Related question: Did English ever have a formal version of "you"?

In Portuguese (and probably other languages as well), similar to what happens with the second-person, there are two words for "we": "nós" (formal) and "a gente" (informal, only used in colloquial speech). Both pronouns have the same meaning: they refer to the person who is talking and can include the hearer and/or other people.

Did English ever have this feature?

  • 3
    There's slang like "us guys..." "Us guys would like some beer!"
    – Fattie
    Jun 18, 2011 at 23:33
  • I thought in Brazilian Portuguese they always used "a gente". Honestly, never noticed "nós". I was even told not to use it. Or maybe this is applicable only to Portugal? Jun 19, 2011 at 2:52
  • 2
    @AlainPannetier: They told me in school never to use the passé simple, because it was "never used in speech". But then I met a Frenchman... Jun 19, 2011 at 3:02
  • @AlainPannetier: Not always. Although it is less common, "nós" is sometimes used. In a sentence like "nós somos os melhores jogadores" ("we are the best players"), the alternative "*a gente é os melhores jogadores" sounds "wrong". Jun 19, 2011 at 11:33

1 Answer 1


I don't believe English has ever systematically encoded formality in the 1st person plural. There are of course constructions like "us lot", but thes paraphrases aren't grammaticalising formality as such and their use is always completely optional.

What you might look at is the dual forms of pronouns that English used to have (so there was once a difference between "wit" = "you and me, we the two of us", and "we" = "we all as a group"). By pure statistics, it's conceivable (but I've no idea if this was actually the case or what data is available) that the dual forms occurred more often in "intimate" settings and so were 'de facto' informal forms in some sense.

Also consider the practice of using "one" as an honorific alternative to "I" or "we".

  • Is "one" ever actually used in place of "I" or "we"?
    – rintaun
    Jun 19, 2011 at 8:01
  • 1
    Has "one" ever been used in place of "we"? One would have thought this wouldn't happen, since "we" is plural and "one" is singular. Jun 19, 2011 at 10:48
  • 1
    @Peter, It's used that way all the time in French, but I have yet to hear it in English.
    – TRiG
    Jul 2, 2011 at 14:27
  • 1
    @rintaun consider: We (pron.) 2. used in formal contexts for or by a royal person, or by a writer or editor, to refer to himself or herself. Apr 16, 2014 at 3:30

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