Sorry if this has been asked before, but it just came to mind.

There is a name for "I", "you" and "he/she/it" - 1st person, 2nd person and 3rd person respectively, but is there a name for "one"? I assume it would fit in the 2nd person category, but how would you distinguish it from "you"?

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    It's called a nonspecific indefinite pronoun. It's third person and it has a possessive -- one shouldn't lose one's temper. It's often substituted for first or second person to falute higher, but it takes third person agreement. One supposes the minister means well, but, really! Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 0:15
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    @JohnLawler Perfect. That answers my question. Could you please add it in an answer?
    – Dog Lover
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 1:31
  • It's not 2nd person; it's 3rd person, more specifically a 3rd person personal pronoun. It's more formal than "you" and is used non-referentially in talking about people generally rather than in reference to a particular individual as in One can't be too careful, can one? It has a genitive form ("one's") and a reflexive form ("oneself"); the latter form proving that it's a personal pronoun. It also pops up occasionally as a replacement for "I" as in One feels very surprised that one was overlooked for the position. This usage is associated with upper-class BrE and felt to be pretentious
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 8:12

2 Answers 2


"One", in the usage you suggest, is a gender-neutral, third person, personal pronoun. This distinguishes "one" from "it" in that "one" refers specifically to an unspecified (if often implied) person, whereas using "it" is impersonal and, used in such a way, would generally be read as insulting and dehumanizing.

"One" is generally an acceptable substitute for "you" in formal writing when the second person would be inappropriate, especially academic writing, or in some styles of formal speech, but that's the full extent of its relationship to the second person.


Wikipedia calls it an "gender-neutral, indefinite pronoun", also an "impersonal pronoun".

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    It can't be an 'impersonal' pronoun for several reasons: it has a reflexive form (oneself) and reflexive forms are not found outside the personal pronoun system; it has a genitive form (one's); it can be the subject of an interrogative tag, as in One can't be too careful, can one?, again a distinctive property of personal pronouns. Wikipedia is just silly about this.
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 9:15
  • @BillJ: The reflexive form seems relevant, but can't the impersonal pronoun it be used as the subject of an interrogative tag? The "weather it" at least can be used this way: "It's raining, isn't it?" And so can the it used in cleft sentences: "It was Julie who gave you that, wasn't it?" And from what I can tell, "impersonal pronoun" in the context of English is usually used to refer to the "dummy pronoun" it in sentences like these.
    – herisson
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 15:32
  • @BillJ: Maybe the term "impersonal pronoun" is used with different meanings. I haven't seen one classified as an "impersonal pronoun" before, but it also seems odd to classify it as a personal pronoun, since most lists of those seem to restrict themselves to the basic pronouns for each grammatical person: I/me, we/us, you, he/him, she/her, it, they/them.
    – herisson
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 15:35

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