Possessive: ones or one's?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by mtf, Aug 26, 2004.

  1. mtf New Member

    UK, English
    Which of the following is correctly punctuated:

    (1) "One eats ones dinner."
    (2) "One eats one's dinner." ?

    I've always assumed that (2) is correct, but then I remembered that we wouldn't put an apostrophe in "It eats its dinner", because "it's" is only used as an abbreviation for "it is" or "it has". So should there be an apostrophe in "one's", which plays the same grammatical role as "its"?
  2. jacinta Senior Member

    USA English
    There are two different ways to use the apostrophe in English. One is to show a possesive and the other is to make a contraction.

    "One eats one's dinner" is correct. This is the possesive apostrophe.
    The dinner belongs to Mary. The dinner is Mary's.

    I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "one plays the same grammatical role as its".

    "Its" is an exception. A lizard loses its tail when caught. There is no possesive apostrophe because there needs to be a distinction between this word and the contraction of it is: it's.

    It is one o'clock.
    It's one o'clock. (contraction of it is)

    Every town has its own police department. (possesive)
  3. el alabamiano Senior Member

    2 is correct.

    The exception to the possessive rule is that pronouns show possession without the use of 's. (my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, our, ours, their, theirs, its, whose, etc.)

    << Broken link deleted. >>
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 16, 2012
  4. mtf New Member

    UK, English
    Yes, but "one" is a pronoun in this case, just like "it". In French, for example, the words for "his", "her", "its" and "one's" are all written as "son", "sa" or "ses" (depending on the gender and number of the object). That's what I meant when I said the word "one's" plays a similar grammatical role to "its". We don't use "one" nearly as often as the French use "on" (one only uses "one" in very formal English, unless One is the Queen!), and its usage might even be rarer in the United States than in Britain. However, the pronoun "one" still a valid part of the language, and is found quite frequently in academic writing.

    So my question is: should there really be an apostrophe in "one's" when none of the more commonly-used pronouns have an apostrophe in their possessive form? I doubt that the absence of an apostrophe in "its" can be attributed entirely to the existence of the contraction "it's = it is/has"; in fact I think "it's" is a newer word than "its" (Shakespeare would have written "'tis" rather than "it's"). And if there's some better underlying reason why "its" doesn't have an apostrophe, why doesn't the same rule apply to "one's" ?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 16, 2012
  5. Dorian Senior Member

    Vancouver Canada
    Canada English
    You can never really apply logic to English, especially when it comes to ancient words like it, him and her. "One" came into the language a lot later, so it isn't surprising that it follows a different convention.

    The best source for questions like this is always Fowler's Modern English Usage. He says
    ... the impersonal one always can, and now usually does, provide its own possessive etc. -- one's, oneself, and one; thus One does not like to have one's word doubted; If one fell, one would hurt oneself badly.
    But thirdly, in American, in older English, and in a small minority of modern British writers, the above sentences would run One does not like to have his word doubted; If one fell, he would hurt himself badly.​
  6. Cognitiophile New Member

    Connecticut, USA -- English
    Consider the following alternatives instead:
    1. "One's eating ones dinner."
    2. "One's eating one's dinner."
    Regardless of tradition, which is conducive to greater clarity?
  7. ajplonka New Member

    2. One's eating one's cake with two birthday candles shaped like ones.
  8. takkers New Member

    your example of its dinner

    he she it are pronoun
    while one in your case is a noun (and not a countable noun in this case).
    you use 's to show pocessions.

  9. mplsray Senior Member

    In "One eats one's dinner." the word one is a pronoun. The possessive form of the pronoun one is one's.
  10. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Welcome to the forums, takkers. Please respect forum rules, and write in standard English, including capitalization and punctuation.
  11. trajan2 New Member

    originally the 's (genitive s) derives from his. Like
    Peter his book -> Peter's book

    as there was no possessive form of "one", "one's" was simply created by combining the word + the common suffix.

    The could be confused with "one is", but at least not with the plural "ones"
  12. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hello trajan2 - welcome to WordReference :)

    If you look around this forum you will discover that this theory of the origins of the 's genitive has other, more plausible, explanations.
    "John's" is considered by linguists to be a contraction of the Old English singular genitive ending, "-es". So supposedly "Johnes" became "John's" in Modern English.
    Source - see post #16
    Otherwise, I agree with you :)
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2010
  13. lovekat New Member

    Just as there needs to be a distinction between posessive "its" and the contraction of "it is" (it's), there also needs to be a distinction between the contraction of "one is" (one's) and posessive "ones" (no apostrophe of posession, just as in the case of posessive "its":

    "It's losing its tail" and "One's eating ones dinner". (1) is correct.
  14. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    It might be logical but I don't think you'll find an authority to back that opinion, lovekat.

