BBC Home

Explore the BBC

h2g2
5th May 2015
Accessibility help
Text only

Guide ID: A281521 (Edited)

Edited Guide Entry


SEARCH h2g2
Edited Entries only
Search h2g2Advanced Search


or register to join or start a new conversation.

BBC Homepage
The Guide to Life, The Universe and Everything.

3. Everything / Languages & Linguistics / Style & Usage
3. Everything / Languages & Linguistics / Word Wise

Created: 28th March 2000
We
Contact Us


Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

 

'We' is the first person subject pronoun, plural in construction and generally means 'I and a group that includes me', but nothing is ever that simple. Let us learn by example.

'We are not pleased.'

This sentence can be interpreted in any one of seven basic ways:

  • This person and I are not pleased.
  • You and I are not pleased.
  • You, this person and I are not pleased.
  • This group, of which I am a part and you are not, is not pleased.
  • The public in general is not pleased.
  • I am not pleased.
  • You are not pleased.

The Literal We

The first four instances of 'we' can easily be mistaken for one another. If someone says 'We've got tickets to see Bruce Springsteen' you can't, without further background information, tell whether you're being told that:

  • You and the speaker have tickets.
  • The tickets belong to the speaker and a group that includes you.
  • They're in the possession of two or more people (including the speaker) who are not you.

This gets confusing at times. It's recommended, in this situation, to say not, 'We do?!' but instead, 'What?' If it turns out that it's a situation where you aren't included, you will save the speaker the embarrassment of saying, 'Oh... er, I didn't mean you', and yourself the embarrassment of hearing it. The only thing you can be certain of is that the speaker will be at the Bruce Springsteen concert.

The Editorial We

Known as the 'Editorial We' because it's used by writers to maintain an impersonal tone, this is rarely encountered anywhere but in print. It can mean 'all of us conscientious people in the world', or 'the entity I represent'.

When, while reading your morning paper, you read, 'We must take a stand!' then the author was addressing you and all the other readers.

If, however, you see, 'We apologise for the error in yesterday's column' then the author is not in fact urging you to apologise for his mistake, but speaking on behalf of the entire newspaper staff.

The Royal We

'We' can also mean I, which is obviously very silly. This use of we is meant to be used by sovereigns, but is more often used by common people to make fun of sovereigns.

Should you hear someone say, 'We are ready for our bath now' do not assume that anything interesting is going on. Quite the contrary, it's most likely that someone pretentious is about to have a bath, alone.

The Condescending We

This final form of 'we' is usually reserved for the interrogative sentence format such as 'Are we ready for bed?'. It's something your mother may have asked you when you were very small. She wasn't really going to bed, though. Just you, and perhaps your sister. Why people insist on saying 'we' to children instead of the much more straightforward 'you' when they do in fact mean 'you' is a complete mystery.



Clip/Bookmark this page
This article has not been bookmarked.
ENTRY DATA
Written and Researched by:

Kristina Marie (see 12637)

Edited by:

Pastey - Pastey



CONVERSATION TOPICS FOR THIS ENTRY:

Start a new conversation

People have been talking about this Guide Entry. Here are the most recent Conversations:

TITLE
LATEST POST
Two Chinese words for 'we'Apr 30, 2009
The Royal 'we'Aug 12, 2001
We, too.Jun 25, 2001
Editorial WeSep 5, 2000
Royal WeAug 13, 2000
And it's even more annoyingJul 27, 2000




Disclaimer

Most of the content on h2g2 is created by h2g2's Researchers, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please start a Conversation above.




About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy