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Oneself vs. one’s self

The two-word phrase one’s self is only justifiable when self is used in a spiritual, philosophical, or psychological sense. In all other cases, one’s self can be replaced with the pronoun oneself.

Examples

For example, oneself could replace one’s self in these sentences:


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There are individual chapters devoted to how to attire one’s self for such things as an art gallery, a barbecue, the country club. [Wall Street Journal]

Very seldom does the opportunity come along to immerse one’s self in the life and work of a major American composer. [Washington Examiner]

In today’s age, calling one’s self an American seems to come second to a party affiliation. [Daily Athenaeum]

And in these cases, one’s self works because self is meant in a spiritual, psychological, or philosophical sense:

[B]ut they tie into an uncritical assumption that one’s online self is a direct replica of one’s self in the real world. [The Atlantic]

For him, being a renegade is about staying true to one’s self. [Clarksdale Press Register]

But in examining the universal need to define one’s self through narrative, it also explores the darker side of storytelling. [New York Times]

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Comments

  1. Of all the grammar conventions with which I am familiar, this one is the most arbitrary and ambiguous. I would prefer that one be used universally over the other, since there does not appear to be a tangible difference in the actual meaning of ‘oneself’ and ‘one’s self.’

    • GramGirl2 says:

      It is like the difference between “you are” and “you’re” — one is merely a contraction of the other and is much more commonly written and spoken (you’re). Same thing with “one’s self” and “oneself.”

      • Professor W. says:

        This is not accurate. A contraction involves contracting two words into a shorter word using an apostrophe to represent those letters that have been ommitted.

        • luskipher says:

          Try really hard not to be complete boneheads. The distinction is not only logical, but necessary. The difference between the two is huge. M-a-y-b-e that’s why there are two different indications. Michael is – by his own account – lazy and wants the English language to conform to his tragic (albeit self-inflicted) condition. GramGirl2 needs to go back to grade school and take her Grammer Class again.

      • to explore {one’s} inner beauty.. is that correct

      • reviewlady22 says:

        Oneself is a reflexive pronoun. One’s self is a possessive
        pronoun (one’s) with self as a separate noun. Use oneself when
        referring to something being done back to the subject (one). Use one’s
        self when using self as a noun referring to that spirit business this
        explanation is talking about. Sorry my italics don’t come through to be
        more clear here.

      • EllaFitzbunbun says:

        Well that just proves you know diddly-squat.

      • EllaFitzbunbun says:

        ……..

      • Janice Wilson says:

        Not the same thing at all, in my mind. In your example, both are correct in any instance, only to be determined by the formality of the situation. Contractions are generally not as formal as using both words. However, oneself and one’s self have this diaphanous consideration of physical presence versus ethereal presence. Too ambiguous for my taste. If one can refrain from using the word self and say “one’s own … (self, presence, person, ability, whatever applies)”, the dilemma is avoided altogether.

      • Not to be confused with one’s elf–especially as the holidays draw near.

    • Actually, there’s a clear tangible difference when viewed in Braille: ::.:::.:.: vs ..::.:::::

  2. Interesting take.

  3. Professor W. says:

    To clarify, “oneself” is used as an object when “one” is the stated subject. “One’s
    self” is used when one is considering the Self as a separate noun. Writers
    can think of this similarly to “yourself.” Ex. You need to help yourself manage time more efficiently (when speaking directly to your reader). One needs to help oneself manage time more efficiently (when speaking to a
    general audience).

    In terms of one’s self, writers can think of this similarly to any other object possessed by one. One’s hands should be clean before eating. One’s attire should appropriately reflect the engagement, etc.

    The multiple parts of the self can take years for one to understand. One’s self is constantly developing as one goes through new experiences and, thus, gains new perspective on identity.

    • Katie Buster says:

      I very much enjoyed the input and explainations in your comments here, Professor W. Your replies are clearly stated, the points you make aren’t hazy and I appreciate that you include plenty of* information to be easily understood without bombarding your “audience” with details of little consequence. Its refreshing!
      Do you happen to have a Twitter account, Facebook page/group, website, email newsletter or other forum where I can find, and follow, you? I’m in search of regular (weekly/daily) Grammar, Writing, Language, Literature, English (what-have-you..) tips, lessons &/or insight. I would really appreciate, and could definitely benefit from, your teaching. If not, would you mind directing me toward someone that does?
      This is my first time on this page, so please excuse me me if I’m asking something that seems obvious, but — Are you actually a professor, or is that just your screen name? :) My phone won’t load Disquis properly when I click your name.
      Thank You!

      *A question: When using the word ‘plenty’, is it proper and/or necessary to add ‘of’? I would love to have my text red marked by someone that really knows their stuff!

  4. I’d say oneself is a reflexive pronoun. One’s self is a possessive pronoun (one’s) with self as a separate noun. Use oneself when referring to something being done back to the subject (one). Use one’s self when using self as a noun referring to that spirit business this explanation is talking about. Sorry my italics don’t come through to be more clear here.

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