Here’s a little trip down grammar lane, trying to get to the bottom of how the English word “one” can be translated so many different ways in Chinese.
It might surprise you how the Chinese say:
1. “one of my friends”
My first impulse was, of course, a sort of word-for-word translation:
yí gè wǒ de péngyou *WRONG*
This is better:
1. wǒ de yí gè péngyou 我的一个朋友
Which is literally “My one friend.”
So what if you want to say:
2. “He’s my one friend” OR “He’s my only friend”
Here’s where you employ a new word (immortalized in Wáng Lìhóng’s 王力宏 famous song):
2. Tā shì wǒ wéiyī de péngyou. 他是我唯一的朋友.
If you still want to use the number and measure word, you could also say:
2. Wǒ zhǐyǒu tā yí gè péngyou 我只有他一个朋友
So now what about if I want to say:
3. “He’s one of my best students.”
There are three common ways to translate that (click the hanzi for a literal breakdown of what each word means):
That’s the same grammar you would use if you wanted to say:
4. “I need one of you to help me.”
Except, my informant said the “zhīyī” 之一 construction would sound weird here, which only leaves:
And now the grand finale:
5. He’s one of the only foreign teachers who can speak Chinese.
That “one of the only who can” I was told is best translated as “among the minority who can.” For example, one possible translation would be:
5. Tā shì shǎoshù huì shuō zhōngwén de wàijiào zhōng de yí gè 他是少数会说中文的外教中的一个.
What a complex sentence, eh? Anyone know of any other ways to say that? Please help.