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ARTICLES IN THE BOOK

  1. Adverbial
  2. Agentive ending
  3. Ain't
  4. American and British English differences
  5. American and British English pronunciation differences
  6. American and British English spelling differences
  7. American English
  8. Amn't
  9. Anglophone
  10. Anglosphere
  11. Apostrophe
  12. Australian English
  13. Benjamin Franklin's phonetic alphabet
  14. Bracket
  15. British and American keyboards
  16. British English
  17. Canadian English
  18. Certificate of Proficiency in English
  19. Classical compound
  20. Cockney
  21. Colon
  22. Comma
  23. Comma splice
  24. Cut Spelling
  25. Dangling modifier
  26. Dash
  27. Definite article reduction
  28. Disputed English grammar
  29. Don't-leveling
  30. Double copula
  31. Double negative
  32. Ellipsis
  33. English alphabet
  34. English compound
  35. English declension
  36. English English
  37. English grammar
  38. English honorifics
  39. English irregular verbs
  40. English language learning and teaching
  41. English modal auxiliary verb
  42. English orthography
  43. English passive voice
  44. English personal pronouns
  45. English phonology
  46. English plural
  47. English relative clauses
  48. English spelling reform
  49. English verbs
  50. English words with uncommon properties
  51. Estuary English
  52. Exclamation mark
  53. Foreign language influences in English
  54. Full stop
  55. Generic you
  56. Germanic strong verb
  57. Gerund
  58. Going-to future
  59. Grammatical tense
  60. Great Vowel Shift
  61. Guillemets
  62. Habitual be
  63. History of linguistic prescription in English
  64. History of the English language
  65. Hyphen
  66. I before e except after c
  67. IELTS
  68. Initial-stress-derived noun
  69. International Phonetic Alphabet for English
  70. Interpunct
  71. IPA chart for English
  72. It's me
  73. Languages of the United Kingdom
  74. Like
  75. List of animal adjectives
  76. List of British idioms
  77. List of British words not widely used in the United States
  78. List of case-sensitive English words
  79. List of commonly confused homonyms
  80. List of common misspellings in English
  81. List of common words that have two opposite senses
  82. List of dialects of the English language
  83. List of English apocopations
  84. List of English auxiliary verbs
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  86. List of English irregular verbs
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  88. List of English suffixes
  89. List of English words invented by Shakespeare
  90. List of English words of Celtic origin
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  92. List of English words with disputed usage
  93. List of frequently misused English words
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  96. List of -meters
  97. List of names in English with non-intuitive pronunciations
  98. List of words having different meanings in British and American English
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  100. London slang
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  140. Subjective me
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  143. Than
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  145. Third person agreement leveling
  146. Thou
  147. TOEFL
  148. TOEIC
  149. Truespel
  150. University of Cambridge ESOL examination
  151. Weak form and strong form
  152. Welsh English
  153. Who
  154. You
 



THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
This article is from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generic_you

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Text_of_the_GNU_Free_Documentation_License 

Generic you

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

In English grammar, generic you or indefinite you is the use of the pronoun you to refer to an unspecified person. Generic one is the use of one in the same way.

In casual English, the second person pronoun you often takes on the additional role of a generic pronoun. In more formal speech, the pronoun "one" serves this function; but as a pronoun (notably not when it signifies the number 1), it is felt to be somewhat awkward, and is infrequently used outside the most formal styles. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the use of this word as a pronoun in English was influenced by French on, which is not a number, but a reduced form of homme, "human being, person". Its most common use is to represent the sense "I and other people", as in Jane Austen's:

I do not think him so very ill-looking as I did — at least one sees many worse.
Mansfield Park (1814)

In some works of fiction, especially those written in second-person narrative, generic one is used to contrast with the you who refers to the narrating character specifically:

As long as one is at one's desk by ten-thirty, one is relatively safe. Somehow you manage to miss this banker's deadline at least once a week.
— Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City (1984)

It is much less common (even in other formal situations) when used in giving directions to the reader[citation needed], as it seems especially remote and stuffy. The genitive case is especially awkward: One should always wash one's hands. In more idiomatic speech, this would be rendered as You should always wash your hands. The imperfect domestication of generic one has caused respected writers to lose track of grammatical agreement, producing constructions such as one … they:

… in a nasty Scottish jail, where one cannot even get the dirt brushed off their clothes.
— Sir Walter Scott

one … he:

And one must be careful not to shoot himself.
— Stuart Chase, in The Tyranny of Words

and one … you:

When one is very old, as I am … your legs give in before your head does.
— George Bernard Shaw

Generic you, by contrast, creates no such difficulties. Other circumlocutions are resorted to in English to avoid the awkwardness of generic one, such as resort to the passive voice. The idiomatic English translation of the French sentence Ici on parle français, literally, "here one speaks French" or "here someone speaks French", is "French is spoken here". Spanish, Portuguese and some other Romance languages resort to a reflexive verb in this context: se habla español/fala-se português, literally "Spanish/Portuguese speaks itself" but meaning "Spanish/Portuguese is spoken". Since the more recent traditions of linguistic prescription and usage commentary in English also discourage the passive voice, this too may draw criticism.

The phenomenon of generic you, though decried in the works of some still-read prescriptivist grammarians, is so widespread that it is nearly standard usage. The writer and usage commentator E. B. White wrote that:

As for me, I try to avoid the impersonal one but have discovered that it is like a face you keep encountering in the streets and can't always avoid bowing to.

This is not the first case of a pronoun changing meaning, or acquiring an additional meaning, over time. The word you originally referred strictly to the second-person plural, being cognate with the German ihr and the French vous. When the second-person singular form thou was abandoned, you absorbed its functions.

Note that you can be ambiguous; it is not always obvious whether the generic you or a semantically second-person you is meant. For example, in "you never know what John is thinking about", you could as easily refer to the audience as to people in general. Sometimes stress (linguistics) and intonation can help convey the difference; for example, generic you is generally unstressed, a stressed you generally refers to the audience.

Reference

  • Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (E. Ward Gilman, ed.) Merriam-Webster, 1993. ISBN 0-87779-132-5

See also

  • Disputed English grammar
  • Gender-neutral pronouns
  • Singular they
  • Y'all
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generic_you"

 

 

 

 

 
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