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If there is a group of individuals identified by a name, what's the right way for one of the group to refer to them all?

For example, if one of a group of 10 Americans wants to refer to the group, is it more correct to say "Us Americans" or "We Americans"?

  • 3
    Is FumbleFingers' bounty text hinting that Gnawme's answer is incorrect in Britain? – GEdgar Sep 20 '16 at 17:38
  • @GEdgar As far as I understand it, your answer is perfect, so FumbleFingers might be hinting at something else? – BladorthinTheGrey Sep 20 '16 at 19:59
  • I'm not sure a 13k-views-question warrants a "not enough attention" bounty without further explanation. @FumbleFingers, can you elaborate a bit? – Helmar Sep 20 '16 at 20:52
  • @FumbleFingers - Pardon me if these are stupid questions, but why was this question not closed -- a google news search gave me examples in seconds. And why the bounty? – aparente001 Sep 22 '16 at 21:55
  • I forgot to ask -- also, why did this question get so many up votes? I really don't get it. – aparente001 Sep 22 '16 at 22:16
31

What are the Americans doing?

Apply the usual "we vs. us" test: Remove any nouns and adjectives between we/us and the verb, and test.

[We/Us] drink beer cold : We Americans drink beer cold.

The Aussies call [we/us] Seppos : The Aussies call us Americans Seppos.

The same test applies when referring to any group collectively:

[We/Us] recite poetry to appreciative audiences: We Vogons recite poetry to appreciative audiences.

The "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" describes [we/us] in highly disparaging terms: The "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" describes us Vogons in highly disparaging terms. (A lawsuit is pending. In triplicate.)

  • It's not that I disagree, but I find your answer waay too complicated for a simple question. – aparente001 Sep 22 '16 at 21:54
  • @aparente001 It was much simpler (everything before the EDIT paragraph), but a bounty was offered, so I expanded the answer. I don't know whether I can post two answers for the same question. – Gnawme Sep 22 '16 at 22:08
  • Yes, you can. Note that another reason I offered an alternative answer is that I didn't find your example sentences super clear. (Maybe it's just me.) – aparente001 Sep 22 '16 at 22:13
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+200

To address the points that @FumbleFingers raises in his bounty:

Merriam-Webster Unabridged offers these observations in its definition of the pronominal us (albeit not without some nose-holding, and a few pokes at "grammarians"):

f — used by speakers on all educational levels and by many reputable writers though disapproved by some grammarians in the predicate after forms of be, in comparisons after than and as when the first term in the comparison is the subject of a verb, and in other positions where it is itself neither the subject of a verb nor the object of a verb or preposition:

  • the miraculous generation which is us [Arnold Bennett]
  • you are bigger and stronger than us women [K. A. Menninger]
  • us and our little problems

g (1) — used chiefly in substandard speech and formerly also by reputable writers as part of the compound subject of a verb or especially with an immediately following appositive noun as the subject of a verb which it does not immediately precede

  • our neighbors and us don't like that
  • us kids were always given a swallow [Walter Karig]

(2) chiefly dialectal — used as the subject of a verb from which it is not separated by other words

  • us lived in a two-story house [Ralph Ellison]

h — used like the adjective our with a gerund by speakers and writers on all educational levels though disapproved by some grammarians

  • she approved of us getting summer jobs

Likewise, M-W Unabridged defines these (ahem) non-standard usages of the pronominal we:

3a dialectal, chiefly England : us — used emphatically as object of a verb or preposition

  • to poor we thine enmity's most capital [Shakespeare]
  • the likes of we

b chiefly substandard : us — used in a compound object or in apposition with a following noun

  • he disturbed those in the dining room, those in the hall, and even we who had retired upstairs

  • as to we men [Fanny Burney]

  • @Araucaria: Yeah - excellent result all round! (ty again, Gnawme! :) – FumbleFingers Sep 24 '16 at 0:16
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    @FumbleFingers My pleasure. Glad to be able to contribute now and again. – Gnawme Sep 25 '16 at 19:38
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I agree with the rule of thumb described elsewhere which recommends using "we Americans" or "us Americans" depending on whether the context calls for the subject or object pronoun. This is the standard practice, as corroborated by a corpus search.

For example, if you search for "we Americans" versus "us Americans" in the Corpus of Contemporary American English and glance at the results, you'll see that "we Americans" is almost always used in subject position while "us Americans" is almost always used in object position. Here is the screenshot for "we Americans":

enter image description here

Here is the screenshot for "us Americans":

enter image description here

Prima facie, "we Americans" occurs in subject position, while "us Americans" occurs in object position. This supports the rule of thumb I described above.

That said, there is a convention in English regarding the modification of subject pronouns like 'I', 'you', 'he', 'she', and 'we'. These pronouns are allowed to appear as subjects pre-nominally modified by adjectives only if they are transformed into their object variant. For example, compare:

  1. The drunk me is a nightmare.
  2. The real her is better than the fake her.
  3. Blonde him looks better than brunette him.
  4. New York us is having a harder time paying the bills than did rural Iowa us.

with

  1. *The drunk I is a nightmare.
  2. *The real she is better than the fake she.
  3. *Blonde he looks better than brunette he.
  4. *New York we is having a harder time paying the bills than did rural Iowa we.

The reason the object pronoun is necessary may have to do with the fact that this construction is ultimately rooted in an ellipsis which requires it (for example, "the real version of me").

I suspect that the existence of this convention might lead some people to feel comfortable using "us Americans" in subject position. For example:

  1. Us Americans love guns.

This is certainly acceptable in some dialects, although I haven't found any corpus examples yet. It certainly doesn't sound bad to my ear.

NOTE: I'm not saying that subject-positioned "us Americans" is the same kind of construction as "New York us" (syntactically, they seem to be quite different). All I'm saying is that the existence of the latter might influence a speaker's judgment regarding the former (it might lead him to think that the former is acceptable).


As a historical note, the linguist Otto Jespersen was probably the first to think about constructions like "we Americans." He treated them as involving appositional relative clauses that had undergone something like ellipsis (for example "we, who are Americans"). Postal (1966) argued against this analysis, as does Elbourne (2005).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Oct 2 '16 at 17:50
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If you would normally put "us" in the sentence, say "us Americans."

If you would normally put "we" in the sentence, say "we Americans."

Examples (recent quotes from U.S. President Barack Obama):

"Together there is nothing we Americans cannot overcome.” (9/11/16)

"All of us Americans should be troubled by these shootings." (7/7/16)

  • I am not sure where you found this rule. However, you need to be careful because there are a lot of bogus rules like this one advocated on the wilds of the internet. This particular rule does not describe real usage in standard English. – Araucaria Sep 23 '16 at 16:12
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    Another example, though, also from Mr Obama: "We also agree, us Americans and Canadians, that wealthy countries like ours cannot reach our full potential while others remain mired in poverty." (6/2916) – MetaEd Sep 23 '16 at 19:16
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Remove the word "American" from the proposed sentence, and the correct pronoun will be obvious to any English speaker.

Nobody here but us chickens.

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