to know oneself vs to know one's self


New Member
Spain, Spanish
This is my first time posting altough I've been using the forum and always helped me a lot so I'd give it a try.

I'm writting a motivation letter for a volunteer work and I wrote:
"... always wanted to volunteer abroad because I think it is a good way to learn about the world we live in, to get to know other realities and to know one's self".
I have problems with the last part, is it correct? Or should I say to know oneself?

Thanks very much in advanced!
  • Forero

    Senior Member
    The noun self means something abstract like mind or soul. Knowing one's self, then, means being familiar with that abstract something; knowing oneself just means knowing who you are: what you like and don't like, your strengths and weaknesses, your limits.


    Senior Member
    German, fluent in English and Spanish
    "One's self " is an impossible construct. It should read "one's own character, personality". But "oneself" is the the best expression.


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    "One's self " is an impossible construct. ...
    How very brave of you to declare so with such enthusiasm.

    Searching in the BNC and COCA, onself is a lot more common than one's self.
    The usage reflects the disinctions that have been set out above.

    One's self is typically used when talking about one's self as some kind of identity.

    If I talk about myself it is usually about fairly superficial things - where I live, what I have for breakfast, my favourite colour, where I like to go on holiday, ... ...
    If I talk about my self it is about my perception of my inner thoughts, my feelings, what motivates me, my inner strengths and weaknesses.

    So, what should appear in your motivation letter?
    Either :)
    Think about the organisation you are applying to and whether you think they are likely to appreciate the subtle distinctions made here.
    If not, there is some risk that they may think one's self incorrect, so use oneself.

    You might like to wonder if Shakespeare's line would have meant something different had he written "To thyself be true... " rather than "To thine own self be true... ". :)

    BNC - British National Corpus
    COCA - Corpus of Contemporary American English
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