one and you: indefinite personal pronouns

  • We can use one or you to talk about people in general.
      You can ‘t learn a language in six weeks.
      One can’t learn a language in six weeks.
      One is more formal.
  • One and you mean ‘anybody (including the speaker)’. They are only used to talk about people in general. We do not say you or one when we are talking about one person, or a group which could not include the speaker. Compare:
      One usually knocks at a door before going into somebody’s house. Somebody’s knocking at the door. (NOT One is kneeking . . .)
      One can usually find people who speak English in Sweden.
      English is spoken in this shop. (NOT One speaks English. The meaning is not ‘people in general’.)
      One has to believe in something.
      In the sixteenth century people believed in witches.
      (NOT . . . one believed . . . The group could not include the speaker.)
  • One can be a subject or object; there is a possessive one’s, and a reflexive pronoun oneself.
      He talks to one like a teacher. One’s family can be very difficult.
      One should always give oneself plenty of time to pack.