‘One of’ or ‘a’?

Euthanasia may be one of ways to deliver health resources fairly to people who still want to live.

Indonesian flag This is a direct translation from Bahasa Indonesia: ‘salah satu‘.

For every noun in English it is important to communicate one of three meanings:

In the opening example the writer communicated successfully. However, the sentence is gramatically incorrect. If you really must use ‘one of‘ then you need more grammar:

  • Euthanasia may be one of several ways to deliver.. (‘several’ behaves like ‘many’)
  • Euthanasia may be one of the best ways to deliver.. (‘one of’ + the + superlative adjective + plural count noun)

You can see how easy it can be to introduce grammatical error, or to choose the wrong word to follow ‘one of’! A much easier and far more common way to communicate ‘one of many’ is using the indefinite article ‘a‘ (or ‘an‘) – NOT ‘one of‘.

Want to communicate one of manyUse the indefinite article:

  • Euthanasia may be a way to deliver health resources fairly to people who still want to live.

For more examples of article use, click the articles tag.

When is a school not a school?

I have also been a teacher in one of high schools in Padang.

Indonesian flag This is a common mistake made by Indonesians desperate to translate ‘salah satu‘ or maybe ‘sebuah‘.

In English, when we want to communicate one of many, we use the indefinite article ‘a/an‘:

  • I have also been a teacher at a high school in Padang.

This is sometimes called generic reference. The school in the example is not a particular school – we don’t yet know the name of the school, its address, etc. So far we’re just imagining a typical school. The image of the school in the writer’s mind will not be exactly the same as the image of the school in the reader’s mind, and that doesn’t matter.

I might use ‘one of‘ if I’m introducing more specific information about ‘a‘ school. For example:

  • There are many schools in Padang. One of them is close to my house.
    (information about the location of the school)
  • Only one of the schools in Padang offers an international curriculum.
    (information about the curriculum of the school)
  • I studied at one of the best schools in Padang.
    (information about the quality of the school)

Notice also that ‘one of‘ is followed by certain words, in particular:

  • the / them (pronouns)
  • these / those (demonstratives)
  • my/his/their (possessives)
  • superlative adjectives

For more examples, click here.

As a general rule – if you’re talking generally (generically!), use ‘a/an‘ for countable nouns. For uncountable nouns use ‘some‘.