John Larrysson Column: Stranger Uses of the Word One
Possessive & Contraction

These articles were started when I was asked which word, ones or one's, should be used in this sentence: “A resume should list ones/one's education and work experience.” This week's article will continue to explain the word one and answer that question.

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The possessive form of one is one's. It describes something as belonging or associated with the person the word one represents. Using one as a possessive pronoun requires an 's (apostrophe s) in the same way you would use it for Mary's resume. The education belonging to the person is listed in their resume. Be careful not to be confused because the word one's can also be a contraction for one is. In both cases the 's needs to be added to the end of the word.



A resume should list one's education and work experience. (possessive)


No beer for me. I am driving. One's too much for me. (contraction of one is)


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The possessive one's is less common and very formal in US English, but common in the UK. In US English the word one's is often replaced by the third-person his or more informally a second-person your as if it was third-person.

These US English replacements have problems of their own. Many people object to the perceived sexism of using his as a gender-neutral third-person pronoun. The use of he/his/him to refer to people in general is declining. Using you/your as a third-person pronoun is awkward. Using their as the third-person-gender-neutral-possessive has been common for about seven hundred years. This use of the word their is dismissed by some ill-informed teachers as modern slang. Using the possessive one's is sometimes easier, even if it is formal.




A resume should list one's education and work experience.


A resume should list his education and work experience.

A resume should list your education and work experience.

A resume should list their education and work experience.


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First I covered one as a number, being in agreement, as an adjective, the plural form and the reflexive oneself. Then there was one as a pronoun. This week showed how one's is used as a possessive and a contraction. This awkward word is used in many ways. Next week I will have idiomatic phrases using one in different ways.

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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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