1

Is this grammatically correct?

There is nothing like an animal attack video to remind one of their mortality.

  • @Kris Do we use an apostrophe with that kind of one? I always get confused, 'cuz there's two different ones. One has an apostrophe and the other doesn't ... Do you know which way round it is? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 27 '14 at 14:35
  • 1
    Yes, the possessive of the indefinite pronoun one is spelled one's. To the consternation of anyone who's ever tried to explain the difference between its and it's. The problem with using it in this phrase, however, is that two one's are coming very close together, which is distracting. One can see why the speaker might prefer their, which is also an indefinite possessive pronoun. Since they're both indefinite, coreference is not really an issue. – John Lawler Sep 27 '14 at 16:32
  • "One's" is usual in British English. I understand from my reading that American writers in the past generally preferred "his". – Colin Fine Sep 28 '14 at 0:11
  • @ColinFine Even in other Englishes, his could be seen, but that was "in the past," when the gender dilemma wasn't born yet. I think one's' BrE ancestry need not be a distraction so long as it works and is unambiguous. – Kris Sep 28 '14 at 5:42
  • @Kris: my point was that he, him, his were never normal as resumptive pronouns after one in British usage. – Colin Fine Sep 28 '14 at 11:32
4

Use one's to be consistent.

There is nothing like an animal attack video to remind one of one's mortality.

Carl Mason Franklin, To Carolyn with love, 1998, p.284:

In telling the Trustees of my affection for WSU, I made the point that one should never forget one's roots.

  • +1 I fail to understand how any answer but this one makes sense, nor why people are confused. It is a mystery to me. Note that you can control formatting in a posting more precisely using real HTML than you can with markdown, so for example <i>one’</i>s if that’s what you’re looking for. I would just put the whole thing in italic myself, though. – tchrist Sep 27 '14 at 16:24
1

I long for the days when it was socially acceptable to use 'his' in this context. Not because I think of the world as masculine, but because we really need a pronoun that works without argument in these situations.

The original phrasing 'to remind one of their mortality' has been gaining ground, and may one day be accepted usage, but the word 'their' really is a plural pronoun and confuses the clarity of the statement. Kris's solution of "one's" works, but moves further into the realm of sterile constructions and impersonal language.

Here's a three-part answer:

  1. Don't use 'their'. It is a plural pronoun, and although everyone understands it in this context, it creates an unpleasant tension between the singular 'one' and the plural 'their'.

  2. If possible, rewrite the sentence to eliminate the gendered pronoun, either eliminating the need for a pronoun, or using a plural construction. For example,

    Animal attack videos are a great reminder of mortality.

    or

    There is nothing like an animal attack video to remind us of our mortality.

  3. Use a gendered pronoun when it is contextually appropriate:

    Susan said, "There is nothing like an animal attack video to remind one of her mortality."

  • To me, it doesn't matter whether you use his, her, or their as the possessive—they all refer to someone else than one. It's no different to me than saying, “Nothing like X to remind one of Susan’s mortality”. The only colloquially acceptable way to phrase it without seeming pompous (if one seems pompous to you) is to say, “Nothing like X to remind you of your [own] mortality”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 28 '14 at 10:55
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    If you say "remind one" you are clearly in the land of singular (though impersonal). When you couple "their" with "one" it is a mismatch. Much better to say "remind one of one's" than "remind one of their". – Karl Rookey Sep 28 '14 at 13:12
  • Personally I don't object to the use of "they" and its derivatives as an ungendered third person pronoun, in fact I find it very useful. However I always feel uncomfortable using it in formal writing because I'm afraid others will object. I suspect that it is in the process of becoming standard usage: perhaps the situation is similar to the one that must have existed as the first person singular disappeared. – BoldBen Dec 2 '16 at 14:05

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