An impersonal pronoun does not refer to a specific person or thing. These pronouns help us talk about a thing or person without mentioning what or who they are.
An impersonal pronoun is one that does not refer to a specific person or thing. These pronouns are usually used to refer to an unspecified person or people in general. There are three impersonal pronouns in English:
Let us take a look at each one of them.
'One' as Impersonal Pronoun
You can use ‘one’ in different parts of a sentence and in different forms. Below you can find the uses and places of ‘one’.
1 - ‘One’ as the Subject
‘One’ is often used as the subject of a sentence:
This function of 'one' now is considered very formal and old-fashioned. It is much more usual to use you for ‘people in general’ and I when you want to refer to yourself.
2 - ‘One’ as the Object
You can use ‘one’ as the direct object of a sentence; in this case, of course, you would need a transitive verb followed by ‘one’ as its object:
3 - ‘One’ as a Possessive
One does not have a special possessive form like the rest of personal pronouns. In order to use it as possessive determiner, you simply add a possessive ‘s’. Notice that ‘One’s’ is only used as possessive determiner and not a pronoun (always comes before a noun). Take a look at this example:
4 - ‘One’ as a Reflexive Pronoun
The reflexive form of ‘one’ is ‘oneself.’ ‘Oneself’ also does not refer to a specific person and you can use it to refer to a previously mentioned noun/pronoun:
Or as the object of a sentence without a clear subject:
'You' as Impersonal Pronoun
This ‘you’ is called ‘generic you’ in grammar. Some consider generic you as the colloquial equivalent of ‘one’; meaning that ‘one’ is more formal than ‘you’, but you cannot use them interchangeably, because there is a small difference in what they refer to. To be precise, when you use ‘generic you’ in a sentence, you are referring to ‘you and everyone that is in your hypothetical situation’. ‘You’ as an impersonal pronoun can be used to refer to:
- An unspecified person:
- People in general:
- You and everyone else in your hypothetical situation:
'They' as Impersonal Pronoun
Impersonal ‘they’ is used to refer to:
- One or more unknown person(s)
- A particular group
When you use ‘they’ to talk about the government or authorities, it usually bears a negative feeling, because it refers to them as ‘people who are not one of us (normal people) and therefore do not understand us. That is why people use ‘they’ in conspiracy theories and songs to refer to the government, rich people, and any other minorities that hold the majority of control, power, financial assets, etc.
In this example, ‘they’ bears a negative feeling towards the rich.
Here, ‘they’ refers to a particular group of people: residents of Quebec.