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What is the difference between the following?

  • I personally don't like wax museums.
  • I don't like wax museums.

The adverb personally does not seem to emphasize anything here. Is it redundant?

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5  
"As a professional engineer, I despise shoddy, unsafe work". That's not a personal opinion because it's shared with other professional engineers. –  Kaz May 29 '13 at 21:36
    
"does not seem to emphasize anything here": You should have looked up in a dictionary, what all personally can mean. –  Kris May 30 '13 at 6:24
    
Surprised how this is not GR. –  Kris May 30 '13 at 6:24
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Regarding Kris' comment, I found this in the dictionary: used to emphasize that one is expressing one's personal opinion : personally, I think he made a very sensible move. Still, personally, I find this an interesting question, in that it made me wonder if some contexts (such as "I don't like") already emphasize a personal opinion, and therefore adding personally would give the writing an amateur ring. The dictionary doesn't address that, and I think that's the crux of the O.P.'s question. –  J.R. Jun 2 '13 at 8:42
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11 Answers 11

up vote 91 down vote accepted

Adding the word "personally" communicates that the speaker recognizes the subjective nature of their preference. It also precludes interpretation of the statement as an effort to persuade the listener.

I personally try to avoid using it.

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I'm ashamed to admit that, personally, I use the word far more than is justified. But Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris (It is a comfort to the wretched to have companions in misery). And +1 for making the not-so-obvious point that it strongly implies "Let's agree to differ" rather than "You must agree with me". –  FumbleFingers May 29 '13 at 17:56
    
Pop culture has made us all, if not less wretched, at least more comfortable. –  GetzelR May 29 '13 at 18:03
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@ GetzelR: Spot on. Though speaking for myself I do actually feel slightly more wretched when I contemplate the fact that I like listening to Dire Straits. It's "comfortable" because it's easy listening. I miss the fact that years ago I used to listen to much more demanding stuff - and probably got more out of it because I put in more effort myself. –  FumbleFingers May 29 '13 at 18:22
    
I was actually referring to the homogenizing effect of popular culture paired with the bad habits and tics (mental and verbal) it encourages. I guess it's true in the broader sense that you've applied it to as well. –  GetzelR May 29 '13 at 18:31
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This can also imply that the speaker represents a larger group of people and wants to present his own personal opinion contrary to the opinion of the people he represents (and the royal We is not used in the other case) –  ratchet freak May 30 '13 at 11:52
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It's technically redundant, since all opinions are personal, however it can modify the tone of the statement to some degree. It effectively takes emphasis away from the opinion itself by placing the emphasis on the holder of the opinion.

For example, suppose I'm in a group of people, and we're trying to decide whether to go to Madame Tussauds or to see a play. If I say, "I don't like wax museums," the tone is very final and definitive; it sounds like I'm insisting on going to the play. On the other hand, "I personally don't like wax museums," sounds like a much softer statement, and implies that while this is my opinion, I may yet be willing to go.

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Actually, the subjective use of the adverb to adjust tone is probably not entirely applicable. Imagine if you were a well known art critic, the effect of adding 'personally...' might be the opposite. It all depends on what it means for you to emphasize that it is your opinion. –  RiverC May 29 '13 at 20:13
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No, not all opinions are personal. Some opinions are shared with the speaker's large peer group. For instance professional opinions. –  Kaz May 29 '13 at 21:35
    
And even a subjective opinion may differ in how much it is (and how much it is held to be by the holder) informed by a wider understanding. I could say that I thought a film was well written, acted and directed but I personally didn't like it and this would differ to my saying that a film was a half-assed cash-in whose only saving grace was the rhetorical incompetence of the writer and mumbling mis-directed performance blunted the edge of an offensive screed. There's a difference in how much I expect those of similar attitudes to agree with me. –  Jon Hanna May 30 '13 at 11:32
    
@Kaz I don't see why shared opinions are impersonal. Even if I'm in a room with a hundred other people that don't like wax museums, it's still true that I personally don't like wax museums. –  p.s.w.g May 30 '13 at 12:24
    
If you're in a room full of a hundred other people who also don't like wax museum, it's too much of a statistical coincidence not to be a convention of wax museum haters. So, in that group, you would not say, "Hey, I personally don't like wax museums, how about you guys?" :) –  Kaz May 30 '13 at 20:31
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I think that, although the term is overused, it definitely serves a very specific purpose.

Your example is:

I personally don't like wax museums

and

I don't like wax museums

In this particular situation, by using the word "personally", the individual emphasizes that others might be of another belief.

If I ask someone, "Do you like my drawing?", and they respond with "Personally, I think it is a bit too dark.", I can tell that the person is telling me that the drawing is too dark for them given their personal tastes, but might very well not be too dark for a lot of other people. The added personally is what emphasizes the extent to which the opinion holder is unsure that others would share the same opinion.

At least that's what I personally believe.

