No, not we as in us. WE as in US.


English could really learn a lesson or two from Indonesian, and I’ll tell you why. Not only can plurals be expressed by saying a noun twice (child-child = children), but there are two ways to say “we,” an inclusive term and an exclusive one.

Let us turn to the 1993 classic, “Sleepless in Seattle” for an example. In the final scene, the three main characters are standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. They are having a pretty awkward moment. Clearly, they are in love, and yet no one will say it out loud. Tom Hanks breaks the silence: “well, we should probably go.” This is not what Meg Ryan wants to hear. She says, “oh, right.” So Tom says, “what, are you stupid? You’re coming with us.” Maybe he doesn’t say it quite in that way, but it is obvious that his expression is limited by a single “we.”

Speaking from my own experience, in Indonesian, there are an infinite number of ways for me to be confused beyond belief, but at least 97% of the time that I was in Indonesia, I felt quite sure which “we” we were talking about. In fact, it was something I could be certain of in an uncertain time.

Seriously though. I hadn’t realized how useful it could be in English. Here are a few examples of situations where a little clarification in the department of the first person plural wouldn’t hurt:

We’re best friends.
It’s over between us.
We had a really important meeting this morning.
We have great chemistry.
We’re trying to get rid of a certain someone, who is kind of a third wheel.

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2 Comments on “No, not we as in us. WE as in US.

  1. it’s just like in “the sparrow” the Runa are always saying “we but not you”, or “we and you also” and they have different words for it. brilliant

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  2. This could also apply to “you,” but those clever Southerners have had a solution for centuries — “you all” or more accurately “y’all.” (A friend once told me that the plural of y’all is “all y’all.”) I’m not sure that “we all/w’all” will catch on, but maybe it’s worth a try. If enough of us use it, maybe w’all have done our part for clearer communication in the future. RJH

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