We

We is the first-person plural personal pronoun (nominative case) in Modern English.

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Person (gender) Subject Object Dependent possessive (determiner) Independent possessive Reflexive
Singular
First Imemyminemyself
Second youyouryoursyourself
Third Masculine hehimhishimself
Feminine sheherhersherself
Neuter ititsitself
Epicene theythemtheirtheirsthemself
Plural
First weusouroursourselves
Second youyouryoursyourselves
Third theythemtheirtheirsthemselves

Atypical uses of we

Nosism

A nosism is the use of 'we' to refer to oneself.[1]

Royal "we"

A common example is the royal we (Pluralis Majestatis), which is a nosism employed by a person of high office, such as a monarch, earl, or pope.

Editorial "we"

The editorial we is a similar phenomenon, in which editorial columnists in newspapers and similar commentators in other media refer to themselves as we when giving their opinions. Here, the writer has once more cast themselves in the role of spokesman: either for the media institution who employs them, or more generally on behalf of the party or body of citizens who agree with the commentary.

Author's "we"

Similar to the editorial we is the practice common in scientific literature of referring to a generic third person by we (instead of the more common one or the informal you):

  • By adding three and five, we obtain eight.
  • We are therefore led also to a definition of "time" in physics.Albert Einstein

"We" in this sense often refers to "the reader and the author", with both following the chain of the reasoning.

Other

"We" is used sometimes in place of "you" to address a second party: A doctor may ask a patient: "And how are we feeling today?". A waiter may ask a client: "What are we in the mood for?"

A similar usage exists in other languages. For example, José Luis Properzi of Argentine rock band Super Ratones revealed that the title of their song ¿Cómo estamos hoy, eh? ("How are we today, eh?") was the greeting a taxi driver addressed to him. [2] (Regular Spanish "How are you?" greetings are ¿Cómo estás? or, more formal, ¿Cómo está?.)

Inclusive and exclusive we

Some languages, in particular the Austronesian languages, Dravidian languages, and Chinese varieties such as Min Nan and some Mandarin dialects, have a distinction in grammatical person between inclusive we, which includes the person being spoken to in the group identified as we, and exclusive we, which excludes the person being spoken to.

Many Native American languages have this grammatical distinction, regardless of the languages' families. Cherokee, for instance, distinguishes between four forms of "we", following an additional distinction between duality and plurality. The four Cherokee forms of "we" are: "you and I (inclusive dual)"; "another and I (exclusive dual)"; "others and I (exclusive plural)"; and "you, another (or others), and I" (inclusive plural). Fijian goes even further with six words for "we", with three numbers — dual, small group (One or two people), and large group — and separate inclusive and exclusive forms for each number.

In English this distinction is not made through grammatically different forms of we. The distinction is either evident from the context or can be understood through additional wording, for example through explicitly inclusive phrasing ("we all") or through inclusive "let's". The phrase "let us eat" is ambiguous: it may exclude the addressee, as a request to be left alone to eat, or it may include the addressee, as an invitation to come and eat, together. "Let us" ranges from the extremely formal (e.g., "Let us pray") to the relatively informal; the less formal the usage, the more likely the usage is to be exclusive. This (somewhat) less formal use of "let us" contrasts directly with the even more informal contracted form "let's" (e.g., "Let's eat"), which is always inclusive.

Examples

Inclusive "we":

  • We can all go to the villain's lair today.

Exclusive "we":

  • We mean to stop your evil plans!

References

  • Baker, Peter S. 'Pronouns'. In Peter S. Baker. The Electronic Introduction to Old English. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003, c. 5.
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