What is the best and what is acceptable from the following sentences?

  1. If one finds oneself in a situation where one's own life is at stake, one should think of oneself first.
  2. If one finds himself in a sitation where his own life is at stake, he should think of himself first.
  3. If one finds themselves in a situation where their own life is at stake, one should think of themselves first.
  • 1
    I believe that American sources traditionally follow one with he (or she) - I don't know if they have updated it to they. British English traditionally repeats one.
    – Colin Fine
    May 19, 2021 at 12:15
  • @FumbleFingers Simple examples like the one you linked can be found over the web, however the 1st one I would infer as the most grammatical, in their advice, sounds super loaded to me, so I wondered about which alternative would a native speaker prefer. The 3rd variant is what I would think as the 2nd most grammatical but the changing of plural pronoun and singular meaning still sounded too loaded to me. So the generic "he" sounds the most understandable but I know it's controversial and I've been discouraged from combining it with "one" so unfortunately, the answer doesn't help me.
    – Probably
    May 19, 2021 at 19:26
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    Your own comment there refers to "the 2nd most grammatical", so obviously you recognise that there are degrees of "correctness" in such matters. And as Colin correctly points out (I did enough checking with NGrams to convince myself of that) AmE and BrE have a significant usage difference here. I'm a Brit, but I quite naturally switch to he to avoid "unnaturally" repeating one and its variants too often, but switching to she just sounds like a terrible "PC affectation" (far worse than feminising God! :) But if you think that's "controversial", you don't have to copy me! May 20, 2021 at 11:40
  • @FumbleFingers Many thanks, I didn't have much idea abou the degree of controversiality, it's true it's only logical to use "one" when you don't want to specify the gender. I'm not a fan of politicizing language because I think pointing out the connotations can oftentimes strengthen them but God's gender is a great example of a case where it truly shifts the perception. I think the most logical would be to call God "it" as a bodiless abtract superhuman entity. :)
    – Probably
    May 20, 2021 at 20:20
  • 1
    It's all a minefield! I see from this NGram that she's the chair of [some organisation] has recently overtaken (sexist?! :) chairman. But apparently chairwoman has made very little headway. May 21, 2021 at 12:36

1 Answer 1


Your first version is obviously correct grammatically, and, traditionally in the U.S., the second is as well. The third may be on its way to becoming correct, perhaps mandatory, in the U.S.

I must admit that I find them all awkward.

If your life is at stake, think of yourself first.

strikes me as far more natural.

  • +1 for suggesting the complete rewrite. May 19, 2021 at 21:45

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