0

There was one specific person in our office and I didn't know whether he was Canadian or not. I knew Tom and Peter were Canadian and the others were not Canadian.

I think that sentence would not work in formal written English, but would work in spoken English. Would you agree with that?

I think the idea is not easy to express in English.

I know that Tom and Peter and Canadian. I know all the others but one are definitely not Canadian, There is this one person in our office who might or might not be Canadian, as far as I know. That is the idea I want to express.

I don't think one could use 'someone' or even 'a person' instead of 'one specific person' in the four original sentences. But I am not sure.

5
  • 1
    Your first sentence is one that's probably impossible to express with truly valid syntax if you start with "existential" There is... In conversational contexts people will often say There was one specific person in our office who I didn't know whether he was Canadian or not. But that's not really valid. You could re-order it to I didn't know whether [this] one specific person in our office was Canadian or not, but imho it's always going to be a bit awkward. I think including "this" helps imply only him (I know the status of all the others). Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 13:29
  • 1
    "There was one person in our office whose nationality I wasn't sure of." (Specific is not needed here.) You could add "He may have been Canadian." Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 16:30
  • 1
    @KateBunting: You can only get away with that "syntactic simplification" because knowing his nationality implies knowing whether he's Canadian. Similarly, if the unknown attribute was whether or not he's a Christian, you could ssay ...whose religion I wasn't sure of. But that "trick" doesn't really work for ...one specific person who I didn't know if he was religious [or not]. I think the best we can do there is ...whose religious status I wasn't sure of, but I don't like it much. Commented Jan 14, 2023 at 4:36
  • 1
    "I don't think one could use 'someone' or even 'a person' instead of 'one specific person' in the four original sentences." Why not? Do you have any evidence for that belief? (Also, which "four original sentences" do you mean?) Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 21:04
  • Thank you all very much. No evidence. It was just a 'hunch', I might well have been wrong.
    – azz
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 9:10

1 Answer 1

1

(1) There was one specific person in our office and I didn't know whether he was Canadian or not.

I do not think that sentence (1) is grammatically invalid. I disagree with user
FumbleFingers on this, if I have read his comment correctly. But I do think this use of "and" is awkward, and the sentence could be rephrased to be better.

(2) I didn't know whether a particular person in the office was Canadian or not.

I think sentence (2) or other similar sentences, would be acceptable in all registers of English, including a formal written autobiography. (I mention an autobiography since this seems to be a first-person account.)

In general a sentence on the patter of "There was one X, and i didn't know if it was Y or not." is, i think, valid but a bit awkward.

2
  • Thank you very much David. I think the problem is that 'and' is being used in a relative clause. The sentence is correct, but it doesn't really mean what it is supposed to mean. Consider "The person who was in our office and I didn't know whether he was Canadian or not had tickets to the game." Would you consider that correct? I am defining that person by the fact that I didn't know whether he was Canadian or not.
    – azz
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 9:13
  • 1
    @azz No I would not consider that correct or valid, but I don't think that is the same construction at all. The example is essentially a comma splice of "*There was a person in our office. I didn't know if he was Canadian." The lack of knowledge is not being used to identify the person, it is a fact being stated about the person. Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 16:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .