John Larrysson Column: One and Oneself

The word one appears simple, but in fact is unusual and has many confusing functions in the English language. The first thing we should notice about this word is that it is not phonetic. The word one began as the Old English word an. The original pronunciation exists in some local English dialects in the form good 'un and young 'un. The now-standard pronunciation began about six hundred years ago and became widespread about two hundred years ago. These examples show the simplest uses of one.

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The simplest meaning is the number: One of the girls is learning kung-fu.


It can also refer to being in agreement: I am one with you on this issue.

The number can be used as an adjective: He has a one-scoop ice-cream cone.

It sounds strange, but one does have a plural form: Your biscuits are delicious; I really like the chocolate ones.


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The reflexive form of one is oneself. It is used when the speaker is talking about himself. In grammar, oneself is the object of the sentence when the pronoun one is the subject.



If one has never read an English book, one could not write anything of value by oneself.


It is human instinct to save oneself.

Using guanxi1 and lying to protect oneself is common in the - - - - - .


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There is no apostrophe used in the spelling of oneself. The construction one's self is used to refer to someone's self-confidence and esteem.



Nobody will find one's self without exploring other cultures.


Psychology patients need to develop a positive attitude about one's self.


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This week I covered one as a number, being in agreement, as an adjective and the plural form. The difference between oneself and one's self was also covered. Next week I will focus on one as a pronoun, to replace a person's name. After that I will have one's as a possessive and a contraction. This is a very complicated word, used in many forms. It serves a grammatical function and is not just a number. Finally I will have special phrases using one in unique ways.

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1. corrupt relationships (Hong Kong English)

by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


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