royal we


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


From Old English , which was pronounced something like way in modern English. It is related to West Frisian wy, Dutch wij, German wir, Swedish vi and Faroese vit.

Other Indo-European languages that have cognates with English we include Hittite, which has wês, and Sanskrit, which has vayam.

The Latin nos represents the enclitic form of the pronoun, which is preserved in English us.

In some Romance languages including Spanish and Catalan, the word for "we" (from Latin nos) is supplemented by the word for "others" (nosotros and nosaltres "we-others" — similarly in the Quebec French locution nous autres), indicating these languages' distinction between exclusive and inclusive we.

Written and formal spoken French retains "nous," but in colloquial French, "nous" is almost entirely replaced by the third person singular pronoun on ("one"). Verbs are conjugated to the third person singular. The direct and indirect object form is nous, and the possessive is notre/nos, but the reflexive form is that of on (se; e.g. On se calme vs. Ils nous agacent). The oblique case of we in English is us (stressed ; unstressed ); the genitive case is our (or ), and the possessive predicate adjective is ours (or ).

Atypical uses of we

A nosism is the use of 'we' to refer to oneself. A common example is the royal we (Pluralis Majestatis), which is a nosism employed by a person of high office, such as a monarch or pope. It is also used in certain formal contexts by bishops and university rectors. The expression was first used in 1169 when English King Henry II (d. 1189), hard pressed by his barons over the investiture controversy, assumed the common theory of "divine right of kings," that the monarch acted conjointly with the deity. Hence, he used "we" as "God and I...," or so the legend goes. (See Rolls Series, 2.12)

In the public situations in which it is used, the monarch or other dignitary is typically speaking, not in his own proper person, but as leader of a nation or institution. Nevertheless, the habit of referring to leaders in the plural has influenced the grammar of several languages, in which plural forms tend to be perceived as deferential and more polite than singular forms. This grammatical feature is called a T-V distinction.

Popes have used the we as part of their formal speech with certain recent exceptions. The English translations of the documents of John Paul II dispensed with this practice, using the singular "I", even though the Latin original usually continued to use the first person plural "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 himself or herself in the role of spokesman: either for the media institution who employs him, or more generally on behalf of the party or body of citizens who agree with the commentary.

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" in this sense often refers to "the reader and the author", since the author often assumes that the reader knows certain principles or previous theorems for the sake of brevity (or, if not, the reader is prompted to look them up), for example, so that the author does not need to explicitly write out every step of a mathematical proof.

The patronizing we is sometimes used in addressing instead of "you". A doctor may ask a patient: And how are we feeling today? This usage is emotionally non-neutral and usually bears a condescending, ironic, praising, or some other flavor, depending on an intonation: "Aren't we looking cute?".

Inclusive and exclusive we

Some languages, in particular the Austronesian languages, Dravidian languages, and many others such as Taiwanese (Min Nan) and Mandarin have a distinction in grammatical person between inclusive we, which includes the person being spoken to in the group that is included in we, e.g.:

  • We can all go to the zoo today.

This contrasts with exclusive we, which excludes the person being spoken to, e.g.:

  • We mean to stop your evil plans!

About half of Native American languages have this distinction, regardless of the languages' families. Cherokee, for instance, distinguishes between four forms of "we". These 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 (three or four people), and large group—and separate inclusive and exclusive forms for each number.

English makes this a grammatical distinction only marginally through inclusive "let's". For example, the phrase "let us eat" may exclude the addressee, as a request to be left alone to eat, or include the addressee, as an invitation to eat together. The latter usage is formal, however, and the contracted form "let's eat" can only be inclusive.

See also


External links

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

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