I'm making a generic question, addressed to no one specific:

can I write: "How can you do that?"

or should I use: "How can one do that?"

I like the first one better but I've heard that the second one is correct.

2 Answers 2


'You' can be used in informal writing or speech instead of 'one' as an impersonal pronoun, not meaning the person addressed, to make a general statement. 'You' is less formal than 'one', which is always understood as impersonal. You can travel from Paris to Berlin by bus. One can find many churches in Rome. Some grammar guides advise that too-frequent use of 'one' in spoken conversation may lead to the speaker being perceived as haughty or unfriendly. This is less likely in Britain, but everywhere 'one' is better for formal spoken or written communication, especially for academic writing.

One versus you


The second one, using one, is more correct according to some formal grammars. The first, using the general you, is more accurate to how people generally speak. You will also hear:

How can someone do that?


How can a person do that?

These are viable alternatives if you want to avoid the general you - and it's sometimes a good idea to avoid it, either due to the audience being finicky about their idea of proper English, or because it can lead to confusion in a conversation.

  • 1
    "You can buy cigarettes in airport shops" - "But I don't smoke!" Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 11:41

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