One doesn’t

One no longer uses the indefinite third person singular, as the grammarians like to call it. Almost never. Unless one is called Prince Charles.

The corresponding construct in Dutch (“men”) is still normal. You’ve probably been taught “one” at school. And you will never, ever, need to use it.

  • reword to use you (by far our most usual solution)
  • reword to the passive
  • reword to the plural (e.g. with “people”)

This is another case where it’s not wrong, but using it can fall in completely the wrong register: stuffy and old-fashioned or hypercorrect. There is basically never any need to use it.

Prevalence: medium. In over a third of the texts checked.
Frequency: medium. If used, it’s often there multiple times in a document.
Native: no. Well, yes: it’s valid English (especially among older people). Used occasionally when writing formally; Brits more than Americans, for whom it’s almost funny and quaint.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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