Date: Tue, 11 Nov 1997 07:32:52 -0500


Subject: Re: one as a pronoun?

"One" as indefinite is not foreign, or at least not recent. It's been

around since late ME (see Chaucer's The Miller's Tale:" The carpenter out

of his slumber sterte/ And herde oon crien 'water!' as he were wood"

[1A.3816-7]). "One replaced the OE indefinite "man" (still used in

german), as in "man stearf" (someone died). The French indefinite probably

had something to do with this change. One need not like it though. On Mon,

10 Nov 1997, Norman Roberts wrote:

After reading 72 freshmen papers I find myself facing: "One finds many points

in common..." in nearly every one. I hate this construction. I especially

hate it when it's reflexive: "when one asks oneself what one's position

is..." Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage tells us it is 'usually

the mark of a formal style,' but I find myself wanting to tell my students

not to use it ever, because it sounds stiff and unnatural. In other words, my

Sprachgefuehl tells me people don't use it in informal speech, and formal

speech that deviates too much from informal speech doesn't set well. My

question is- what's the current feeling on this construction, in writing and

in speech? I know some people use it in conversational styles, but is it

only PhDs? It sounds foreign to me. German, 'man,' French 'on,' but not


Dale Coye

The College of New Jersey

"One" is probably on the borderline between formal and frozen [Remember the

five clocks?], but it's all we have for third person singular humans unless

you are into using "they" or "you." I believe the NCTE guidelines for

nonsexist language recommend using the plural. Actually there's nothing

wrong with "one" as long as it's not overused. Beginning writers, however,

tend to overuse it as they learn how to use it. But hey, if you're in the

business of reading student papers, you have to get used to a lot of stuff

you don't like. It is the teacher's lot to be pleased only rarely.