“One” vs. “I” or “You” – Pronoun Problems

Note: This is merely a musing/grammar rant and not a formal piece of writing.  Please don’t attempt to learn any grammar techniques from me.   I know how grammar works, but chances are, I’ll mix up the technical terminology and call a pronoun a preposition and vice-versa.  So actually, maybe there’s one thing you can learn from me – don’t try to write seriously when you’re tired!

If there’s one thing that really annoys me, it’s when people speak directly to my face and use “one” in place of a pronouns such as “I” or “you.”  For example, One [you] should run in the marathon.  One [I] likes ice cream.  I’ve seen this on more than one occasion in informal, conversational speech and writing; to me, in that context, it seems weird and out-of-place.  What’s wrong with addressing the person you’re speaking to directly?

And note my usage of “they.”  I’ve been called out for using the pronoun “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in formal writing.  Regardless of my views on modern feminism, I found the gender-neutral, singular “they” to be convenient in my own writing as opposed to always writing “(s)he,” “he/she” or “him/his/her.”  Those all seem like eyesores, especially when you’re reading aloud.  But alas, my teacher at the time didn’t seem to agree, so I ended up meeting my essays’ word count requirements a bit faster with all of those extra words. 😀

Speaking of grammatical neutrality of any kind, I’m theorizing that the story behind using “one” instead of “you” has its roots in formal writing as well.  I was raised to refrain from using “you” or otherwise addressing my reader directly in formal writing, as this can come across as accusatory.  Instead, in this context, one should try to write as neutrally as possible.  (See?  I’m not referring directly to you, because I don’t want you to think I’m accusing you of not writing neutrally or formally as it is.  And in case you do think so, I’m not.)

So where does “one” belong in written or spoken communication?  Definitely not in the context of informal speech when the speaker intends to address someone directly. That’s just silly.  If you want to accuse me of being a poor writer, just tell me, “Allison, you are a poor writer,” not “Allison, one is a poor writer.”  How will I even know whether one is referring to his/herself or me?

Confuzzling, isn’t it?

On a final note, please keep in mind that 1) this was not a formal piece of writing, as I think I broke just about every grammar rule of thumb by beginning my sentences with “so” and “but” and “and”; and 2) I intend no disrespect towards people who do use “one” in place of “you” and “I.”

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