I took an online English test, where a question was as follows:

Do you want ___ sandwich or two?

a) a
b) one

I chose option "a" but it was incorrect. We usually say "do you want a sandwich?", then why was my option incorrect?

  • 1
    This is just another one of those examples showing that "non-specialists" should probably avoid making up multiple-choice questions about valid English constructions like this. I'm starving! I could go a sandwich or two! – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 10 '20 at 17:35

We use a/an before singular countable nouns like cat, dog, sandwich, etc.

However, we use one rather than a/an if we want to emphasize that we are talking about only one thing or person rather than two or more:

  1. Do you want one sandwich or two.

Therefore, the usage of one is correct here.

Similar examples are:

• Are you staying just one night.

• I just took one look at him and he started laughing.

  • 2
    Saying 'do you want a [thing] or two?' is perfectly natural conversational English. 'A sandwich or two' means 'a small number or sandwiches'. I am going camping; I shall take a sandwich or two. – Michael Harvey Jun 10 '20 at 17:22
  • 4
    @MichaelHarvey Yes, we say "an X or two" to mean "a small number". But we don't say, "Do you want an X or two?" to mean "Do you want one or do you want two?" When contrasing with "two", we say "one", not "a". If I asked someone, "Do you want a sandwich or two?", I would not be surprised if he answered "Yes", as in, yes, I would like one sandwich or maybe two. If I asked someone, "Would you like one sandwich or two?" I would expect him to answer either "one" or "two". An answer of "yes" would just be being deliberately difficult. – Jay Jun 10 '20 at 17:25
  • 1
    My mother, when serving gravy, used to say 'one lump or two?'. – Michael Harvey Jun 10 '20 at 17:28

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