I've often heard the phrase what do we have here to mean what do you have. And also, recently, I've heard a teacher ask one of his students struggling with an assignment: do we have a problem?, as in do you have a problem?

I simply want to know how exactly such a rearrangement of pronoun usage became a thing and maybe if other languages do something similar. Thanks.

  • 6
    None of those are using a second person 'we'. They're just regular first person 'we's. You may interpret it as the speaker being completely uninvolved, but by their use of it you should see that they themselves view themselves as being included in the scenario they're speaking about. Aug 23, 2018 at 5:46
  • Please be informed that we in your sample sentence what do we have here is not strictly "condescending we". It can be anything from given four options in my answer.
    – Ubi.B
    Aug 24, 2018 at 9:19
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    @curiousdannii A better example might be when a doctor or nurse asks "How are we doing today?"
    – Barmar
    Aug 27, 2018 at 19:16

2 Answers 2


This is often called the "patronizing we", among other names (see this answer of mine for more details on its names). According to the Oxford English Dictionary's page for "we" (pron., n., and adj.), it first appeared in 1702:

Well, old Acquaintance, we are going to be Married then?
False Friend

In comparison, the "royal we" is much older, dating back to Old English.

According to one paper about healthcare (which calls it "inclusive we"), this form can "create a sense of shared connection and shared responsibility", so that's why I assume it came into being. Further into the paper it says however that "the impression may just as likely be paternalistic and condescending", which is probably why it's also called the "patronizing we".

  • Are there any references of "patronizing we"? OED is privileged access.
    – Ubi.B
    Aug 23, 2018 at 3:17
  • 1
    There is no citation or any kind of reference to patronizing we. Also, second person we is controversial. You can't embedded link from other stackexchange answer as citation.
    – Ubi.B
    Aug 23, 2018 at 3:42
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    @ubihatt I'm afraid I still don't understand what you're talking about. I have sources for the parts I've copied from other sources (such as the 1702 quote), and it's accepted to link to one's old answers when relevant. If you're asking for a link to the OED, it's a premium dictionary and my links to it only work for me, so I don't include them in my answers.
    – Laurel
    Aug 23, 2018 at 4:26
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    The most obvious example of the "patronizing we" is of course nurse-speak: "how are we feeling today?"
    – user221615
    Aug 23, 2018 at 6:11
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    @ubihatt The OED doesn't give any particular name in its definition, for either "patronizing we" or "royal we" (because you asked, here's a screenshot of the part of the OED I'm referencing, with the former at the top and the latter at the bottom.) The references for the term "patronizing we" are all in my other answer, where they're more relevant. I'm satisfied with my answer here so I'm probably not going to make any more changes here (to avoid bloating it) unless I discover new content about the origin. The linked answer, OTOH, I should reformat later.
    – Laurel
    Aug 24, 2018 at 5:14

Nice observation. There are four ways in which we can be used.

In your example.

what do we have here, it can be anything from given four options. It depends on the context.


do we have a problem? it is a condescending "we".

There are four ways:

  1. Condescending we (Oxford Dictionaries)

enter image description here

  1. Nosism: A nosism is the use of 'we' to refer to oneself. Nosism, from the Latin nos, "we", is the practice of using the pronoun "we" to refer to oneself when expressing a personal opinion.

a). Royal "we"

Example:"By the Grace of God, We, Alexander I, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias ...."

b). Editorial "we"

Example: We are sorry to publish this news article.

c). Author's "we" or pluralis modestiae

Example: By adding three and five, we obtain eight.

  1. an inclusive we: inclusive "we" specifically includes the addressee (that is, one of the words for "we" means "you and I and possibly others")

    Example: We can all go to the villain's lair today.

  2. an exclusive we: exclusive "we" specifically excludes the addressee (that is, another word for "we" means "he/she/they and I, but not you"), regardless of who else may be involved.

    Example:We mean to stop your evil plans!

    Wikipedia states that second person usage of "we" (you).

    We (as second person): Clusivity in the second person is conceptually simple but nonetheless if it exists is extremely rare, unlike clusivity in the first. Hypothetical second-person clusivity would be the distinction between "you and you (and you and you ... all present)" and "you and someone else whom I am not addressing currently."

There is a beautiful paper on clusivity:

Simon, Horst J. Only you? Philological investigations into the alleged inclusive-exclusive distinction in the second person plural, in: Elena Filimonova (ed.): Clusivity: Typology and case studies of the inclusive-exclusive distinction.

Wikipedia link: Clusivity

  • 1
    The question is about the second person we, not the royal we.
    – Laurel
    Aug 23, 2018 at 3:04
  • 1
    @Laurel I updated my answer because there is a feature called clusivity. Also, second person usage of we is controversial.
    – Ubi.B
    Aug 23, 2018 at 3:46
  • After reading some more, it's pretty clear to me that "second person clusivity" is not the same thing as the "second person we" (SPW, for short) asked about in the question. It's a bit hard to read the Wikipedia article, but it does make it clear that second person clusivity is always about addressing multiple people: 'Hypothetical second-person clusivity would be the distinction between "you and you (and you and you ... all present)" and "you and someone else whom I am not addressing currently."' In contrast, SPW usually addresses a single person, such as a patient and is not hypothetical.
    – Laurel
    Aug 23, 2018 at 4:33
  • @Laurel for your perusal, I have included the paper.
    – Ubi.B
    Aug 23, 2018 at 4:41
  • I saw that earlier, but as far as I can see it only contains references to "second person clusivity" as a thing that addresses multiple people ("you" and "you" vs. "you" and "him"). In particular see these quotes from that paper: McGregor (1989: 443); Lyons (1968). Of course I didn't read the entire 50 page paper yet, so if I'm not looking at the right page please let me know.
    – Laurel
    Aug 23, 2018 at 4:54

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