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One of the things that fascinates us most about cats is the popular belief that they have nine lives.

  1. Can I use "fascinate" not "fascinates" to direct to the "one"?

  2. I first thought that "fascinate’" should direct to "the things". When I saw it was "fascinates" I thought "fascinates" directed to the "one".

Why can't the sentence be written like the one below?

One that fascinates us most about cats of the things is the popular belief that they have nine lives

4

The predicate in your sentence is "is" – not "fascinates".

Let's restructure your thought and write it a different way:

Cats fascinate us for many reasons. One is the popular belief that they have nine lives.

That second sentence is essentially your sentence; however, in your sentence, you've added a clause between the subject (One) and the predicate (is):

One [of the things that fascinates us most about cats] is the popular belief that they have nine lives.

So really your question is about what we should use inside that clause: fascinate or fascinates?

I took a look at some similar sentences, and found examples that suggest it could go either way:

  • One of the things that makes mercury dangerous is it can be absorbed through the skin. (Source)
  • One of the things that makes that movie [Back to the Future] work is the relationship between Doc and Marty McFly. (Source)
  • One of the things that make Barcelona so special is that neighbourhood feeling. (Source)
  • One of the things that impact fuel economy is tire pressure. (Source)

One of things that can vex us in English is a phrase like one of the things. Is it singular, or plural? Do we focus on the one, or on the things? This very question was asked on ELU, and a very good answer there shows that there are differing opinions about this. There are many good quotes in that well-referenced answer; I will copy just one of them here:

For most writers the choice depends on whether you're thinking of a single case or a general principle. Usage commentators in the UK and the US have been inclined to say it should be the plural; and the Harper-Heritage usage panel voted heavily in its favor (78%). Yet Webster's English Usage (1989) found ample American evidence for the singular construction, and it's just as common as the plural in British data from the BNC. Writers using the singular take their cue from one, whereas plural users are responding to those [people] or the [things]. (Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage)

As for the sentence you proposed:

One that fascinates us most about cats of the things is the popular belief that they have nine lives.

That doesn't work. However, you could rearrange it so that it would work just fine:

One thing that fascinates us most about cats is the popular belief that they have nine lives

Changing one of the things to one thing is actually a good way to dodge this problem. It reads nicely, and doesn't really shift the meaning that much:

  • One thing that makes mercury dangerous is it can be be absorbed through the skin.
  • Nice job addressing a question that is much harder than it looks! I started trying to write an answer and gave up when I realized that I might spend four hours googling for a satisfactory explanation of why both verbs agree with One and still not find one. This topic might vex the OP, as it does me, but I think this answer provides truly useful information and insight. – Ben Kovitz Oct 4 at 11:55
  • Say, do you think "One thing that fascinates us most about cats…" (near the end) would be better without "most"? – Ben Kovitz Oct 4 at 12:44
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    @BenK - Thanks for your kind words. As for your question about most, here's my take: when I write a long sentence that hinges on an "is" in the middle (like the one in the question does), I usually restructure it completely. In other words, I'd recommend something more direct in an essay, like: Cats fascinate us because they have nine lives, or: We are fascinated by the nine lives of cats. When speaking, however, it's not that uncommon to let such utterances slip out, leading to an occasional "double-is" (or, worse yet, the dreaded "double-do"). You do do that on occasion, don't you? – J.R. Oct 4 at 14:20
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    How did you come up with the idea to break "One [of the things that fascinates us most about cats] is the popular belief that they have nine lives." up into "Cats fascinate us for many reasons. One is the popular belief that they have nine lives." ? This is beyond ingenious. I would give +10 ^ if I could. – AIQ Oct 4 at 16:16
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Why did not the sentence say: One that fascinates is most about cats of the things is the popular belief that they have nine lives?

“One that fascinates” is not valid grammar because the subject of a sentence can not “fascinate” the object of the sentence. The subject could be “fascinated by”, but one cannot fascinate anything because it is impossible to force someone to be fascinated by something. Also note that your version of the sentence makes the singular “one” the subject of the sentence, it represents a potential person, for example “One must obey the law”, “What one does with their private time is none their employer’s business”. The goal of the sentence is to communicate that people, in general, are particularly curious about and interested in the myth of cats having 9 lives.

  • Why not say: one of the things that fascinate us most about cats is the popular belief that they have nine lives? – Y. zeng Oct 4 at 6:49
  • What do you mean by: The subject could be “fascinated by”. Clearly "fascinated by" is not the subject of the sentence. Also, this sentence seems way off: one cannot fascinate anything because it is impossible to force someone to be fascinated by something. I mean, there is nothing wrong with saying, "She fascinates me." What does "forcing someone to be fascinated" have to do with anything? Lastly, the OP's subject does not use the word "one" in the same sense as, "One must obey the law." Not even close. – J.R. Oct 4 at 9:20
  • I'm saying that the structure of his sentence creates that context, I assume, like you, that it was not his intent. What I mean by "force" is that OP seems to be confused about the usage of "fascinates", he seems to think it is something x does to y, rather than a feeling y experiences. Your example "She fascinates me." is really short for "I am fascinated by her, I think about her". This is not unique to "fascinates" of course, same goes for "She terrifies me". I could be wrong, it's just a guess at what he's struggling with. – Jesse Adam Oct 4 at 9:40

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