Generic you

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In English grammar and in particular in casual English, generic, impersonal, or indefinite you is the use of the pronoun you to refer to an unspecified person, as opposed to its standard use as the second-person pronoun. Generic you can often be used in the place of one, the third-person singular impersonal pronoun, in colloquial speech.

In English[edit]

The generic you is primarily a colloquial substitute for one.[1][2] For instance,

"Brushing one's teeth is healthy"

can be expressed less formally as

"Brushing your teeth is healthy."

Generic pronouns in other languages[edit]


In German, the informal second-person singular personal pronoun du ("you")—just like in English—is sometimes used in the same sense as the indefinite pronoun man ("one").

In Norwegian, these are also du and man.

In Dutch, the equivalent second-person singular personal pronouns are jij/je ("stressed" and "unstressed" pronouns), and men (one) is similarly used in the place of the formal version, u (formal "you").


In Russian, the second-person singular pronoun ты, often in the pronoun-dropped form, is used for some impersonal constructions. An example is the proverb за двумя зайцами погонишься, ни одного не поймаешь with the literal meaning "if you chase after two hares, you will not catch even one", or figuratively, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush".


The second-person pronoun sinä is often used in Finnish to replace passive voice, largely due to the influence of (generic) you in English, but its use is only recommended in spoken or otherwise informal language.[3]


In Darija (Arabic as spoken in the Maghreb), there are two distinct singular second-person pronouns, one masculine (used when addressing a man) and one feminine (used when addressing a woman); but when used as generic pronouns, the speaker uses the pronoun with the gender corresponding to their own gender, rather than that of the person they are addressing.[4]


In Japanese, the sentence structure may be adjusted to make the patient of an action, or even the action itself, the topic of a sentence, thus avoiding the use of a pronoun altogether.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 1467. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
  2. ^ Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Harlow: Longman. p. 354. ISBN 978-0-582-51734-9.
  3. ^ "Kielitoimisto".
  4. ^ Souag, Lameen. Jabal al-Lughat: Impersonal vs. personal "you". Blog entry, posted 2007 September 9; accessed 2007 October 2.

Further reading[edit]

  • Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (E. Ward Gilman, ed.) Merriam-Webster, 1993. ISBN 0-87779-132-5