I'd like to use a noun to mention a person, but not a specific one, like generalising.

Should I say it like this?

It allows the subject to speak for themselves.

Or like this?

It allows persons to speak for themselves.

Or this?

It allow one to speak for themselves.

Or is there any other option I have no idea about it?

  • 2
    Just go for people. – user15851 May 29 '13 at 10:02
  • Even if it's formally speaking? Like, in a research? – Loureiro Gui May 29 '13 at 10:06
  • 1
    This is a singular-they question in disguise. – tchrist May 29 '13 at 10:06
  • So can I say it like this? "examining two cases whithin the social networks' context in which people start the dialogue (...)". In this example, people has this idea of a ramdom/any person – Loureiro Gui May 29 '13 at 10:10
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    FYI one -> oneself not themselves – Matt E. Эллен May 29 '13 at 10:18

"Subject", although not necessarily wrong, doesn't really work here unless you're talking about someone in a medical trial or someone who is "subject" to someone else.

I think "one" sounds best, although "persons" could be okay.

As a pointer, the third person plural reflexive pronoun "themselves" is incompatible with the indefinite pronoun "one". You have to use "oneself" as a complement if you're going to use "one".

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  • To formal writing, is it OK to use "one", or "persons" is more formal? – Loureiro Gui May 29 '13 at 10:29
  • I would say that the use of "persons" makes for a more archaic construction. In the UK, it was rather observable that texts would use "persons", but it's not so common nowadays. Both "one" and "persons" are rather formal but I think "one" is probably more suited in a modern setting. – James Stott May 29 '13 at 10:31
  • and what should I use to talk about the possessive cases of "one"...Like: "one cannot bring his/her/their/its(?) own food" – Loureiro Gui May 29 '13 at 10:38
  • Use the singular their. – user15851 May 29 '13 at 10:58
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    @LoureiroGui use one's – Matt E. Эллен May 29 '13 at 12:38

I would suggest "It allows individuals to speak for themselves."

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Subject would be better if we wanted to posit a hypothetical subject that we can continue to discuss throughout a longer passage. This allows for continuity (we can talk about what options might be available to a subject after a previously considered matter) or restriction (we may have already qualified what sort of person would be a subject).

On it's own, without this use, it's meaningless ("what subject?").

One is used to make a statement that applies to everyone or practically everyone. In this case the themelves should be changed to oneself.

People would be preferred over persons.

You is often used informally, in a manner almost the opposite to how one is used - you take something that is general but you describe the effect upon the addressee in particular to make that point.

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The use of "one" in contemporary English is very confusing. I most romance languages that are more inflected than English, the noun "one" is widely used when not speaking about a particular individual but in general. For example in Spanish "uno debe siempre ser cortés" or in French "Qu'est-ce on va faire?"

However, the use of "one" in spoken English often sounds awkward "One must be true to oneself" "When one is on a date, one must make sure to keep one's phone off"

As it can be seen, by the examples above that "one" is a tricky noun to use.


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  • Hi, and welcome to EL&U. We appreciate your answer. You can make this a better answer by providing links, even in answers responding to seemingly opinion-based questions. – anongoodnurse Jan 3 '14 at 21:45

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