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The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College The Grammar Business Part Two 6. When to use ‘one’, ‘we’, or ‘you’ in formal writing
The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College 2 Using the impersonal form ‘one’ in English is old-fashioned It is associated with a high degree of formality - or even with royalty (“One is not sure what one wants”) It is still used sometimes in fairly formal writing If one uses ‘one,’ one has to use the reflexive pronoun ‘oneself’ This can sound quite awkward
The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College 3 If you use ‘one’ to express opinion, it is clumsy to mix it with ‘I’ or ‘we’ or ‘you’ For example One reads the newspaper on Sundays to catch up one what one has missed all week - a way of informing oneself what has been going on. But it is quite wrong to continue: You enjoy Sunday newspapers: they fulfil one’s every need.
The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College 4 You can mix ‘one’ with another impersonal term, like ‘the reader’ - but not in the same sentence For example This novel is enormously satisfying. One feels instantly that one is in the hands of a master story-teller. The reader trusts the writer and is enthralled.
The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College 5 Generally ‘one’ is very formal; ‘we’ is less formal; ‘you’ is quite informal When reading Dickens, we feel that the writing is rather old-fashioned. We would like to believe that the doctor is correct, but we fear to consult him. Get your shopping here. You don’t need to go any further!
The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College 6 All of these forms (one, you, we) affect the style When writing formal or business English it is often best to avoid sounding too personal - using ‘you’ can have this effect ‘We’ is often used in an organisation in communications addressed to people who belong to it, especially where loyalty is important But ‘we’ and ‘you’ should not be mixed in the same communication
The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College 7 What’s wrong with this? The advice is very clear: you should never take aspirin on an empty stomach, never take more paracetamol than the correct dosage and, if we want to survive the weekend, we won’t mix analgesics with alcohol. Do that and you deserve what you get. Yes - the writer has mixed ‘you’ and ‘we’. The result sounds strange.
The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College 8 What about this one? There is every reason to go ahead, but one is still unsure. One says to himself: should I go through with it? Should I refrain? No answers are forthcoming, so we usually consult a friend. Yes - one has to say to ‘oneself’ and if one does that, it has to be ‘one’ (and not we) who consults the friend.
The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College 9 Bear in mind You can use impersonal forms like ‘the reader’ or ‘the gardener’ You can talk about ‘people’ and refer to them as ‘they’ You can use passive forms like “It is generally felt that…” (more about that later though)
The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College 10 The most important thing of all is to be consistent If you start addressing your reader as ‘you’ continue that way If you start with ‘we’ continue ‘we’ or ‘us’ If you start with ‘one’, prepare yourself for the consequences: “One feels a sudden chill. The wind is blowing in one’s hair. One feels one must warm oneself with a quick nip of brandy - but oh dear! One has left one’s hip flask in one’s Range Rover….”
The Grammar Business © 2001 Glenrothes College 11 A last reminder Only the Queen (and ex-PM Thatcher) uses ‘we’ where you would use ‘I’….
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