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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?

5
  • 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, 2011 at 21:22
  • 3
    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, 2011 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, 2011 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, 2011 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, 2012 at 9:44

2 Answers 2

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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.

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  • 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, 2011 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. Apr 28, 2011 at 21:35
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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.

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