Oneself or One’s Self – What’s the Difference?

Pronouns are complicated, but, for as complicated as they are, the English language doesn’t even have a full set. While we have a few third-person singular pronouns, like he and she, we don’t have one that doesn’t specify gender. Technically, we have it, but no one wants to be called it.

Reflexive pronouns are a different story—they cannot function as the subject of a sentence. They can only refer back to an existing subject. In addition to himself and herself, we have the nongendered oneself to round out the category of third-person singular reflexive pronouns.

What about one’s self? Does this two-word version mean the same thing?

What is the Difference Between Oneself and One’s Self?

In this post, I will compare oneself vs. one’s self. I will give you example sentences for each one, so that you can view it in its proper context.

I will also show you a helpful mnemonic that you can use to help you choose oneself or one’s self in your writing.

When to Use Oneself

oneself versus one’s self meaningWhat does oneself mean? Oneself is a reflexive pronoun, referring to a subject’s own person. It is particularly useful as a nongendered third-person singular pronoun, especially when a writer wants to avoid the appearance of sexism.

Still, it can be unwieldy, as you can see from the below sentences,

  • “One should, above all else, have respect for oneself,” read the self-help pamphlet.
  • “One does not allow oneself the luxury of self-pity if one has goals to achieve,” said the life coach.
  • “One is only effective if one sees oneself as effective,” the monk lied.
  • Today the competition is not against others but with oneself. –The Wall Street Journal

When to Use One’s Self

Definition of one’s self definition and definition of oneself definitionWhat does one’s self mean? One’s self is not a reflexive pronoun, and should not be used as such. It is appropriate, however, when describing a self in the psychological or spiritual sense.

In this context, one’s becomes a possessive referencing a person other than the speaker.

Here are some examples,

  • It is exhausting to expend energy on compassion for others, while ignoring one’s self.
  • For healing, one should tend to one’s self.
  • Removing one’s self from the time-suck of surface-level courtship is a huge relief. –The Washington Post

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define one’s self and define oneselfHere is a helpful trick to remember one’s self vs. oneself.

The construction one’s self should only be used to describe a third party’s spiritual or psychological self, or sense of individual being. It should never be used as a pronoun.

Oneself is a pronoun. Specifically, it is a third-person singular reflexive pronoun.

If you have a hard time remembering these usage cases, you aren’t alone. Luckily, there is an easy trick to keep them straight in your mind. Oneself is only a single word, like its fellow reflexive pronouns himself, herself, and themselves.

Summary

Is it oneself or one’s self? Oneself and one’s self sound alike when spoken aloud, but they are not the same part of speech.

  • Oneself is a pronoun.
  • One’s self denotes the perception of an unspecified other person’s own consciousness.

Remember, oneself, like other reflexive pronouns, is only a single word. One’s self, spelled as two words, is not a pronoun.

Our exploration of these words delved into some relatively advanced grammatical concepts. Grammar is the Achilles heel of many writers, but resources like this article exist to demystify grammar’s complexities. Be sure to check this site any time you need help with confusing writing topics.

And, if at any point in the future, you find yourself stuck choosing one’s self or oneself, you can revisit this page.