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I stumbled across a question about synonyms for "hypocrite", and of course I then got even more distracted by this comment:

@MichaelPaulukonis: +1, great comment. Interesting question at the end: Does the King of France say "We are hypocrites" or "We are a hypocrite"? – Nate Eldredge Dec 1 '11 at 5:30

Nate makes a very good point - which would the king/queen say? Personally, I think we are a hypocrite makes more sense in that only one person is really speaking, but I'm not sure. All I could find from an internet search was "we are not amused", which, of course, does not illustrate singular vs. plural agreement for objects with the "royal we".

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It's certainly not standard to use phrases like "we are hypocrites" to mean "I (royalty) am a hypocrite". Quite simply, in English (as well as in French), the "honorific" type of "plural" pronouns do not automatically trigger plural reference for all other references to the person. There is really no such thing as true "agreement" of a lexical noun with another word in English. Nouns are pluralized when it is semantically appropriate to do so; they aren't pluralized just because of the existence of another plural word in the same sentence that is grammatically related.

"We" can mean "I", but "hypocrites" cannot mean "hypocrite". There are many ways in which pronouns don't behave the same as nouns.

Margaret Thatcher infamously said

We have become a grandmother

after the birth of her grandson. Note that this is not "we have become grandmothers".

(Of course, Margaret Thatcher is not royalty.) I couldn't find an example of an actual sentence of this exact type spoken or written by a historical English monarch, but here is an excerpt from one of Elizabeth I's letters that shows the general pattern of use:

...to be imployed bothe abowte our owne parson and otherwise, as they shall have knowledge geven unto them, the nomber of which larger proportion as sone as you shall knowe, wee requier you to signifie to our privie Counsell, heerunto as wee doubte not but by your good indevoures, they wilbe the rather conformable, So allso wee assure ourselves, that Almightie God will so blesse their loyall hartes boren towardes us their lovinge Soveraigne and their naturall Countrie, that all the attemptes of any ennymies whatesoever shalbe made voied and frustrate, to their confusion, your comfortes, and to Godes highe glorie.

(http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/elizinvasion.htm)

I bolded the parts I think are relevant. Pronouns are consistently plural: "we", "our", "ourselves" (although in other texts, "ourself" can be found). But the associated nouns are singular: our own person (not "our own persons") and us their loving Sovereign (not "us their loving Sovereigns").

  • So in conclusion, "we" goes with "are", but doesn't cause other words to be pluralized in general? – EL_DON Apr 28 '17 at 3:03
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    @EL_DON Correct. Compare "We are musicians" and "We are a band". The important thing is how many musicans there are (several) and how many bands there are (one), not agreement in grammatical number between the subject and object. – Sneftel Apr 28 '17 at 11:15
  • @Sneftel that should be the answer. – EL_DON Apr 28 '17 at 13:55
  • Think of Leviathan. When a monarch speaks with "we", they are speaking with the voice of the entire nation. Just like you wouldn't say, "we constitute nations," you wouldn't use the plural for any other description. So, if "we" are anything, it's because the nation as a whole is that thing. Same distinction as all vs. each, really. – fectin Apr 28 '17 at 22:33
  • Yes we goes with 'are' because 'are' is the first person plural form of 'be'. I think 'be' is the only verb in English that has a different form for first person plural and first person singular. – bdsl Apr 29 '17 at 11:56
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A monarch who uses 'We' is asserting that they are indivisible from the state over which they govern. The plural form implies that the monarch's will is the will of all the people. The grammar should be the same as you would use when describing the state.

  • Only if the state were a collective noun, though. You can replace 'we' with 'The People of England' or whatever, but not just with 'England'. "The People of England are not amused"--> "We are not amused" but "England is not amused"-->"We is not amused" (the latter should scan obviously wrong). – the dark wanderer Apr 28 '17 at 18:43

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