I have always had trouble when people talk to me and say "we" - because I often don't know whether that includes me or not.

"Hey, we're going to the movies." Just by that, how do I know if they want to include me or not without having to ask if I can come, too?

Some languages have this 1st Person Plural distinction of specifying whether the person being spoken to is included or not. Has this concept ever been been a topic in the history of the English language?

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    No, English has never had such. PIE didn't, and no IE language that I know of marks 1pl excl/incl. It's quite common in Austronesian languages (e.g, Malay kami and kita), but not in English. As for how you figure it out, you watch who's talking and who they're looking at when they use 1pl terms. I agree, it's confusing, but in speech it's not so hard. In writing, of course, it's very hard to understand anything. Feb 14, 2014 at 20:40
  • This sounds a bit like: english.stackexchange.com/questions/131436/…. In Norfolk they would say 'Are we going to the pictures, together'. 'Together is used in the sense of 'y'all', indicating others are included.
    – WS2
    Feb 14, 2014 at 20:56
  • They still look at me when they say we, inclusive or exclusive. I'll settle for the next sentence to determine. Feb 15, 2014 at 1:10
  • @JohnLawler 4im really not sure that English has never had such, except if you consider old English is not English. The pronoun "wit"...
    – Quidam
    May 2, 2017 at 10:49
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    @Quidam Very late reply, but OE wit is not specifically inclusive or exclusive – just like ‘we’ in Modern English, it is used both inclusively and exclusively. The difference between ‘we’ and wit is that the latter is specifically dual, not plural – but it meant both ‘you and I’ as well as ‘he/she and I’. Dec 29, 2020 at 15:58

1 Answer 1


Very short answer:


Slightly longer answer:

There is no evidence that clusivity has ever been a category in any Germanic language. Nor, in fact, in any Indo-European language that didn’t (like Marathi or Gujarathi) borrow it from another language (in the case of Marathi and Gujarati, from neighbouring Dravidian languages, where clusivity is exceedingly common).

Tok Pisin, which is a pidgin of English and Melanese (and thus arguably at least part Indo-European), does have clusivity, but that comes from the Melanese part of the blend, not the English part.

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    I like to try and learn at least one new word every day, but clusivity would be enough to keep me happy for a week! Great word, even though apparently it hasn't made it into OED yet. Feb 14, 2014 at 22:25
  • 1
    How about troversion, which also comes in in- and ex- alleles. Feb 14, 2014 at 23:17
  • OId English is part of Indoeuropean, and Icelandic too, so I disagree.
    – Quidam
    May 2, 2017 at 10:54
  • @PERCE-NEIGE And neither Old English nor Icelandic distinguishes inclusive and exclusive pronouns. May 2, 2017 at 14:56

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