While the words “one-on-one” and “one-to-one” might look similar, it’s important to understand the differences between the two. That’s why we’ll cover the rules of using them and the differences between them in this article to help you out later.
What Is The Difference Between “One-On-One” And “One-To-One”?
One-on-one should be used when talking about an activity that involves two people having a mutual exchange. Generally, one of the people is either teaching or giving information to the other. One-to-one should be used when a discussion is held directly between two people.
If you refer to The Cambridge Dictionary, you can see that one-on-one means “an activity involving two people talking directly, usually with one teaching or giving information to the other.”
We can also use this definition from The Cambridge Dictionary to see that one-to-one as an adverb means “two people discussing something directly, without involving anyone else.”
The exclusivity of the one-to-one adverb is what makes these two words so different. However, it’s worth mentioning that both words are used interchangeably to some degree. Generally, British English uses one-to-one more, while American English uses one-on-one more.
Example Usage Of “One-On-One”
Now let’s look through some examples of the two words in use. We’ll start with the adjective “one-on-one.” We use this to talk about an activity that involves two people (though sometimes someone else can be present as well).
- I’ve got a one-on-one meeting with the boss next weekend.
- She has a one-on-one conversation with her mom.
- We are working with each other one-on-one.
- This is a one-on-one project. We must work together.
- I need to have a one-on-one discussion with you about something important.
As you can see, we use “one-on-one” when we’re talking about an activity or meeting between two people that generally involves sharing information.
Usually, we’d talk about a meeting (where a manager is teaching something to their employees), or we might talk about a conversation or discussion (where information is passed between the two people).
One-on-one is also considered the more combative of the two phrases. You can use it when talking about something more physical between two people (i.e., a one-on-one battle or one-on-one penalty shoot-out).
Example Usage Of “One-To-One”
Now let’s look at when we might use “one-to-one” in a sentence. Usually, one-to-one is more exclusive, and it only involves two people and no more when we use it.
- I sent him the one-to-one email he requested.
- This meeting is strictly on a one-to-one basis.
- There’s a one-to-one relationship between them.
- We’re working on this project one-to-one.
- I need to talk to your privately-one-to-one in your office.
As you can see, we use “one-to-one” when we’re talking about communication between two people directly. In the case of an email being sent, no one else is included in the email list. The same goes for a meeting; it’s strictly between two people and can be about anything (the idea is to keep it all private).
Interestingly, you’ll notice that both one-to-one and one-on-one are always hyphenated no matter where they are in the sentence. That’s because of how we use hyphenation rules in English, but the meanings are always the same.
It’s important to include these hyphens whenever you write them. For example:
- A one to one meeting.
- A one on one exchange.
These examples are incorrect because we’re not using a hyphen. “One” ends up being the adjective that modifies the noun, which is grammatically incorrect. It’s important to group them together through hyphens to show that “one-to-one” or “one-on-one” are modifying the intended target.
Hyphenation rules are common in English, and it’s important to know how they work. We’ve made a useful article that will help you understand them a little better, but we’ll include the best bits here.
We hyphenated two or more words when they are used to modify an object in a sentence. That means they come directly before it (i.e., one-on-one meeting).
If you can remember this hyphen rule with every word you’re unsure about hyphenating, then you’ll have a much easier time wrapping your head around language rules. Don’t worry; the more practice you get, the easier you’ll begin to find it.