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The Politics of the Pronoun

The Politics of the Pronoun

The politician is the ultimate salesperson. Speeches are the platform for gaining power and are drafted with this purpose in mind. Special attention is given to the simple pronoun; that obscure part of speech so often taken for granted by the average person.

Barack Obama’s famous slogan for the 2008 Presidential Campaign, “Yes We Can” shows the power of the pronoun. The power of this simple slogan is that unlike previous candidates, Obama was not saying what he would do for his voters but rather that they would work together. It worked. He won the 2008 election and was voted back into power in 2012.

The pronoun we is used to invoke a sense of collectivism and to share responsibility whereas they is used to separate self from other; often in a discriminatory sense. ‘They are troublemakers’ creates a definite barrier between the speaker and the ‘other’ very different group.

The use of pronouns provides insight into the words of writer or speaker. Is the person actually ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’. Does the person overuse the narcissistic I or the collective and fuzzy-feeling we?

According to, viewpoint is defined as “a mental position from which things are viewed”. This definition is a wonderful way of expressing the power of the pronoun. The use of a personal pronoun either in first , second or third person can reveal whether the person is arrogant, expressive or detached.


The first person I , is used to express a personal opinion. The plural we has become a popular pronoun in business. It has been used to include leaders in the mix of the common people.

However, the collective we can be negative as well and is often exploited to share responsibility. Consider the CEO of a company telling employees that “we should tighten our belts and save”. The CEO then drives off in the latest BMW X5 whilst the employees stand in endless queues waiting for the public transport to arrive. Who exactly will be ‘tightening their belts’?


The use of the third person (he, she, they) is recommended in business writing. It creates distance between the writer and the reader. Once again, depending on the context, the third person viewpoint can have negative outcome. Consider Marie Antionette’s famous comment, “Let them eat cake” when she was told that her people did not even have bread to eat. This comment distanced her from her people and revealed her ignorance about the suffering of the people around her.


The second (and enigmatic viewpoint) person you remains unchanged whether used singularly or to address a group. The you is used as a direct form of address and attempts to involve the reader and make them active in the writing. It is often used effectively in pulp fiction such as The Fight Club. The reader is part of an uncomfortable situation. In an argument, the you is often used negatively. “You are lazy” is accusatory. Editors of female magazines use you to show solidarity and understanding. “Be the best you” is a wonderful slogan. Consider the most popular three-word sentence, “I love you”.


  1. The use of pronouns in business or creative writing is powerful and can be used to convey a positive or a negative message.
  2. Establish the purpose of the writing and use the appropriate pronoun to support this purpose.
  3. Do not change viewpoints. It shows immaturity and a lack of understanding of grammatical rules.