What does “not one of them“ mean?


Does "not one of them" mean “more than one of them” or “none of them”?


Not one of them thought it necessary to avoid dogmatic statements about unicorns because he had never seen one of them.


Posted 2020-04-12T19:43:58.233

Reputation: 119

One = the number 1. Not one = the number zero = none. – Yosef Baskin – 2020-04-12T20:08:51.367

3@YosefBaskin, not maths (because 'Not one' doesn't just '= the number zero', it also equals two, three, four etc), but english: not one == none – mcalex – 2020-04-13T06:14:54.043

8@YosefBaskin : careful, because this alone is not sufficient. You can say "I received not one, but two gifts". It's important that it's followed by "... of them" – vsz – 2020-04-13T15:07:31.890

1"Not one of them" = "none of them". However, "not one of them" is stronger than "none of them". – Panzercrisis – 2020-04-13T22:10:51.120

The phrase is used a lot in the bible: "And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left." – Michael Kay – 2020-04-15T08:39:15.337



Strictly mathematically, if you only had "not one", it could mean zero, or could mean a hundred, or any other number besides 1.

However, this idiom ("not one of them") is a stronger version of "none of them". It means "none of them", but with more emotion. Like in an exasperation, a hope that at least one of them would do something, but then realizing that not even one of them was willing to do it.

This idiom is basically a shortened form of "not even one of them".


Posted 2020-04-12T19:43:58.233

Reputation: 537

Only your first paragraph is right. 'Not one' isn't an idiom on its own (though it is part of other idioms eg:'not one red cent', 'if it's not one thing, it's another'). There's no strength to 'not one' or weakness to 'none'. Basically, they are interchangeable except where they are not. The emotion in your example (I'd just call it emphasis) disappears without the word 'even' in there. "Not one of them was willing ..." isn't stronger than "None of them was willing ...". ->

– mcalex – 2020-04-15T05:07:17.340


The last para is just wrong. "Not one' isn't 'basically a shortened version of 'not even one"'. The two phrases are different simply because 'even' adds emphasis. See the links in my answer, plus M-W, Oxford, Macmillan, Collins. They all define none as not one (Collins actually defines none as not even one). None (not one) of them mention strength.

– mcalex – 2020-04-15T05:09:25.380

1@mcalex, sorry but I have to disagree. Even if the technical literal definition is that "not one" and "none" are equivalent, when I hear "not one of them" in place of "none of them", the former does have an added emphasis. As a native speaker I hear it, and it would be wrong to say to a non-native speaker the two phrases are always identical and interchangeable. – Brian Stamper – 2020-04-16T00:12:30.267


The etymology (in fact, even the definition) of none is literally 'not one', so technically the quote is just using the long version of 'None'. Read like that it becomes:

None of them thought it necessary to avoid ...

It is a potential confusion point as strictly speaking, 'not one' could logically refer to any other digit in the base 10 system and while I can't think of an instance off hand, I am sure the term has been used - either for effect, or as a punchline/payoff - in its literal sense.


Posted 2020-04-12T19:43:58.233

Reputation: 6 050

I can't think of an exact usage of "not one of them" meaning more than one (other than a bad pun), but similar phrases exist where this ambiguity does apply, e.g. "An explanation? I can't find one. Can you?" vs "An explanation? I can't find one, but two possible explanations for why this happened!". – Flater – 2020-04-13T09:21:53.310

+1 for the etymology – Dave Gremlin – 2020-04-13T12:07:12.333

6You don't need base 10 to have a well-defined notion of "one"... "one" means the same thing in any base. – Lee Mosher – 2020-04-13T15:58:43.433

3@Flater, I made up this example: And how many of his last three press statements were lies? Not one of them, not two, all three of them were simply not true! He really _is_ a notorious liar. Here, "not one of them" does not prepare the punchline (payoff) of a joke, it's added for emphasis. [Disclaimer: I'm not a native speaker, so the style may be off in my example.] – Jens Bannmann – 2020-04-13T20:39:31.147

4I could easily imagine saying "not one of them", with appropriate emphasis, in response to a question of the form "did one of them [X]?" - meaning that more than one of them did, in fact, [X]. But the unusual emphasis is necessary to convey that the meaning is different. However, a statement like "not one, not two, but three of them ..." would be common idiomatic English used to emphasise a number that might otherwise seem small. – Carcer – 2020-04-13T23:45:16.020

@LeeMosher 'one' isn't the problem, 'not' is. In say, a binary system, 'not one' unambiguously refers to zero whereas it doesn't in base 10 – mcalex – 2020-04-14T06:13:25.590

1I guess what I was trying (not very clearly) to say is that in actual usage, the ambiguity of the phrase "not one" is using it for other larger numbers, not just with other digits, similar to the suggestion of @Carcer. For example, a possible line from a zombie movie: "Not one, hundreds!" – Lee Mosher – 2020-04-14T11:58:30.567

@LeeMosher Yes, but my point is with a binary system you have an inherent concept of not one, but the other. Yosef's comment to OP shows this line of thought. Because we have a bunch of digits in the base 10 system the thought process includes 'one of a bunch of others (which easily incorporates multi-digit numbers)' as well as 'one or the other' I just reckon if we counted in binary this question wouldn't exist, because even though 'not one' coooould mean '... but one hundred', or '... but one thousand', it would be far more plausible - almost exclusively, even - to mean '... but zero'. – mcalex – 2020-04-14T15:27:42.043

You can think of it in the following way: If someone asks "How many apples do we have left?", and you have none, you might reply "Not one!" If you have 2 or more apples, then you also have 1. Anything that is physically countable, if you have any number of them, you also have every non-negative number less than that. (Negative numbers would be meaningless in this context.) Thus the only time you can truthfully say "not one" is if you have none. – Darrel Hoffman – 2020-04-14T19:06:06.337

It would be idiomatic to say "Not just one" to indicate multiples. – CCTO – 2020-04-14T21:21:36.163


"Not one of them" means "none of them." "Not one of them" emphasizes that no single person among them thought it was necessary.

David Luff

Posted 2020-04-12T19:43:58.233

Reputation: 101


"Not one of them" implies none of them thought it necessary.


Posted 2020-04-12T19:43:58.233

Reputation: 161


"Not one of them" is just a confusing way of saying "not any of them"


Posted 2020-04-12T19:43:58.233

Reputation: 47

2Except that "not any of them" is not idiomatic English, whereas "Not one of them" or "None of them" is. – Martin Bonner supports Monica – 2020-04-14T12:06:16.593