One (pronominal use)

Legistics est un recueil d’articles portant exclusivement sur les questions de rédaction en anglais des textes législatifs. La nature même de l’ouvrage fait en sorte qu’il n’est offert qu’en anglais.

Substitutive one

There is a usage of the pronoun one that is relevant to legislative expression: the substitutive use of one (as opposed to the one that corresponds roughly to the French on).

In this construction, one is used to take the place of a noun phrase containing a singular count noun 1 when the noun phrase has been previously mentioned (the "antecedent"), thus avoiding repetition.


  • (X) On any notice of motion under the Act no affidavit need be filed unless the clerk deems one necessary,… (Orderly Payment of Debts Regulations)
  • (X) Where the registrar taxes a trustee's accounts as submitted, the trustee shall…
  • (X) send a final dividend to each creditor to whom one is owed;…

In these examples, the pronoun "one" stands for the noun phrases "an affidavit" and "a final dividend" respectively.

Theoretically, there is no limit to the length of a noun phrase that substitutive one can stand for. In the examples above the phrases were relatively short — a phrase can be as short as a single word — but they can also be relatively long, as in the following:

  • (X) A designation made under subsection (4), and any variation or cancellation of one, shall be published in the Canada Gazette and is not effective before it is so published.

  • (X) When making an order for the liquidation of a cooperative or at any time after making one, the court may appoint any person as liquidator of the cooperative.

Distinction between one and it

Substitutive one does not refer to a particular thing - it is indefinite, and takes the place of a noun phrase that would have had an indefinite article. It, however, does refer to a particular thing - it is definite, and takes the place of a noun phrase that would have had a definite article.


  • (X) the producer must own the crop continuously and be responsible for marketing it;
  • (X) If the parties are unable to agree on an arbitrator and either party makes a written request to the Minister to appoint one, the Minister shall do so.

It may often be that one is used when the antecedent is indefinite, and it when the antecedent is definite, as above. However, the choice between one and it is not always determined by whether the antecedent is indefinite or definite:

  • (X) Service of a document may be proved by the affidavit of the person who served it.
  • (X) ... away from the municipality where the employer's establishment to which the taxpayer reported for work was located and away from the metropolitan area, if there is one, where it was located,

In these last two examples, "it", which is definite, stands for "the document", and "one", which is indefinite, stands for "a metropolitan area".

Additional properties of substitutive one

In addition to standing for whole noun phrases that have indefinite nouns, as above, substitutive one has the property (unusual for a pronoun) of also being able to stand for a part of a noun phrase, so that one appears with modifiers and determiners. In this construction the noun in question can be either definite or indefinite.


  • (X) ….any person who is in the power of a Party other than the one on which he depends…

Here, "one" stands for "Party" in the noun phrase "the Party on which he depends".

  • (X) No aeronautical product shall be maintained in accordance with a maintenance schedule that is different from the one under which it was previously maintained…

Here, "one" stands for "maintenance schedule" in the noun phrase "the maintenance schedule under which it was previously maintained".

  • (X) A director referred to in subsection (1) shall not vote on a resolution or participate in a discussion to approve the transaction mentioned in that subsection unless the transaction is
    • (a) one relating primarily to the director's remuneration as a director of the Board or one of its subsidiaries;
    • (b) one for insurance or indemnity under section 18; or
    • (c) one with a subsidiary.

In this provision, "one" stands for "a transaction" in the noun phrases set out in paragraphs (a)-(c).


By using one and other pronouns appropriately, legislative counsel can avoid repeating potentially cumbersome nouns and phrases.

As always with pronouns, however, if there is more than one plausible antecedent then using a pronoun should be avoided, to avoid ambiguity.


  • Quirk, R. and Greenbaum, S. A University Grammar of English, p. 112.
  • Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S. and Svartvik, J. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, pp. 386-388.
  • Swan, M. Practical English Usage, pp. 440-441.
  • Wardhaugh, R. Lectures from the course "The Structure of English", Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto, 1991-92.
  • The Writing Centre, University of Ottawa. Hypergrammar (an electronic grammar available at: www.uottawa.ca/academic/arts/writcent/hypergrammar).
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