Indefinite Personal Pronoun One | English Usage

One is a substitute word. We often use one instead of repeating a singular countable noun.

  • ‘Which is your boy?’ ‘The one in the blue shirt.’
  • I want that one, not this one.
  • ‘Can you lend me a pen?’ ‘Sorry, I haven’t got one.’

One has a plural ones.

  • Green apples often taste better than red ones.

Leaving out one(s)

One(s) can be left out immediately after superlatives, this, that, these, those, either, neither, another and some other determiners.

  • I think my dog is the fastest (one).
  • Either (one) will suit me.
  • Let us have another (one).
  • ‘Which (one) would you like?’ ‘That looks the nicest.’

We do not use one(s) immediately after my, your etc., some, any, both or a number.

  • Take your coat and pass me mine. (NOT … my one.)
  • I need some matches. Have you got any? (NOT … any ones?)
  • Are there any grapes? Yes I bought some today. (NOT … some ones today.)

But note that one(s) is used in all these cases if there is an adjective.

  • Are there any mangoes? Yes, I bought some sweet ones today.
  • Has the cat had her kittens? Yes, she had four white ones. (NOT … four white.)

We do not use one(s) for uncountable and abstract nouns.

  • If you haven’t got fresh cream I will take tinned (cream). (NOT … tinned one.)
  • The Dutch grammatical system is very similar to the English system. (NOT … the English one.)

One and It

To refer to one particular thing that has already been clearly identified, we use it, not one.

Compare:

  • ‘Could you lend me a bicycle?’ ‘Sorry, I haven’t got one.’
  • ‘Could you lend me your bicycle?’ ‘Sorry, I need it.’

One (indefinite personal pronoun)

We can use one or you to talk about people in general.

  • One/you should not do such an unkind thing as that.
  • One/you should love one’s/your country.

Note that one is more formal than you.

One is not used to generalise about people who could not include the speaker; you is not used to generalise about people who could not include the hearer.

  • One/you must believe in something.
  • In the sixteenth century people believed in witches. (NOT … one/you believed in witches – this could not include the speaker or hearer.)

Pronouns referring back to one

When one is used in American English, he, him and his are generally used later in a sentence to refer back to one. This is not normal in British English.

  • One should love his country. (US)
  • One should love one’s country. (GB)

One can be a subject or object; there is a possessive one’s and a reflexive pronoun oneself.

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Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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