The question is as stated in the title.

In the sentence:

My suffix is one, so right in between, one can be seen

Can the first "one" refer back to the word "suffix", meaning that the suffix (of the word that is being described by these sentences) is literally a suffix? and can the second "one" refer back to the same word "suffix"? So that it means another suffix can be seen (within the word that is being described by these sentences)? Although this is obviously a bit vague (it was part of a riddle). Is this proper English? Or does it not make sense? If not, why not? And how should it be said instead?

I think the construct is valid as it is just like:

I want to give you a cup of coffee but I don't have one

Where "one" refers back to the cup of coffee.


Some context, I wrote a riddle on the puzzling stack exchange site, and it had the following sentences is in it (it's the italicized sentences I'm asking about).

My start suggests I’m made of dough
My suffix is one, so
Right in between, one can be seen
And I have caused a flow

The answer to this riddle is "Riley", which within the context of which the riddle was posted, was not very hard to guess. It was in fact guessed correctly within minutes, so that wasn't the problem. The issue is with the second and third line, no-one seemed to understand the clues.

Now as an additional note, it should be made clear beforehand that I understand "ey" is not a suffix as such in the name "Riley". Yet, at the moment, anything seems to go for suffix/infix/prefix at puzzling stack exchange. So although it is true that some definitions are bastardized, I don't think that's the actual issue here.

I will explain the hints for the purpose of this question. The suffix of "Riley", when bending the definition of suffix to mean "the ending of a word", is defined as being a suffix in the dictionary, that is what the first italicized sentence is meant to convey (in a riddle type of way). Then the second italicized sentence is meant to convey that in between the "R" and the "y", another thing, which is defined as a suffix in the dictionary, can be seen. Namely the suffix "ile".

Now, obviously since this was a riddle, I wasn't really trying to clearly spell out what I meant, since being a bit vague is the point of a riddle, but I seem to have taken things a little too far here and produced something which isn't valid English, which of course isn't really my intention.

Not a native English speaker myself, I'd like to learn if the word "one" in the first sentence can actually be validly interpreted as "referring to another word in the sentence" which is the word "suffix" in this case. As in that the suffix (as in the the ending of the word that was meant to be guessed) is an actual "suffix" (which was "ey" in this case, which is defined as being a suffix in the dictionary). And secondly I'd like to know if it can somehow make sense that the word "one" in the next sentence also refers back to that same word "suffix". So that it means "a suffix can be seen right in between".

A similar construct is a valid construct in my native language (which is why I'm asking this, I would use this construct outside of a riddle as well, unless I know better, I'll provide some examples lower down), but obviously that doesn't necessarily mean it can also be done in English. If not, what would be a valid English way to convey this? And can someone explain what is officially grammatically incorrect about the sentences or the way they are constructed?

And yes I know that the way English is used in the riddle can be described as being vague and misleading (it was a riddle after all), which is why my question is specifically asking about the grammar side of things, and if this construct can somehow be technically correct. Or how else it could be constructed (preferably in a "riddle type of way") to mean what I'm trying to convey.

Other sample sentences which (I think) might make sense using the same construct:

The policeman is a bully, he really is one.
Are you a cool guy? Yes I am one!

In the first sentence one is meant to refer back to bully. And in the second 2 sentences one is meant to refer back to cool guy.

P.S for anyone who has actually managed to read this far here's a little fun fact, I was actually (through my riddle) trying to educate people over at puzzling stack exchange, by pointing them towards actual suffixes in dictionaries, trying to hint that the things that go for prefixes/suffixes over there aren't really what they make them out to be. It appears to have been a miserably failed attempt though :)


2 Answers 2


In short, yes. One can refer back to another word in a sentence. However, the riddle you composed did not use one in a normal (or even arguably correct) way. I'll explain.

One, in this case, acts like a pronoun. It "points" to something else. It may—or may not—refer to something in the sentence in which it's used.

Consider this dialogue:

"I'm going to have a chocolate croissant."
"Oh, that sounds good! I think I'll have one too.

