Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Not just English

Why are pronouns when conjugating verbs always given in the same order.

  • I
  • You
  • He
  • She
  • We
  • You Plural
  • They (or he's and she's depending on the language)

Does anyone know?

share|improve this question

closed as off topic by MrHen, kiamlaluno, Rhodri, Kosmonaut Apr 29 '11 at 13:56

Questions on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange are expected to relate to English language and usage within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Good question. This is just a guess, but to me they seem to be ordered on two levels, from the personal to the impersonal and from the singular to the group. So we work from the singular: speaker (I) to the individual addressed (you) to the other not addressed (he/she/it); thence to the group of which the speaker is a member (we) to the group spoken to (you plural) to the group not spoken to but spoken of (they). I'm looking forward to a knowledgeable answer... –  PSU Apr 28 '11 at 21:22
First off, they are not proper nouns, they are pronouns. Secondly, think 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person, then the order is self-explanatory. (Or just read what @PSU said). Lastly, as you say yourself, this is not specific to English. The question might be a better fit for the Linguistics site (whether or not it would be considered too basic there is a different question). –  RegDwigнt Apr 28 '11 at 21:30
Sorry about the proper nouns bit I know that. I just find it difficult sometimes with words. Also I put that sentence in about not being english specific becasue I was unsure if it was a correct site to put this in. I'm happy for it to be migrated if thats necessary. –  Wes Apr 28 '11 at 21:34
@PSU, I think you are right about the personal -> impersonal as the fundamental ordering here: as RegDwight says of course we call these 1st (I, we), 2nd (you), 3rd person (he/she/they). I wonder however whether some languages / cultures might mix the singular & plural rather than our convention of enumerating the singular & then starting again at 1st person plural. –  AAT Apr 28 '11 at 21:47
While it is common to list them in this order when speaking, from my experience, it have found it different when written. In a textual form, it is common to create a grid/table, 2 columns and 3 rows. left column is singular pronouns, right column is plural pronouns. 1st row is 1st person, 2nd row is 2nd person, and 3rd row is 3rd person. –  Xantix Nov 9 '12 at 9:44

2 Answers 2

It is the same in all other Indo-European languages I know. The perspective of any human being is with himself in the center: I. In any conversation, which is where language is important, there must be another human being present to whom I speak: you. Then we might discuss someone else: he/she/it.

The second set of pronouns is the same but in plural: I as an individual am a more basic, more important unit to myself than my group, we, which consists of several people. It is only logical to use the same order with plural pronouns as the one that is used with singular pronouns.

In Latin, there is a set of demonstrative pronouns for each of the three perspectives:

Hic = that which is closer to myself than to any of the other persons

Iste = that which is closest to you

Ille = that which closest to him

This is how they were originally used, when pointing to objects in the physical world ("deictically"); but they have acquired different nuances and their meanings have shifted a bit. In English, we only have two of those:

This = that which is closest to me or to you-and-I

That = that which is closest to you or him

Their meanings have shifted a bit as well.

share|improve this answer
surely you plural would come before he / she in that circumstance? So this relates to first person, second person, third person then? –  Wes Apr 28 '11 at 21:31
@Wes: Well, I don't know how prehistoric men came to this order. But apparently they found the pronouns for individuals more "primary" than those for groups. There may be a certain degree of arbitrariness in their choice. –  Cerberus Apr 28 '11 at 21:35

It is a mostly arbitrary convention established by Latin grammarians, and hence employed by scholars of most European languages. I believe that the Arab grammarians listed Arabic verb forms in the order he/she, you, I.

There is a somewhat natural sequence, as others have pointed out; but the order in which that sequence is presented is mostly arbritrary.

Note that the order you are talking about is not part of English: it is part of talking about English. In English we usually put "I/me" last ("you and me", "John and I"), but have no firm order between 2nd and 3rd person.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.