Mindfulness allows one to cope with their daily challenges.

Is "one" correct with "their" here?

I want to know if it is okay to user their (instead of he or she) when using 'one' as a pronoun.

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  • I assure you that it is not either a homework or a test. It is a piece of writing I wrote and my teacher deducted marks after reading the essay. I want to argue with him but I do not have valid resources. – Ghassan Saeed Oct 29 '18 at 14:13
  • The rules say that you have to provide research or your thinking about it. Not just: please correct this. (I don't make the rules.) :) – Lambie Oct 29 '18 at 15:02
  • Related - Singular they – user3169 Oct 30 '18 at 0:26

Yes, this is called a general one. You can replace "one" with "you". It then follows that also "oneself" and "one's own" can therefore be replaced with "yourself" and "your own".

However used like this, "one" remains third person singular, so to express ownership, you have to give gender so "his" or "her" (or "its" for animals or otherwise).

Now with this in mind, there has been a trend where in order to avoid being obliged to assign gender, you use "their". For example, take the following quote:

I define a 'good person' as somebody who is fully conscious of their own limitations. They know their strengths, but they also know their 'shadow' - they know their weaknesses. In other words, they understand that there is no good without bad. Good and evil are really one, but we have broken them up in our consciousness. We polarize them. --John Bradshaw

The subject is "somebody" and yet "their" is used. This isn't a mistake. This is preferring "their" in the place of "his or her" to avoid using gender-specific pronouns.

Therefore the reason why you'd see "their" here is because one is gender-neutral. This isn't to say that "he or she" would be wrong here. It is simply another way to say the same thing.

  • Thanks. Just to make sure I have comprehended, using one makes the sentence wrong but using someone/somebody is okay, right? – Ghassan Saeed Oct 29 '18 at 16:28
  • Great explanation, but why not "Mindfulness allows one to cope with one's daily challenges." ? – Tashus Oct 29 '18 at 18:29
  • I did not really think about this when I wrote my essay, even though it seems more fluent. I just want to know whether not consisting with the pronoun 'one' and using 'their' instead makes the sentence incorrect. – Ghassan Saeed Oct 29 '18 at 19:22
  • @GhassanSaeed Yes, it does. Think of "their" as a genderless "he" or "she" in this case. You don't hear it often, because most times the gender of the person being referred is known. However, if you're using it in a proverbial sense, I agree with Tashus that it would probably sound better to use "one's own daily challenges." Both are correct though. – Neil Oct 30 '18 at 7:13
  • There is a difference here between American and British usage. In British usage, the resumptive pronoun after "one" has always been "one". I find the (pre-gender-neutral) American habit of using "his" after "one" odd, and would always use "one's". – Colin Fine Oct 13 at 13:32

The original answer here (by @Neil) was correct, but I think was a bit confusing, so just to clarify:

Yes, it is grammatically correct to use "their" in this context (where the corresponding subject is "one"). This is known as the "singular they" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they), and is a conventional alternative to the singular pronouns "his" and "her" when the gender is unknown.

The use of the "singular they" has been variously debated for a long time, and is prohibited by some style guides and accepted by others, but it is generally accepted as a grammatically correct construction.

In the case of "one", as noted, one could also replace "their" here with "one's" to avoid this debate, if one wished to. Personally, it's all a little too pedantic for my tastes, and I see nothing wrong with using "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, should one desire to..

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