The recently coined term, clusivity, (Filimonova, Clusivity, 2005) is defined as “a grammatical distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns and verbal morphology,” aka the inclusive “we” and exclusive “we.”
English is one of the few languages that does not have separate words for “we” that includes the listener, and “we” that excludes the listener.
The distinction is either evident from context or can be understood through additional wording. Consider the sentences below. Without their accompanying sentences, there is no context to determine whether they include or exclude the listener.
- We’re going to the beach! Are you ready yet?
- We’re going to the beach! See you later!
Other first-person plural pronouns (us, our, ours, ourselves) are also affected by this inclusive/exclusive conundrum.
- We have to do the work ourselves. Let’s get to work.
- We have to do the work ourselves. Thanks for nothing!
When teaching English language learners, with a few such examples, even beginners can grasp the use of we. For more advanced learners, there are a number of atypical uses where we is used in place of I or you.
Royal we – traditionally employed by a person of high office such as a monarch or pope, it is often used today by anyone in a position of authority.
“We are not amused by your behavior, Mr. Jones.”
Editorial we – used when actually giving one’s own opinion:
“When listening to Donald Trump, we feel a strong sense of patriotism.”
Author’s we – a practice of referring to a generic third person as we:
“By adding four and five, we get nine.”
You – used to replace you with we when addressing a second party:
Parent to child: “Are we doing our homework or are we watching TV?”
You might also be interested in these posts about the peculiarities of the English language! Did you know every day and everyday have different meanings? What does the X in LAX mean? Why do we say pease porridge and not pea porridge? What the heck does paddywhack mean?
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