More than one ‘most’!

Over-grazing is one of the most significant factor in environmental land degradation.

I know what you’re thinking – one means singular. Well, true, but that’s ‘over-grazing’ – even though it’s uncountable, the subject ‘over-grazing’ is a single thing. In this structure, one of + superlative adjective is telling us about ‘factors’, not about ‘over-grazing’.

I know what else you’re thinking – surely there is only one most?! Well, not always! When it comes to land degradation there is more than one ‘most significant factor’. For example, ‘deforestation’ is another ‘most significant factor’, and so ‘factor’ needs to be plural:

Over-grazing is one of the most significant factors in environmental land degradation.

Repeat after me..

one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
(repeat until you get tired..)

More examples using ‘most’ here.

‘One of’ or ‘a’?

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

flag-of-indonesia 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.

flag-of-indonesia 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‘.

The smartest use of articles

Before we get into the grammatical meaning of articles, I would just like to point out that in British English ‘smart‘ is more commonly used to mean ‘elegantly dressed‘. In American English it usually means ‘intelligent‘, hence the term ‘smartphone‘, although a lot of smartphones these days also look ‘smart‘!

Article‘ is also used in connection with clothing. We can talk about an ‘article of clothing‘ just as we can talk about an ‘item of clothing‘. And so ‘article‘ is sometimes a useful word for classifying clothes.

An ‘article‘ can also be a piece of writing in a magazine or newspaper!

But let’s get back to articles and grammar! (a[n], the, zero)

I was browsing through DIGG this morning and saw an interesting headline – interesting because it demonstrates two important functions of articles.

img_20160507_103141.jpg

This Isn’t a Smart Remote

If we say “a smart remote”, we’re not talking about one remote in particular. We’re talking in this case about a hypothetical remote – one of many.

This use of the indefinite article ‘a‘ to talk about one of many is extremely common in English, but is often neglected by students.

Indonesian students either omit the article completely, or use a strategy from their first language to communicate one of many, usually translating directly from ‘salah satu‘ (one of), or simply ‘satu‘ (one).

It’s The Smartest Remote

If we say it’s “the smartest remote” then we’re talking about this one exactly, without comparison.


Clearly the advertisers, or journalists, want us to think of this smartphone as somehow unique. It’s not one of many, it’s this one exactly.

One last time for good measure:

  • one of many – ‘a
  • this one exactly – ‘the

Try to use these articles in your writing and speaking to communicate these meanings accurately. Then watch as your IELTS grammar scores begin to increase!

@guruEAP