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When we say "Our team worked hard", then is it expected to refer the speaker + his own team OR the speaker + listener + their team together? Because in both these cases OUR is common word to be used!

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The ability to distinguish between the inclusive we and the exclusive we is referred to as clusivity and is a feature lacking in English. Without additional context, you're correct that it's impossible to determine whether you intended to include the listener in the pronoun or not, although in many cases knowledge of the basic scenario you're describing can be enough to clarify (e.g. if you and the listener were never on a team together or at least a hard working one). However, should it fail to be clear based on such knowledge you're pretty much stuck either adding in a clarifying phrase or simply avoiding the use of our by spelling out who you mean.

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+1 nice clarification –  Richa Mar 4 '11 at 5:05

It depends greatly on context. If the sentence were preceded by a statement defining the team, or including/excluding the listener, then this would be clarified, but otherwise, the phrase is unclear.

In what situation was the phrase used?

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No specific insident as such. But I was just thinking that whenever we use this phrase without any context, then we need to explain more to clarify. e.g. if I am talking to my x-colleague and I want to tell him that "our team won an award!". What he may think is - the team when he was working with me won the award. And I may mean that our (me and my new team) won it. So I need to explain a bit to convey the message properly. –  Anil Soman Mar 4 '11 at 4:38

If you want to be sure to exclude the listener, you can say "My team" instead of "our team".

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That's a good suggestion.. but what if it is about 'efforts'? I cannot say my efforts here, as it is not only my own. –  Anil Soman Mar 4 '11 at 4:50

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