    Sentence 2 is correct.
  15. Nonstar

    Nonstar Senior Member

    the outskirts of inner pantyhoses
    In-love-with-the-coming-race Portuguese
    Could I say?:
    One eats their dinner?
  16. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    For me, it has to be "one eats one's dinner".

    Post 5 above suggests that "one eats his dinner" is possible in AmE.

    I don't think any variety of English says "one eats their dinner", but someone may well come along and prove me wrong...:D
  17. Nonstar

    Nonstar Senior Member

    the outskirts of inner pantyhoses
    In-love-with-the-coming-race Portuguese
    Thanks, Loob! I will keep an eye on this thread.
  18. Notafrog Member

    España (Catalunya)
    English UK
    There are too many attempts here at applying logic where it doesn't apply.

    First, on the subject of dropping the possessive apostrophe when dealing with pronouns, the examples given show the wrong word form. "Hers", "ours", "yours" are possessive pronouns. "Its" and "one's" are possessive adjectives (you might answer "It's hers" to the question "Whose dog is that?" but you would never answer "It's its"!), therefore the lack of an apostrophe in the forms mentioned is irrelevant.

    Second, just as the most common verbs are strong/irregular, the most common pronouns are too. You don't say "he's", "I's", "you's", or "we's"; you use the strong forms "my", "his", "your", "our". "Its" is just another of these irregular forms, another quirk, but one which has the misfortune to end in "s", causing people to seek invallid comparisons. I doubt the pronoun "one" was even around when these strong pronouns took root.

    The pronoun "one" being neither common nor ancient (I bet you hear "it" as a pronoun several hundred times more often than "one"), no intelligent reason has existed to model it on an ancient set of words which in any case has absolutely no pattern. If the pioneers of the pronoun "one" had indeed attempted to find such a match, they'd have had pretty strong arguments for naming it "oner", as the "r"s outnumber the "s"s four to one!

    So "one's" acquired an apostrophe, just like every other possessive adjective, and quite rightly so!
  19. CapnPrep Senior Member

    I wonder what basis you have for making these statements. The pronominal use of one discussed in this thread appeared around 1400. So it isn't "ancient", that's true. But you will no doubt be surprised to learn that its appeared two centuries later, and that its structure was (and remains) completely transparent and regular: "Formed in end of 16th c. from IT + 's of the possessive or genitive case, and at first commonly written it's, a spelling retained by some to the beginning of the 19th c." (OED, s.v. its, poss. pron.)

    Finally, the generalized use of the apostrophe for all genitives is even more recent: this convention only became established in the 18th century.

    So I'm afraid there's no historical justification for the difference between its and one's.
  20. Thomas Veil Senior Member

    English - USA
    "One is eating one's dinner". It is for this reason that if one is concerned about clarity, one should avoid contractions that don't involve full pronouns (and by saying "full" pronouns, I am excluding "one").

    Does there need to be a distinction between "Mary's" as in "belonging to Mary" and "Mary's" as in "Mary is"? Or can we just avoid saying "Mary's" when we mean "Mary is" and think there might be confusion? The rules of English grammar say that "one's" is correct. The fact that it "needs" to be different is irrelevant. According to that logic, "that" should be spelled "thet" when it's used as a conjunction. Standardization takes precedence over individuals making unilateral decisions about what is "needed".

    Other than, historically (in the sense of, at least, the century) there has been a difference.
  21. DallasDeckard New Member

    English - United States
    Amazing that no one has mentioned this in the six years this threat has existed. 'One' takes the apostrophe in the possessive. Only the personal pronouns have specific (non-apostrophe) possessive forms ('one' is an indefinite pronoun). Is this the state of knowledge concerning the English language in the internet cloud? Ouch.
  22. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Welcome to the forum (I think!).
    I assume you did read the thread before making your "comment" .
    Post 1 - The original question;
    Answer in the very first reply, aka Post #2
    There was a lot of discussion, not unexpected, given the scope of the forum
    Then there was a quote from Fowler
    Any comment about the "state of reading" on the internet would be below the belt!
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2010
  23. WordThief New Member

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    English - American
    In math, a person would write "ones column," and "ones" clearly shows possession. Also, I thought it was a rule that possessive pronouns never take apostrophes.

