In honor of royal babies, we're pondering a pompous pronoun choice known as the "royal we." Constance Hale is a San Francisco journalist who covers grammar, writing, and the writing life at www.sinandsyntax.com.
The Nanny Narrator
Finally, there is the point of view I call the “nanny narrator.” We could call this “the therapy we,” since it might be heard in the classic question of a shrink: And how are we feeling today? But I will lay its use first at the feet of nannies and grannies, who speak baby talk to their charges: “Have we finished our Cheerios?” When adults use it instead of you to address someone else, we telegraphs that the someone else is not alone; it’s code for “I am with you; we are in this together.”
Of course, this we can smack of condescension or irony, depending on context and tone. If one hipster says to another, “Aren’t we looking happy?” you can be sure that someone is down in the mouth. Finally, this patronizing we can also refer to a third party, as when a wife says to a sister, casting a nod in her husband’s direction, “We’re not in a good mood today.”
How to Choose the Right Pronoun
Choosing the right pronoun, as these examples show, isn’t just a matter of correct grammar. Point of view signals the writer’s stance toward the information or events he or she is describing. We usually describe literary point of view as “the first-person” (the confessional I, the inclusive we, or the royal we), “the second-person” (the informal you, or the implied you in the bossy imperative mood) and “the third-person” (the objective he, she, it or they, the starchy one).
I encourage you to experiment with different points of view in different drafts. I’m a fan of the inclusive we (as in we all struggle with this writing thing), but I try to stay away from the royal we. I don’t think of myself as a monarch, a hopeless hipster, or a nanny.
Constance Hale is a San Francisco journalist who covers grammar, writing, and the writing life at www.sinandsyntax.com. This essay is adapted from the revised and updated Sin and Syntax. (Three Rivers Press, August 2013). Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Publisher.
Royal image courtesy of Shutterstock.