virus: You and Your Impersonal Pronouns!

Tim Rhodes (
Tue, 1 Jun 1999 13:38:07 -0700

Anyone know of any good linguistic tricks to get around the use of the impersonal "you" in English? I could use "one", but I get tired of that and would prefer to save it for removing the author from the writing, rather than for just generalizing, if I could. (Besides, it cramps my style!) For example, I know I could rewrite:

"What would you do if you came across a blue unicorn in the forest?"


"What would one do if one were to come across a blue unicorn in the forest?"

But I think it loses something in the translation (and something other than just the possibility that the impersonal pronoun "you" might be read as personal.)

So does anyone know of any good ways of getting around this? It seems to be a greater problem in written communication, where you're less likely to understand that one is speaking generally rather than about you specifically, than it is in actual speech--but that may just be because it is easier to quickly correct any misinterpretations face-to-face than it is over e-mail.

Any thoughts on this? (Short of making up new words.)

-Prof. Tim