    Taken from the Washington State University website:
    This is one of those cases where it is important to remember that possessive pronouns never take apostrophes, even though possessive nouns do (see it’s/its). “Who’s” always and forever means only “who is,” as in “Who’s that guy with the droopy mustache?” or “who has,” as in “Who’s been eating my porridge?” “Whose” is the possessive form of “who” and is used as follows: “Whose dirty socks are these on the breakfast table?”

    The real question is: is "one" a pronoun when used to refer to an individual? I believe so.

    In any case, how language is popularly used defines and gives meaning to how we write and speak. It looks like "one's" is more popular, so perhaps go with the tyranny of the masses.

    (I do realize that this thread is quite old!)
  24. mplsray Senior Member

    The Columbia Guide to Standard American English by Kenneth G. Wilson, lists the following under the entry "Indefinite pronoun":

    "Anyone, anybody, someone, somebody, none, each, either, neither, one...."

    All of these take an apostrophe when forming the possessive. I can be confident of this because (1) none of them has a possessive form written simply with a terminal s as an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary--and if any dictionary would list such forms it is the OED--and (2) the possessive forms using apostrophe-s can be found in works archived in Google Books. (Even none! Do a search in Google Books for none's business" for one example.)

    My point is that the apostrophe-s form of one's is not a question of what the masses now use, but is the long-traditional form of that word.
  25. WordThief New Member

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    English - American
    Aye, that seems to wrap it up then.
    Thank you for clarifying the root of this discussion.

    Also, the bit about “none’s” is quite interesting!
  26. WordDog New Member

    Louisville, KY
    I think you’ve gone off the track on this one. In referring to a column of a table or to a column of positional value, one commonly names the column with the plural of the category the column is related to. So a column which is for different types of dogs is the dogs (plural) column. This is not a column owned by a dog (a dog’s column) or owned by a group of dogs (a dogs’ column) but a column relating to dogs (plural, an adjective qualifying column). Likewise, a ones column is a column relating to ones (plural) not a column owned by a one. Similarly, a “boys home” usually refers to a home run for the benefit of wayward boys, a particular kind of home, not a home owned by a boy (a boy’s home) or a home owned by a group of boys (the boys’ home).

  27. macoda New Member

    ]well guys can we put it this way, "John eats John's dinner", ("John" and "John's" )stand for ("One"and"One's"); "One"=(as subject of the sentence) eats=(verb pridicate/pridicator but since the subject is singular you have to put"s"on the end of the action word) "One's=(object of the sentence and you've got to put an apostrophe to show possession because it is his dinner that he is going to eat afterall),so "One eats One's dinner".
  28. ElectricRay New Member

    British English
    There was a long discussion of this in a review of Lynne Truss's book Eats Shoots and Leaves: (I am not allowed to post links but if you google "It is only personal possessive pronouns (mine, his, her, our, etc) that do not take apostrophes" you'll find it)

    The upshot is this:

    Personal pronouns in the possessive DO NOT take an apostrophe (his, hers, its)
    Indefinite pronouns in the possessive DO take an apostrophe (one's, someone's, somebody's, something's).

    Hence, Virginia Woolf was quite correct to call her novel A Room of One's Own.
    Last edited: May 22, 2012
  29. Notafrog Member

    España (Catalunya)
    English UK
    Let me restate a point I made earlier. You can't compare hers , ours, etc. to one's; they are not the same form of speech. Hers, yours, ours, theirs are possessive pronouns. One's is a possessive adjective, not a pronoun. People might say "I prefer yours to hers" but they just don't say "I prefer yours to one's"; it'll never catch on, not even in the British Royal Family.

    Therefore although it's not wrong to say "personal pronouns in the possessive do not take an apostrophe", it's not really relevant either because most of them (my, your, her) don't even take an "s". They are already self contained possessives, the full package. The "s" turns them into pronouns, not possessives.
    His has an s, sure, but it's his, not hes or hims. The ONLY example of dropping the apostrophe when making a possessive is its, so you'd be pushing things to say it's setting a rule.
  30. Critical_thinking New Member

    English - USA; Spanish - PR
    << Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. >>

    The pronominal possessives hers, its, theirs, yours, and ours have no apostrophe. Indefinite pronouns, however, use the apostrophe to show possession.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 16, 2012
  31. ex3031 New Member

    Here is an empirical answer google counts:

    232,000,000 one's
    1,050,000,000 ones
    3,430,000 "one's own self"
    12,400,000 "ones own self"
    27,200 "one's dinner"
    84,800 "ones dinner"

    Rules aside, common usage is strongly in favor of (1) "One eats ones dinner."
    Usage makes rules (and exceptions).
  32. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hello ex3031 - welcome to the forums!

