ESL Words: “You” Versus “We”


ESL Words: “You” Versus “We”

What would you do for romance? For a shy, charming male book editor who occasionally crosses paths with a romantic female author, this question frequently gets put to the test. When the editor is the romantic’s ultimate obsession, a shy but awkward crush becomes much more sinister. With the help of the internet and social networking, he uses every available resource at his disposal to get closer to her, often going far as to remove even more obstacle – including people – that stands between them. But is it worth it?

This all started because she was a single woman who yearns for relationship. Since she has chosen to be alone in order to “get” someone, she longs for attention from a male who, by nature, can give it. She can’t help feeling a void as her mind races with thoughts of the man she desires. To satisfy her need to connect with him, she turns to the only channel left open to her: the written word. And, to fulfill the writer’s desire to be the one she wants to be, this single lady turns to a man whose every word is laced with desire.

It would be easy to dismiss this as shallow if this writer’s intention were simply to attract a boyfriend or husband. After all, isn’t that why we use “you” as a singular in our correspondence? The answer, unfortunately, is no. The singular you is not unique to your gender, and the pronouns you use can be used by either a male or female speaker. “You” and “I” are two distinctly feminine pronouns, which make you even more likely to experience rejections from the opposite gender if you don’t already use them as often as “he” or “she.”

When you use “you” as a first-person singular subject, “he” or “she” can refer to either a person or an object. In the past, “you” was used to refer to a person, while “he” or “she” was used to refer to an object. These days, however, “you” is used to describe an object and “he” or “she” is used to describe a person. In recent academic writing, the use of “you” is growing in prominence when used as a descriptive verb (as opposed to a habitual verb, which is usually inflected for gender). This shift from “he” to “she” or “you” is actually a recent trend, but it does reflect a broader cultural trend toward single-subject pronouns in English.

This shift from “he” to “she” or “you” is also happening in the number of words used to describe people. Phrases like “a man’s man friend,” “a cute guy your teacher might like,” and “your next door neighbor” now specify individuals rather than gender categories. As more people shift from gender-based pronouns to generic ones, you’ll find the trend to continue.

If you’ve been using a single-subject, gender-free version of “you,” “he” or “she,” you’re stuck in a situation where you may be limiting your creativity. In the past, the majority of English speakers used “you” to describe individuals, objects and things, so you were free to make whatever choices you wanted. Now that “you” is becoming a generic term for anything you can think of, you’re stuck using what society wants you to use. So avoid the trap of thinking that “you” describes a unique individual and instead embrace “we” and “us” as the proper pronouns to use in written English.