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Pronoun Language

 

Techniques > Use of language > Persuasive Language > Pronoun Language

Singular | Plural | See also

 

Pronouns are immensely powerful little words that can add significant power to persuasive language.

This power means that it is easy to under-do or over-do their usage. Too few and you will seem distant. Too many and you may seem aggressive or manipulative.

Singular

I

'I' is a small word but is written as a capital letter. This suggests power and significance (although originally was just to make the small letter stand out). When you use it in persuasive language, you are placing all that you are into the fray, showing your commitment and purpose.

That is good. [person-less judgement]

I think that is good. [committing your view]

You

Think about when you were half-listening to someone talking and they said 'you' -- the chances are this startled you in some way, jolting you back to full listening.

When you say 'you', then you are firing an arrow directly at the other person and your words will be noticed and processed more consciously.

Talking in the second person shows that you are recognizing others as separate individuals, thus stroking their sense of identity and locating them in your sphere.

'You' can also create a separation between yourself and the other person -- sometimes 'we' is better.

 Ladies and gentlemen, have you ever been to the Paris Ritz? Would you like to go? All you have to do now is listen to me for five minutes to get your chance!

I like you. [creating a bond]

He/she

Talking in the third person references another person outside of the you-me conversation. This has the effect of creating an out-group, separate from us. By implication, it also bonds you and me as an in-group, thus drawing us together and making you more likely to agree with me.

He doesn't make sense to me.

She's not like you.

It

The English language is surprisingly unique in having a neutral third person. This is very useful for objectification, where we create 'things' that are non-human and hence can be treated more objectively and with less care.

What do you think of HR? It is not very helpful.

Plural

Talking in the plural is inclusive and hence pulls whole groups of people in. This also can be its hazard as groups can also take against you.

We

'We' brings you and me together, bonding as a single unit and thus connecting our thoughts and feelings. If I think something to be true, then you have an obligation to consider it true also.

'We' also creates a group, making boundaries within which a cohesive in-group exists, within which each person must comply with group values and rules.

We like apples, don't we?

We meet every Monday morning.

You

The plural 'you' refers to a group of other people. Talking to groups can be very effective as you change many minds at once. If, however, they do not like or agree with you, they can be a difficult force to overcome. It thus pays to take care when using 'you' with groups.

Remember that 'you' separates yourself from others, and that 'we' can act to unite. Beware, though, of inviting yourself to be a member of their group when they may not want you to join yet.

The fact that 'you' is the same word in the singular and the plural makes for the clever effect that addressing a group as 'you' can also add the powerful effect of seeming as if you are talking with each person individually.

You all know that we must succeed.

They

The plural third party shows a group of others to be separate from us, emphasizing our similarity though implication of out-group homogeneity. This allows you to 'push away' others who do not conform as you build a more cohesive in-group.

They are all like that.

What did they say?

See also

Using Pronouns

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