    I think that if you click through to the last page of google results, you'll get rather different totals. For example, clicking through to the last page of results on "ones dinner" gives 833 hits - including hits which separate ones and dinner with a full stop: ... ones. Dinner ...

    I agree wholeheartedly that "rules" reflect usage:thumbsup:. But I don't think we're at the stage yet where usage prefers ones to one's:).
  33. MirandaEscobedo Senior Member

    London UK
    British English
    It seems entirely logical to me. "One" does not mean "it". "One" implies a person; "it" is a thing. So, one eats one's dinner.
  34. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Raw Google counts are an inadequate basis for comparisons like this.
    Contrast the findings above with Google Ngram results - and again.

    Clearly, common usage is in favour of the version with the apostrophe.
  35. ex3031 New Member

    The Ngram Viewer results are cool. I've never seen it before.

    I poked more and found that other words favor the appostrophe.

    Your data is better, I buy your conclusion:
    Clearly, common usage is in favour of the version with the apostrophe.

    The point stands that it is best to answer such questions by looking at the data. As Loob
    pointed out the "ones dinner" search has a lot of irrelevant results.
  36. Coladar New Member

    I read through the thread, then quickly glanced again and didn't notice this portion answered and actually came away slightly confused by it. I've been finishing work on my own novel and was in the midst of reading one just now where one's was used as a possessive. (The double one usage was unintentional, sorry.) I fully understand the basis for the answer here. Pronouns drop the possessive apostrophe, one is an adjective; you keep the apostrophe.

    Likewise, and I'm clearly now going to have to find it in my own work to correct it, when I encountered reading the usage of an apostrophe to denote possession for "one" just now I remembered thinking about this very topic on my own during my writing. I believe I ended up dropping the apostrophe in the case of possession. My logic at the time was simple: if I contract one is, it would be one's.

    So I understand the reasoning for requiring a possessive apostrophe for one. My question, which I didn't see answered even though it was mentioned: what about one is?

    Some folks wrote "one's eating ones dinner." Wrong because of the possession, but it was merely said to rephrase it to do away with the "one is" contraction. Perhaps my lack of studious English learning is showing (writing these past few months has been forcing me to learn all the adjective, pronoun, adverb, etc. stuff I was never taught in school, despite usually knowing the 'right' way by rote), but is the correct usage that 'one' can never contract "one is" into "one's?" Or simply that 'one' shouldn't contract "one is" in messy cases where possession could be confused?

    If you can contract "one is" into "one's" yet also use an apostrophe for an adjective's possessive usage... Well, I guess it's just one of those English quirks where you simply work around it and rephrase as mentioned since the adjective rules for possession are clear and established. Sort of a case of "is is" or "had had" where there can be 'correct' usage of them, but you never actually write the doubles due to common sense.

    So bottom line, and hopefully to put a cap on a thread that has been kicked around for years: Can "one is" be contracted, and if so would it be the same "one's" that also indicates possession? And if I've gotten anything else wrong in my understanding of the thread, feel free to correct where needed.

  37. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    If one's trying to be consistent in one's punctuation, one should consider the following parallel! Harry's going to fight Harry's battles. Yes, " one's " could be either "one is" or the possessive form of one. :)
  38. Tagkoz New Member

    English - American
    Thank you, yes, this bothered me too! I figured I'd read every thread to make sure my post wasn't redundant, and it looks like it would have been. But I want to give the example too:
    "It eats its dinner" vs. "Somebody eats somebody's dinner."

    I think it'd be a bit harder to argue that the second sentence above should use "somebodys dinner." (This comparison of "one" to "somebody" was, sadly, not my idea - but I think it's a smart one)

    Personally, it seems the English language more and more requires a neuter singular pronoun to play opposite "they/their/them/theirs(etc.)." Common usage has "one" taking that role, along with "he/she," "hir" (and other awkward portmanteaus), "it," and even "they" and "you."

    There are two perspectives when considering grammar: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive grammar accepts "common usage" as a legitimate source - encourages it, even (and now I'm quite happy to have that source - thank you Panjandrum for the Ngram referral ). Communication is defined by the speaker and listener, and as an extension of that, words and grammar need only follow the rules that allow for understanding. I don't think we are talking about that sort of grammar here though, since otherwise one could just say "he ate his dinner" or "they ate their dinner," and in context, the gender, general/hypothetical quality, and singular quality of the "he" and "they" could still be communicated by context. In other words, "ones" and "one's" are equally acceptable simply because they are both easily understood in context.

