Does "not one of them" mean “more than one of them” or “none of them”?


Not one of them thought it necessary to avoid dogmatic statements about unicorns because he had never seen one of them.

  • 1
    One = the number 1. Not one = the number zero = none. Apr 12, 2020 at 20:08
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    @YosefBaskin, not maths (because 'Not one' doesn't just '= the number zero', it also equals two, three, four etc), but english: not one == none
    – mcalex
    Apr 13, 2020 at 6:14
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    @YosefBaskin : careful, because this alone is not sufficient. You can say "I received not one, but two gifts". It's important that it's followed by "... of them"
    – vsz
    Apr 13, 2020 at 15:07
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    "Not one of them" = "none of them". However, "not one of them" is stronger than "none of them". Apr 13, 2020 at 22:10
  • The phrase is used a lot in the bible: "And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left." Apr 15, 2020 at 8:39

5 Answers 5


Strictly mathematically, if you only had "not one", it could mean zero, or could mean a hundred, or any other number besides 1.

However, this idiom ("not one of them") is a stronger version of "none of them". It means "none of them", but with more emotion. Like in an exasperation, a hope that at least one of them would do something, but then realizing that not even one of them was willing to do it.

This idiom is basically a shortened form of "not even one of them".

  • Only your first paragraph is right. 'Not one' isn't an idiom on its own (though it is part of other idioms eg:'not one red cent', 'if it's not one thing, it's another'). There's no strength to 'not one' or weakness to 'none'. Basically, they are interchangeable except where they are not. The emotion in your example (I'd just call it emphasis) disappears without the word 'even' in there. "Not one of them was willing ..." isn't stronger than "None of them was willing ...". ->
    – mcalex
    Apr 15, 2020 at 5:07
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    The last para is just wrong. "Not one' isn't 'basically a shortened version of 'not even one"'. The two phrases are different simply because 'even' adds emphasis. See the links in my answer, plus M-W, Oxford, Macmillan, Collins. They all define none as not one (Collins actually defines none as not even one). None (not one) of them mention strength.
    – mcalex
    Apr 15, 2020 at 5:09
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    @mcalex, sorry but I have to disagree. Even if the technical literal definition is that "not one" and "none" are equivalent, when I hear "not one of them" in place of "none of them", the former does have an added emphasis. As a native speaker I hear it, and it would be wrong to say to a non-native speaker the two phrases are always identical and interchangeable. Apr 16, 2020 at 0:12

The etymology (in fact, even the definition) of none is literally 'not one', so technically the quote is just using the long version of 'None'. Read like that it becomes:

None of them thought it necessary to avoid ...

It is a potential confusion point as strictly speaking, 'not one' could logically refer to any other digit in the base 10 system and while I can't think of an instance off hand, I am sure the term has been used - either for effect, or as a punchline/payoff - in its literal sense.

  • I can't think of an exact usage of "not one of them" meaning more than one (other than a bad pun), but similar phrases exist where this ambiguity does apply, e.g. "An explanation? I can't find one. Can you?" vs "An explanation? I can't find one, but two possible explanations for why this happened!".
    – Flater
    Apr 13, 2020 at 9:21
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    You don't need base 10 to have a well-defined notion of "one"... "one" means the same thing in any base.
    – Lee Mosher
    Apr 13, 2020 at 15:58
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    @Flater, I made up this example: And how many of his last three press statements were lies? Not one of them, not two, all three of them were simply not true! He really _is_ a notorious liar. Here, "not one of them" does not prepare the punchline (payoff) of a joke, it's added for emphasis. [Disclaimer: I'm not a native speaker, so the style may be off in my example.] Apr 13, 2020 at 20:39
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    I could easily imagine saying "not one of them", with appropriate emphasis, in response to a question of the form "did one of them [X]?" - meaning that more than one of them did, in fact, [X]. But the unusual emphasis is necessary to convey that the meaning is different. However, a statement like "not one, not two, but three of them ..." would be common idiomatic English used to emphasise a number that might otherwise seem small.
    – Carcer
    Apr 13, 2020 at 23:45
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    I guess what I was trying (not very clearly) to say is that in actual usage, the ambiguity of the phrase "not one" is using it for other larger numbers, not just with other digits, similar to the suggestion of @Carcer. For example, a possible line from a zombie movie: "Not one, hundreds!"
    – Lee Mosher
    Apr 14, 2020 at 11:58

"Not one of them" means "none of them." "Not one of them" emphasizes that no single person among them thought it was necessary.


"Not one of them" implies none of them thought it necessary.


"Not one of them" is just a confusing way of saying "not any of them"

  • 2
    Except that "not any of them" is not idiomatic English, whereas "Not one of them" or "None of them" is. Apr 14, 2020 at 12:06

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