Grammar Moses: 1 in 2 of you reading this has better things to do

Updated 1/7/2023 5:23 PM

Lucy DelMonico sent me a printed ad that reads: "1 in 2 US adults have diabetes or prediabetes."

"Is this correct or should it be '1 in 2 adults has diabetes'?" she asked.


First of all, that's a sobering statistic that should encourage more people to participate in Dry January, especially if your drink of choice is a piña colada or a brandy Alexander.

The subject of the sentence is "one." And "one" takes a singular verb. Oftentimes, people consider "adults" to be the subject. Not so.

If you have two hungry dudes in a room and one juicy wagyu beef cheeseburger on the table and you give one guy a baseball bat and the other a feather duster, it's a good bet one in two people "has" the advantage.

If I were holding the feather duster, I'd manage to find the advantage.

The reason "has" always works in this case is you are talking about a specific person.

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Now consider a much larger sample of people: every adult in the United States. That's a lot of ones of twos.

Things get much stickier.

As it is with most things, you can find plenty of argument online.

Strunk & White says: "A common blunder is the use of a singular verb form in a relative clause following 'one of ...' or a similar expression when the relative is the subject." Its example: "One of the ablest scientists who has attacked this problem" vs. "One of the ablest scientists who have attacked this problem."

Strunk favors "have" in this case.

If you think this means there is consensus in the word world, you're sadly mistaken.

This was a real rabbit hole for me.

There is significant squabbling on various grammar threads on the subject.

I thought I would see what the publishing world thinks about this -- given there are many layers of editing in books -- so I plugged "One in 10 has" versus "One in 10 have" into Google's Ngram Viewer.


In books published since 1800, the incidences of the "has" version and the "have" version are eerily close.

From 1851 to 1869 and again from 1918 to 1937, the "has" version was dominant. From 1902 to 1911 and from 1937 to 1941, "have" ruled the land.

Today, they are used nearly an identical number of times.

I could stick to my guns and tell you "one in 10 has" is the only way to go. But with half of the books published today using "one in 10 have," that would be terribly arrogant.

I have my preference, and you're free to have yours.

The I's have it

Life can't be easy when the world hangs on your every word.

I'm not talking about myself, of course, but of United States presidents.

Remember covfefe fever when Donald Trump was in office? Trump had a habit of misspeaking or mistweeting. Hey, it happens.

And it's clear our current president is not immune from such gaffes.

TC Furlong clipped a pullquote in the Daily Herald from President Joe Biden's reaction to soccer luminary Pelé's death.

In upsized type it read, in part: "Today, Jill and I's thoughts are with his family and all those who loved him."

Record scratch!

"As you can imagine, I was gobsmacked, mortified and flummoxed by what my wife and I saw in our beloved Daily Herald this morning," TC wrote. "Our 46th President, Joseph Robinette Biden, said the unthinkable (and I quote exactly) 'Jill and I's thoughts are with his family.' It is important that I add, not only am I not a Biden hater, I worked in his campaign. Wow, just wow."

It's "Jill's and my," for the record. Joe is a little long in the tooth to be taking on the foibles of the younger set.

I'd like to think first lady Jill Biden, Ed.D., kicked him in the shins after he did that.

It happens to all of us, especially when we're speaking extemporaneously or going off script. You'd probably wince if you heard me speak. But hiding behind my computer, I can take my time double-checking my words, my backspace button worn down to a nub.

Plus, I have the inimitable Michelle Holdway looking over this column with her blue pencil figuratively clenched between her teeth.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at grammarmoses Write him at and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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