    As for prescriptive grammar: I couldn't find a good source that specifically says "it/its/it's" is specifically an exception to the possessive "'s," nor for one that states that personal possessive pronouns do not use the single apostrophe, and instead have idiosyncratic possessive versions. The latter rule seems to me to be a bit more inclusive, but if anyone has a good source for either, I'd love to see it. Also, if anyone could somehow make "one" a personal pronoun, as I believe it should be, I'd be disproportionately, irrationally happy...though I suppose that's just crazy-wishful thinking.
  39. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    The possessive "its" according to my Oxford English Dictionary (I have a hard copy, so perhaps someone with access the the huge volume on line can chime in) :
  40. Tagkoz New Member

    English - American
    I was thinking more of a respected textbook on grammar, and the stated rule regarding why "its" is the correct possessive form while "it's" is incorrect; I think it is pretty well established that "its" is the possessive form of "it".
  41. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    You are not suggesting that the OED is not respected, I hope :eek: I think the answer to the question of WHY? is the simple fact of usage (at least since the 19th century) :D "Rules" are deduced from usage .
  42. mplsray Senior Member

    In fact, Tagkoz was trying to find a "prescriptive" source. The OED is, by its very design, about the ultimate descriptive source, and thus has prescriptive opinions expressed only quite rarely (making them out of character with the rest of the work).
  43. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I appreciate that, but any prescriptive "source" declaring a "rule" would have to have derived the rule's validity from patterns of usage - and those would have to come (in my opinion) from a respected descriptive "source" - sorry if my point wasn't very clear (or possibly too succinct with my comment ""Rules" are deduced from usage .").
  44. Tagkoz New Member

    English - American
    Certain language rules are created by the government or a government-entity. For example, I think Korean is one of them. There are accents and regional dialects and idioms and all that, but what's considered "proper Korean" is decided by the government. I agree that English is not one of those languages - but there is a prescriptively defined set of rules that our language follows; some authorities on the subject create the rules for "standard English" (or standard American English, as I'm used to).

    So no, I'm not suggesting that the Oxford English Dictionary isn't respected; I'm suggesting that it's not listing those rules. The aforementioned authorities may use the OED to help them in forming and maintaining said rules, but I doubt it's even their primary source. Now if the OED has a listed rule, I'd be happy to hear it. So far, you've only given me a definition and some faulty logic.

    [the main fallacy: "affirming the consequent" - if A, then B; B, therefore A. If prescriptive rules, then derived from patterns of use; patterns of use (in OED), therefore prescriptive rules.]
  45. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I don't understand your point, Tagkoz.

    "Its" parallels "his".

    The eighteenth-century grammarians who pontificated on the use of the apostrophe could, if they had so decided, have determined that the possessive "its" required an apostrophe. But they didn't; so it doesn't.

    What's your problem?
  46. Tagkoz New Member

    English - American
    "What's your problem" feels a bit argumentative, but maybe I'm reading it wrong. Anyway, I don't think I have a problem. I was just hoping someone had a reference to a particular rule (for example, a 'pronoun' rule, a 'personal pronoun' rule, or an 'its' rule). Mplsray gave an answer but it didn't really satisfy my curiosity and I didn't want the topic to be considered resolved in case someone else could chime in.

    But I'm not concerned with 'it's' versus 'its', or even 'one's' vs 'ones'; I'm just looking for a more generally-stated rule, if one exists.
  47. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    'His', 'hers' and 'its' are the possessive forms of the third-person personal pronoun. (Its nominative forms are 'he', 'she' and 'it'.) The possessive in this case is one of the rare examples of a declined form in English.

    'One' does not belong to the above set and therefore does not have its own declined form.
    Therefore it becomes possessive in the same way as most other words: with the apostrophe and 's'.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2013
  48. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I think this is the "problem" you are running into in the posts of others. There is no such thing. There are many "rules" that all agree on, then we get into a series of choices that there is no complete agreement on. These are the issues described in a bewildering array of style guides, not by "authorities" that everyone accepts.

    Incidentally, I was not suggesting the OED contains "rules" only that it is a respected source of information on usage and the citations often indicate changes in usage or spelling over time. No logic was presented :)
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2013
  49. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to sound argumentative:(:eek:.

    I understand now that you're looking for a generally-stated 'rule'. Wandle's formulation in post 47 seems very helpful to me; but if you need a published source, perhaps the quotation from Elements of Style in post 30 would fit the bill?
  50. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    It seems that Tagkoz might prefer the "published" version over Wandle's formulatiom, simply because it is published? Both versions are what I would call descriptive statements (essentially identical) that can be viewed as "rules" but could also be called prescriptive. I remain a little confused on the concern over the distinction in this case.

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