You, I, one: what’s the difference?

One. We all know that it is a number, but did you know that it can also be used as a pronoun? That’s right. It’s not very common and is used more often in writing than speaking, but it can be very useful for specific circumstances. Let’s look at two sentences:

  • When I write a formal sentence, I should be careful with my words.
  • When you write a formal sentence, you should be careful with your words.

The first example is someone reminding themselves to do something. The second is someone giving advice to another person. What about if we want to make a general statement about the correct way to do something that’s not aimed at one specific person? We can use the pronoun ‘one’:

  • When one writes a formal sentence, one should be careful with one’s words.

It sounds a little strange, doesn’t it? That’s because ‘one’ is rarely used in spoken English other than in very formal situations. The most common use of ‘one’ is probably in academic writing where it is preferred due to its impersonal nature.

In speaking or informal writing, it’s fine to use ‘you’ to make general statements about what people do, or, if you want to be more general, use ‘we’ instead.

So that’s a quick overview of the difference between ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘one’. Have you ever heard someone use ‘one’ this way when speaking? Learn English with us to know more useful grammar tips.




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