4

I want to say the following:

The more one knows about a subject, the more one realizes how little he knows about it.

I want to make it formal and general, thus my use of "one" instead of "a person".

However, at the end of that sentence, I found myself having to use a pronoun ("he" in this case) which feels like it breaks the generalization introduced by "one".

I could make it gender neutral, by changing he/she, but not only this leaves non-binary genders out, also I don't like it either:

The more one knows about a subject, the more one realizes how little he/she knows about it.

Or I can repeat the "one" formula, but them it feels incorrect (I'm talking about that specific person, not a generic one).

The more one knows about a subject, the more one realizes how little one knows about it.

What are my options? How can I write such sentence using "one" (or another formal generic term)?

Would using a generic singular they be a good option here? or is there a better option?

The more one knows about a subject, the more one realizes how little they know about it.

10
  • 11
    Just replace "he" with "one". There's no rule limiting the number of times "one" can be used in a sentence.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 11 at 11:03
  • 8
    where you wrote he/she, I would just say they. 'The more someone knows about a subject, the more they realize how little they truly know.'
    – ness
    Commented Jul 11 at 15:32
  • 2
    You want 'they', then work backwards to support it: "The more people know about a subject, the more they realize how little they know about it." Commented Jul 11 at 16:31
  • 1
    @Greybeard Why is this question off-topic?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 11 at 21:07
  • 1
    @Greybeard So what was your reason for closing it?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 11 at 21:28

1 Answer 1

13

Would using a generic singular they be a good option here? or is there a better option?

I suggest abandoning the impersonal pronoun "one", and replacing it with "you".

The more you know about something, the more you realize how little you [do] know.

The generic "you" is singular and plural, neutral, appropriate and of course, gender free. You could replace "you" with "we" if you wanted to sound more inclusive, and less direct.

From the web:

The More You Know The More You Realize You Don't Know

Google Books:

“The more we know about the body, the more we realize how little we know.” source

However, there is no rule forbidding using the pronoun one as frequently as needed, it all depends on the audience. I found these examples when the OP expressed the desire to sound formal, and perhaps, more elegant? IMO, the first example overdoes it though.

(a) The more one knows the dizzier one gets. The more one knows about a subject the more one knows how much one does not know and how, quite possibly, and even justly, one could fail.
Trust in an Age of Arrogance By C. Fitzsimons Allison

(b) And as far as experts in the area, you would have difficulty getting experts to claim they're experts; because the more one knows about a subject, the more one recognizes the bounds of one's knowledge.

14
  • 1
    I don't think "you" captures the essence that "one" gives. Maybe my choice of sentence was not good. I was looking for a solution that keeps the essence of "one" without having to use the pronoun "he" in a more literary/poetic way, that goes beyond individuals. The "one" carries a meaning that is lost when using "you"
    – Elerium115
    Commented Jul 11 at 11:11
  • 3
    @Elerium115 fair enough. Although I understand your hesitancy to embrace "you" and "we", I don't particularly share it. I have found examples online that repeat the same pronoun "one" several times, so if you do choose to keep "one" continue using it, don't swap pronouns in the middle or at the end of an idiomatic phrase.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 11 at 11:42
  • 1
    Also, if you're going to use the word "dizzier" like that, there's no stylistic/register reason to use "one" instead of "you".
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 11 at 13:04
  • An elegant solution. And yes, if OP asks for help, we get to revisit the whole, not just the allowed parts. Commented Jul 11 at 16:30
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA Maybe it's because I'm old, but "you is" and "you was" sound non-standard to me, reminding me of AAVE or hillbilly dialect.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 12 at 14:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.