In this case, the one used in the second sentence refers back to the chocolate croissant in the first sentence. You could replace one with a chocolate croissant and it would mean the same thing.

"I'm going to have a chocolate croissant."
"Oh, that sounds good! I think I'll have a chocolate croissant too.

In riddles, the use of one as a pronoun traditionally refers to the answer of the riddle. (In fact, I've never seen it used any other way.) Also, the answer is never contained in the riddle itself.

Consider a very simple (and stupid) riddle I just made up:

I am sitting on one with four legs.

What am I sitting on? The answer is a chair. Therefore:

I am sitting on a chair.

Here's another:

My mother is one. So is my father.

What are they each? The answer is a parent. So:

My mother is a parent. So is my father.

But here's where there was confusion in your riddle.

My suffix is one, so right in between, one can be seen

With the answer being Riley:

My suffix is a Riley, so right in between, a Riley can be seen.

That sentence makes no sense.

I could change the answer to the riddle to "a suffix":

My suffix is a suffix, so right in between, a suffix can be seen.

That sentence does make "sense," in terms of its construction, but it doesn't make sense in the bigger picture. And the clues of the riddle would not point to "a suffix" being the answer.

So, there were really a couple of things that tripped you up.

First, one certainly can refer to something in the same sentence—but it can also refer to something in another sentence, or even something that isn't in any of the immediate sentences at all. So long as people understand what one is referring to, then the meaning of the sentence in which it's placed is clear.

Second, in the case of riddles, whenever you hear "my something is one," or "I'm doing something with one," all of those uses of one as a pronoun traditionally refer to the same thing: the answer to the riddle.

Incidentally, here is a version of your riddle that would not have caused confusion:

My start suggests I am made of dough
I end in a suffix and, right in between,
Still another suffix is seen
(It seems I have caused quite a flow)

  • Thank you so much for taking the time to explain this so clearly that I can actually understand what the problem with my riddle is. Exactly what I was after, thanks again!
    – OnlyF
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 6:29

Addressing your first question (the only one I can at the moment), "one" in the first sentence can NOT refer to "suffix" in the same sentence. If you add the prepositional phrase "of itself" after "one", it no longer makes sense. You can't say "my suffix is one (of itself)" because "suffix" is not descriptive of itself; suffix is not a suffix. Since there is no other noun to which "one" can refer (regardless of this helper phrase), the usage is invalid.

  • I'm not sure how to address your second question, as I don't fully understand your riddle. If "-ey" is the "one" that "can be seen", and thus the solution, where is it seen? I'm going to need some clarification... (I would add this as a comment on the initial question, but I'm a new user on this sub-site and can't comment on other people's stuff yet) Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 23:52
  • The riddle was for the name "Riley", it wasn't a very serious riddle, but "ey" is a suffix according to the dictionary, and so is the infix "ile".. my reasoning was "ey" is of itself a suffix, so "my suffix is one" (of itself i guess, or in itself?), and therefore, in between the R and the y (referring to it being an infix), another suffix can be seen, namely "ile"...
    – OnlyF
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 23:54
  • I know this isn’t part of your question, but I the -ey in Riley shouldn't be considered a suffix, regardless of how a dictionary might define it. Consider: -ed is a suffix, but not in words like indeed or flaxseed; -ly is a suffix, but not words like lily or gadfly. So that in and of itself is going to make this very misleading. Also, even if we overlook the grammatical problems and the bastardization of the word “suffix,” there are likely many names that fit your riddle, like Diane (since -ia & -ane are suffixes) or Mary (-ar & -ry) or Sagan (-age & -en).
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 2:34
  • @J.R. - Thanks, I understand that in the actual name to be guessed the intended suffix should not be considered a suffix, but as someone very well versed in the English language like yourself you probably don't want to know the kinds of things that pass for prefixes, suffixes and infixes on puzzling at the moment, pretty much anything at the start, middle or end of a word goes. Also I will update my question to contain the complete riddle and the answer, there were more hints which pointed to "Riley".
    – OnlyF
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 7:12

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