I know the basic idea of "one" and "it". "One" means "a..." and "it" means "the...". How about the sentence below? Which word would you choose?

  • My son is allergic to nuts. He gets sick when he eats (one/ ones/ it/ them).

To my understanding, the correct choice is either "one" or "ones" because the sentence is not talking about particular nuts.
(The son becomes sick when he eats a nut or nuts, not the nut or the nuts.)

However, the English lesson material below says "He gets sick when he eats them."


Why is "them" used here although the sentence is not talking about particular nuts? Since this is not about particular nuts, I guess we should use "ones" here instead of "them", which corresponds to "the nuts".

Is my understanding incorrect? Why is "them" used here though it's not about particular nuts?

  • 2
    Why do you think that them needs to refer to particular nuts? It sounds perfectly natural to this US English speaker: Do you like nuts? / Yes, I like them.
    – stangdon
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 22:53
  • "I like nuts." and "I eat nuts." are two completely different things. This is very clear from the fact that you cannot say "I like a nut" while you can say "I eat a nut". The former mentions nuts as a concept while the latter refers them as tangible objects. You can also see this from the fact that you say "J'aime les noix" and "Je mange des noix" in French You use "les" when you mention things as a concept and "des" to mention them as objects. "Nuts" in "I like nuts" and "I eat nuts" are different.
    – kuwabara
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 23:34
  • Actually no. I see what you're saying about the French construction. In effect, a French speaker doesn't "eat the nuts", he eats from the nuts (ie, he eats a selection of the nuts). But the whole point is that English doesn't make that distinction. Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 15:26

1 Answer 1


Your assumption that "one" always corresponds to the indefinite article "a" and "it" to the definite article "the" is often correct, but not always. But in this case the related sentence is "My son is allergic to nuts." This uses the plural noun "nuts" and so no article at all is used. That will usually correspond, at a later reference, to the plural pronoun "them".

The suggested form:

He gets sick when he eats ones Red X indicating an incorrect form

is grammatically incorrect.

The alternate form:

He gets sick when he eats one. Green check mark, indicating a valid form

would be valid, but would mean that eating even a single nut causes illness, which is different from the original.

  • Why is "He gets sick when he eats ones" wrong though you can say "He gets sick when he eats one"? I thought "they" was the plural form of "it", but can it be the plural form of "one" as well? Don't you ever use "ones" without modifiers like articles and adjectives?
    – kuwabara
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 23:45
  • @kuwabara I am afraid that "ones" is simply not used in that way. Indeed there are not that many constructions where "ones" works well., aside from possessive forms like "Ones thoughts are ones own." Or in numbering as in "They drifted in by ones and twos."The word "they"can be thought of as the plural of "it", but I would say is is better to think of it as just the third-person plural pronoun. Perhaps the use of "ones" should be a separate question. Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 0:01

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