When we talk about amount, which word is more correct, "one" or "single"?

  • Remember, you should do it in one step, not multiple ones.
  • Remember, you should do it in a single step, not multiple ones.
  • Place only one sentence per line.
  • Place only a single sentence per line.
  • I have one cat and two dogs.
  • I have a single cat and two dogs.

(This is strange that nobody asked this question for years.)

  • 4
    Stylistically, it's better to contrast "single" with "multiple" and "one" with "two". So your first and last sentences are a bit stylistically awkward for breaking this parallelism. That said, there's nothing incorrect about them. Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 12:56
  • 1
    You can't say that one is 'more correct' than the other - it all depends on context. Single emphasises the fact that there is only one of something. We would normally say "I have one cat and two dogs", but if we had been discussing households with large numbers of cats, we might possibly say "However, I have only a single cat." Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 13:08

2 Answers 2


When used as determiners, “one” is no different from any other number that could have been used, while “single” indicates a difference between one and all other numbers.

For instance, I might say you can have “one” cookie after dinner; I could just as easily have allowed you two cookies. But you have a “single” winner in a race; anyone who is not the winner is necessarily a loser.

Both words also have other uses that may not be as interchangeable.


I mean, they are almost the same, but we use them differently.

Using the word 'single' adds emphasis to the amount, but it also carries the connotation of an unmarried parent.

One, as a noun, refers to the first cardinal number while as a pronoun it refers to a person of a specified kind.

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