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Royal “we”

  • The royal “we” is also referred to as the majestic plural or pluralis majestatis, in Latin. Despite its name, the royal “we” has been used by people other than royalty, though it is most often associated with kings and queens. This strange grammatical construct has its roots in the 1100s. We will examine the meaning of the personal pronoun, the royal “we”, who first used the expression in the English language, and some examples of that use in sentences.

    The royal “we” is simply the use of the plural pronoun we in place of the singular pronoun “I”. This quirk of English grammar is rarely heard today, except in historical context or as a jibe at someone who is too assured of his own power. The British monarch Henry II is credited with using the royal “we” first, referring to his connection with God, and the fact that he and God were acting in concert. Richard I often used the royal “we” to assert his rule by divine right, which is the belief that the king answered to no one but God. Others have been known to use the royal “we”, including politicians, popes and academics. The use of the pronoun we in place of the pronoun I or you is sometimes still seen in a few circumstances. For instance,  it may be used in a condescending way or to a child. For example, “No Timmy, we do not throw blocks at the dog.” The editorial we is employed by editors who write opinion pieces that reflect the stand that the publication takes. Note that when writing about the royal “we”, the pronoun is properly rendered in quotation marks, as per the Oxford English Dictionary. Perhaps the most commonly seen phrase employing the royal “we” is: “We are not amused.” This is a quote attributed to Queen Victoria, however, is most probably apocryphal.

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    Examples

    She abandoned the royal “we,” spoke of grief, anger and shock, and conceded that she had much to learn from Diana’s life, and the extraordinary reaction to her death. (The New York Times)

    I don’t know where C. Clark of Gibsons (“We like it the way it is,” Aug. 18) comes off using the royal “we” in his or her statement about liking the totally ferry-dependent communities of the Lower Coast. (The Coast Reporter)

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