Doesn’t or Don’t?

If you consider yourself a stickler, I have a thorny grammar issue for you. Is this sentence correct?

He’s one of those people who doesn’t trust politicians.

Is it correct? Or should it be “who don’t trust politicians”? Doesn’t or don’t?

“Don’t” is so overused (I hear “she don’t” and “he don’t” all the time!) that even I’m surprised that I prefer “don’t” in this sentence. But I do, and here’s why. In fact, here are two explanations. Take your pick. (Incidentally, there are English teachers who would disagree with me.)

1.  I ask myself what I see when I visualize the sentence.

This is one of my favorite ways to analyze a sentence and untangle a usage problem.

So what do I see here? To begin, I see the person who’s speaking. But then I see people who don’t trust politicians. In fact, this could easily be restated as two sentences:

He’s one of those people. Those people don’t trust politicians.

So I’d write it this way: He’s one of those people who don’t trust politicians.

2.  I try rewriting the sentence in a slightly different way. Contrasting the two sentences helps me see how the verbs work and can lead me to the correct verb.

So here goes:

He’s a person who doesn’t trust politicians.

He’s one of those people who don’t trust politicians.

To me, these two sentences are very different. The first is clearly about one person who doesn’t trust politicians. The second is more complex: he’s one of many people who don’t trust politicians. So – again – I’d choose He’s one of those people who don’t trust politicians.

Here’s one for you to try (and perhaps argue about!): Mirai Nagasu is one of the dancers who (is, are) likely to make it to the finals of Dancing with the Stars.

I’m choosing “are.” Your opinion?

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2 thoughts on “Doesn’t or Don’t?

  1. Ellen Holder

    I have to agree. At first, I wanted to leave out the phrase “of the dancers” in which case “is” would be right. (But the sentence does not leave out that phrase.) If I turn the sentence around, I can write “Of the dancers who are likely to make it to the finals of Dancing With the Stars, Mirai Nigasu is certainly one of the number.”

    Thanks, Jean. You don’t just give us rules to remember, you teach us how to think a thing through.
    Ellen Holder

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