Sing/plural Verb to use with ‘one of + who’

1. He is the only one of those men who is/are  always courteous.

2. He is one of those men who is/are always courteous.

3. Pope Francis is one of the popes who has/have led the Catholic Church for almost two thousand years.

Do we use singular/plural verb in these sentences? ‘Who’ refers to what subject? Please explain.

 

 

 

 

 

Original Post

Hello, Symphony.

In all those sentences you need the plural. The antecedent of "who" is "men" and "popes."

The clearest example is (3): Pope Francis cannot have led the Catholic Church for almost 2000 years! (he's only 81 years old).

The structure you present us with will only allow for the singular when the postmodifier (i.e. the "of"-phrase containing the plural noun) refers to a restricted group. If the group is large, the relative clause will most likely be used to define it: men who are always courteous (i.e. courteous men). If the group is limited in number, the relative will refer to the singular subject or to the group depending on what precedes the "of"-phrase:

  • John is the only one of my friends who likes classical music. (John likes classical music, but my other friends don't.)
  • John is one of those friends of mine who like classical music. (Jonh is one of those classical music lovers.)
ruifeng posted:

(1) can work with the singular or it only works with the singular?

Hi, Ruifeng,

It all depends on how we understand the phrases, which in in turn depends on the context.

1. He is the only one of those men who is/are  always courteous.

It is true that the singular, contrary to what I said in my first reply, will be more usual.

However, suppose you are speaking with a friend or a colleague about what some people are like:

A: There are men who are always courteous.
B: And what do you think of John?
A: Well, of all the people here I have to say he is the only one of those men who are always courteous. (meaning: he is the only one of those men you mentioned as being always courteous, that is, he is the only one who belongs to the courteous kind.)

Using the singular or the plural will depend on where we can "break" the phrase:

1a. He is the only one // of those men who are  always courteous.

1b. He is the only one of those men // who is  always courteous. (Among those men, he is the only one who is courteous.)

In the other examples, there was -- I think -- only one possible "break":

2. He is one // of those men who are always courteous.

3. Pope Francis is one // of the popes who have led the Catholic Church for almost two thousand years.

4. John is the only one of my friends // who likes classical music.

5. John is one // of those friends of mine who like classical music.

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