Exclusive 'We' (Grammar)

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In English grammar, exclusive "we" is the use of first-person plural pronouns (we, us, our, ours, ourselves) to refer only to the speaker or writer and his or her associates, not to the person(s) addressed. For example, "Don't call us; we'll call you."

In contrast to inclusive we, exclusive we does not include the audience or the reader.

Often (but not always), exclusive we occurs when the first-person plural is used in the company of a second-person pronoun (you, yours, yourself, yourselves).


The term clusivity was recently coined to denote "the phenomenon of inclusive-exclusive distinction" (Elena Filimonova, Clusivity, 2005).

Examples and Observations:

  • "I'm especially fond of the inclusive and exclusive 'we.' That's a distinction between 'We're going to the movies. Are you ready yet?' and 'We're going to the movies. See you later!'—in other words, between being invited to the party and being a third wheel.

    "It's particularly useful when you want to switch back and forth between the two: 'I'm writing to you on behalf of my colleagues. We (exclusive) are wondering if you'd be interested in collaborating with us (exclusive). We (inclusive) could accomplish great things together! We (exclusive) hope to hear from you soon about the future of us (inclusive)!'"
    (Gretchen McCulloch, "Four Features From Other Languages That We Wish English Had." Slate, October 24, 2014)
  • "Defenders of Earth: we have come for your natural resources to rebuild our damaged planet. When we have transported all we need, we will leave your world in peace. For such peace to exist, you must immediately exile the Autobot rebels you have harbored. Non-negotiable! Renounce the rebels. We await your reply."
    (Leonard Nimoy as the voice of Sentinel Prime in the movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon, 2011)
  • "All we ask is that you make use of these ships. Sail them back to Westeros where you belong, and leave us to conduct our affairs in peace."
    (George Georgiou as Razdal mo Eraz in "The Bear and the Maiden Fair." Game of Thrones, 2013
  • Khrushchev: Many things you've shown us are interesting, but they are not needed in life. They have no useful purpose. They are merely gadgets. We have a saying: if you have bedbugs you have to catch one and pour boiling water into the ear.
    Nixon: We have another saying. This is, that the way to kill a fly is to make it drink whiskey. But we have better use for whiskey.
    (Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and American president Richard Nixon in the "Kitchen Debate," July 24, 1959. Richard Nixon: Speeches, Writings, Documents, ed. by Rick Perlstein. Princeton University Press, 2008
  • "Well, all along, I guess, I thought we didn't have much of a life. You know, I felt we--well, not you, but the rest of us--were rejects. In fact, they actually had me believing that I was totally undeserving, and I was supposed to be missing out on even the basics."
    (Sky Lee, Bellydancer. Raincoast Books, 2002
  • "For the present, let us return to the experiment with the opium. We have decided that you leave off the habit of smoking from this moment."
    (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, 1868
  • "'You heard Santos-Dumont talking about going to St. Louis and winning a prize? I'm damned if he will, not while we've got time to build an airship of our own.'

    "'What do you mean we?'

    "'Why Fitz, you don't think we'd leave you out? We're letting you in on the ground floor as our first investor, and you'll get your share of the prize money in St. Louis.'"
    (Walter J. Boyne, Dawn Over Kitty Hawk: The Novel of the Wright Brothers. Forge, 2003)

The Top-Down Approach

- "Exclusive we . . . excludes the reader since it suggests an 'us-them' relationship. Its use may make a text appear authoritarian as it underlines opinions of or actions undertaken by a group external to the addressee."
(Anne Barron, Public Information Messages.

John Benjamins, 2012)

- "The exclusive we implicitly sets up a hierarchical power relation and points to the top-down approach in instituting change."
(Aaron Koh, Tactical Globalization. Peter Lang, 2010)

Combinations of Inclusive We and Exclusive We

"Biber et al. (1999: 329) assert that 'the meaning of the first person plural pronoun [we] is often vague: we usually refers to the speaker/writer and the addressee (inclusive we), or to the speaker/writer and some other person or persons associated with him/her (exclusive we). The intended reference can even vary in the same context.' Inclusive and exclusive we can be used to create a perspective of: I the speaker + you the addressee(s) in the immediate context (inclusive we) and I the speaker + someone else not in the immediate context (exclusive we).

. . . Understanding speaker identity is crucial to understanding context . . .." (Elaine Vaughan and Brian Clancy, "Small Corpora and Pragmatics." Yearbook of Corpus Linguistics and Pragmatics 2013: New Domains and Methodologies, ed. by Jesús Romero-Trillo. Springer, 2013)

Grammatical Features Associated With Inclusive We and Exclusive We

"[A]lthough the distinction between an inclusive/exclusive we is not morphologically marked in English, Scheibmann's (2004) analysis of conversational utterances in the first person plural has shown that different referential values of we may be signaled by the differential employment of other formal features of the utterance. More specifically, an inclusive interpretation of we was found to favor employment of present tense and modal verbs, while exclusive interpretations of we appear more frequently with past tense and fewer modal verbs." (Theodossia-Soula Pavlidou, "Constructing Collectivity With 'We': An Introduction." Constructing Collectivity: 'We' Across Languages and Contexts, ed. by Theodossia-Soula Pavlidou. John Benjamins, 2014)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Exclusive 'We' (Grammar)." ThoughtCo, Mar. 16, 2017, thoughtco.com/exclusive-we-in-grammar-1690582. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 16). Exclusive 'We' (Grammar). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/exclusive-we-in-grammar-1690582 Nordquist, Richard. "Exclusive 'We' (Grammar)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/exclusive-we-in-grammar-1690582 (accessed March 23, 2018).