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Generic you

In English grammar and in particular in casual English, generic you, impersonal you, or indefinite you is the use of the pronoun you to refer to an unspecified person, as opposed to its use as the second person pronoun.


In EnglishEdit

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 languagesEdit

The use of the second-person pronoun as a generic pronoun also occurs in other languages. In Russian, German and Dutch the second-person informal pronouns can be used generically. Sometimes there are special rules for this use. For instance generic du in German can't be capitalized, and generic je in Dutch is a reduced form of regular jij.[3] The second-person pronoun sinä is often used in Finnish to replace passive, largely due to the influence of generic you in English, but this is only recommended to be done in spoken or otherwise informal language.[4]

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 sex, rather than that of the person they are addressing.[5]

There are also non-pronoun alternatives to generic you. German speakers, for example, use the word man as a generic pronoun, conjugated as third person: (Man darf einen Wagen kaufen./You may buy a car.). Dutch speakers can use men in a similar way. 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 alsoEdit


  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. ^ In Dutch football language, generic je is often used for I, it is common to hear footballers speaking about themselves as je.
  4. ^ "Kielitoimisto". 
  5. ^ Souag, Lameen. Jabal al-Lughat: Impersonal vs. personal "you". Blog entry, posted 2007 September 9; accessed 2007 October 2.

Further readingEdit

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