage of the phrase "one of the" is:

One of the + PLURAL NOUN + that/who etc. + SINGULAR/PLURAL VERB

So, the noun following the phrase "one of the" is always a plural noun, whereas use of verbs as singular or plural will entirely depend upon the subject of the statement, i.e. singular verb for singular subject and plural verb for plural subject.

For example:

Pistachio is one of the few flavors that appeal to me.

That acts as the subject for the verb "appeal", and that in this sentence refers to flavors (plural noun) and thus, appeal (plural verb) is used.

The alarm is triggered when one of the criminals tries to escape.

"One criminal" (singular noun) who tries to escape is the subject for the verb "try", and thus try becomes tries (singular verb).

SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2 (Headline only)

  • 1
    I'm thankful that "SOURCE 1" says: "This is one of those occasions in English usage that lets you follow your ear to determine what works best." My ear doesn't like appeal, and finds appeals much more appealing. Nonetheless, I'll upvote this answer, because it is well-substantiated, even if I do sit on the other side of the fence. Besides, if language was always so cut-and-dried, what would be the point of this site?
    – J.R.
    Jan 19 '14 at 8:36

The phrase 'one of the' is used to describe something/someone from the same group.

There are many birds on the tree. One of the birds is red.

This means we are talking about all the birds on the three but then when you want to be specific about the red bird, you use one of the.

He is one of the soldiers who fights for their country - is correct.

We'll use the verb *fights*. The subject of the sentence is he, not soldiers; therefore, the verb should agree with the singular he, not soldiers, which is the object of the preposition (J.R.).

Note: Another common mistake found among non-native speakers while using one of the is that they consider a single item/unit as a group of whatever they are talking about. This is incorrect.

Having this said,

He is one of my friend - incorrect.
He is one of my friends - correct.

  • 4
    It should be He is one of the soldiers who fight for their country, as "soldiers who fight for their country" would become a collective noun.
    – kmdhrm
    Jan 18 '14 at 7:02
  • 1
    Mea culpa! +1 for a collective noun. But then, there's an instance found on Google Books - He's one of the soldiers who fights El Sordo on the hill...
    – Maulik V
    Jan 18 '14 at 7:14
  • @Dipak - I don't think so; I think the answer was correct before the edit: "He is one of the soldiers who fights for his country," but, "They are three of the soldiers who fight for their country." It ought to follow this construct: "She is one who roots for Manchester, but they are two who root for Liverpool."
    – J.R.
    Jan 18 '14 at 10:53
  • @J.R. What Dipak meant is "He is one of the soldiers who fight for their country. Note their there. The soldiers being a collective noun probably.
    – Maulik V
    Jan 18 '14 at 10:59
  • The version that you have put down – "He is one of the soldiers who fight for their country" – does not strike me as "correct."
    – J.R.
    Jan 18 '14 at 11:03

The simple logic is this- when 'one of' occurs at the beginning of a sentence it takes a singular verb e.g one of the diseases that kills children is malaria. When it is at the middle it takes a plural verb e.g malaria is one of the diseases that kill children.

  • @Chenmunka: kills is singular, kill is plural.
    – oerkelens
    Jul 10 '15 at 9:17

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