Do "the one thing" and "only thing" mean the same?

Consider the following:

  1. Basketball is the one thing that X is can do and Y cannot.
  2. Basketball is the only thing that X is can do and Y cannot.

Are there any differences between these?

  • 2
    In this context, they mean the same. (Your sentences should read "that X can do", by the way.) Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 16:18

1 Answer 1


Number 2 means the only / the single difference between X and Y is in their ability to play basketball.

Number 1 has a similar meaning, but it doesn't necessarily imply that the ability to play basketball is the only difference between X and Y. It's only one of the differences and to the speaker, it's the most important difference between the two.

In other words, number 1 means, there is one thing that X can do, but Y cannot, and I think that thing is the most important thing, or the only difference between the two I know of, but it's not necessarily the only difference.

  • 1
    As a native speaker, I disagree. The one thing, the only thing and the one and only thing all mean the same to me. One thing (without the definite article) would be used for one of several. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 16:27
  • @Kate Bunting Thanks Kate. I read the opinions of other native speakers on other forums to come up with that explanation. The question has been asked before on other websites such as wordreference. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 16:34

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