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It's the other way around; you're emphasizing that you in particular hold this belief. It would imply by contrast that other opinions may exist, but not necessarily. Also consider if they said, "Do you like my drawing? It might be a bit too dark." Following it with "personally"... would not make sense, since it doesn't establish a distinction of opinion between persons. –  RiverC May 29 '13 at 20:06
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It depends on the context and relationship of the subject and audience.

If the person typically or frequently wears the hat or shirt of some organization, and the audience recognizes that association, including the adverb 'personally' helps distinguish the speaker's opinion from the opinion of the organization.

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The use of “personally”

(1) contrasts one's own preferences from those of their family, church, professional community, political party, or other peer group.

My classmates insisted on a field trip to the wax museum, but I personally don't like wax museums.

(2) connotes that other people may have different preferences/opinions, and that the speaker “agrees to disagree” rather than consider the other people “wrong”.

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Contextually it is redundant. An opinion is personal already, so in order for that sentence to really be correct it must be followed with something like,

"but others have differing opinions."

The expression of the opinion on its own ('I like', 'I don't like') is in no way by itself either non-subjective or persuasive. Personally for opinion is used to emphasize a distinction in preference or thought.

The other way that sentence could be contextualized (to remove the redundancy) would be if it followed some statement about wax museums, like:

Sign reads: "There are over 1000 wax museums in the world."

The man turns to you and says, "Personally, I don't like wax museums"

(the number of wax museums implying that some people must like them.)

Note that if the context doesn't create a contrast of opinion, then it is pointless to say 'personally', since it being personally held is not an important distinction. It would in that case not simply redundant, but superfluous.

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I think in your example it is in fact irrelevant. I think the main difference is, well how I would use it anyways, is like this:

I would never do something like that

meaning that you want to tell the other person that you would disagree with him doing what he is about to do, pointing out that you have a "problem" with it.

As opposed to:

I would personally never do something like that

in which you want to tell the person that you would never do that, and maybe convince him otherwise, but that you wouldn't mind if he did it anyways.

P.S.: Don't hate on my spelling/grammar, English isn't my main language but I tend to believe a have a good feeling for it, but feel free to correct me where needed.

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Personally, it has been my experience that using the word "personally" in this manner give the connotation of: "Because you asked, here is my opinion, but keep in mind that it may not be the common or mainstream opinion." It accentuates that the opinion you are giving is based solely on your own perspective. If you say "I don't like wax museums," it's just a declaration of fact. If you say "Personally, I don't like wax museums," it makes the statement wound more like "I don't like wax museums, but others might enjoy them." Using "personally" softens the statement and expresses an appreciation of the fact that others might feel differently.

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Generally, yes, it would be considered redundant (assuming the speaker's opinion is in sympathy with the prevailing opinion, which generally is assumed to be the case (because that's how it got to be prevailing opinion).

There is such a thing as sentiment en masse, popular view, shared impression. At times when widely-held beliefs have been convincingly expressed, it would not be inappropriate to separate one's opinion as "personal," should it diverge from the "norm."

At all other times (including when it is questionable as to what constitutes prevailing view) restraint should be used and the redundancy avoided.

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When people ask if I'd like their personal opinion, I tell them,"No, I'd like Jack's opinion, I thought you might have it handy."

Yes, it's one of the annoying redundancies that borders on a verbal tic.

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-1 As other answers show, it is not entirely redundant. Also what does "I thought to might have it handy" mean? –  TrevorD May 29 '13 at 19:31
    
Boarders are tenants who inhabit a building. –  Kaz May 29 '13 at 19:54
    
And verbal ticks are wordy arthropods; I think you mean tic. –  gmcgath May 29 '13 at 21:42
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I do not understand why much of this discussion appears to revolve around whether the term "personally" adds a subjective nature to the original statement. When the speaker says the phrase "I don't like wax museums", or "I don't feel like that's a good idea", the subjective nature is already implied because the subject of the sentence is the speaker. Therefore, a phrase a beginning with "I feel" or "I think" can only imply that the following statement is an opinion and cannot be interpreted as an objective fact. Continuing with that line of reasoning, leaving out the word "personally" does not somehow mean that the speaker is attempting to include the opinions of others, of his/her profession, or to achieve some level of objectivity. Logically speaking, the word "personally" is entirely superfluous.

That's not to say that the word "personally" has not found its way into contemporary speech for the exact purpose being discussed. Somehow the word does seem to imply that the following statement is specific to the speaker, even though the sentence is perfectly clear in that regard. Perhaps our discussion could be more valuable in determining how this phenomenon began and whether it is worth continuing. Perhaps our continued use of the phrase only solidifies it in the contemporary lexicon, and we are capable of reversing the trend. I personally believe the word is unnecessary and that the recipients of my statements are capable of understanding my sentences without the addition of extraneous words.

Other thoughts?

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