What “I, we, they” say about you

I always appreciate a good book recommendation (for me, that’s anything quirky, sappy, or anything set in Europe in the 1800s) , so I thought I’d pass this along to other avid readers. “The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us” diagnoses personalities based on people’s use of pronouns. Yes, pronouns, the “function” words that make up a teeny tiny % of the English language, which supposedly tell all your deepest and darkest secrets – if you run it through some computer analysis, that is. Author James W. Pennebaker combed through essays, instant messages, court trancripts – you name it – to find some interesting patterns, all based on little words like “I, we, they.”

Here are some tidbits, courtesy of “Harvard Business Review.” I’m going to Kindle this book ASAP, and then annoy all my friends with the supposed “truths” they’re revealing to me! (Actually, Pennebaker makes the point that the statistical differences in pronoun usage is so minute that you can’t hear it with the naked ear, but that won’t stop me from being cheeky with my friends).

  • Across studies and culture, we found that women use “I,” “me,” and “mine” more. Women are more self-attentive and aware of their internal state.
  • Men use more articles: “a,” “an,” and “the.” That means men talk about objects and things more. You use articles when you’re referring to concrete objects, because articles precede concrete pronouns.
  • Women also use more third-person pronouns – “he,’ “she,” and “they” – because women talk more about people and relationships, and they’re btter at managing them.
  • Depressed people use the word “I” much more often than emotionally stable people. “I” might make up 6.5% of [a depressed person’s] words, versus 4% for a nondepressed person. THat’s a huge difference statistically, but our ears can’t pick it up.
  • People who are lower in status use “I” much more frequently.
  • People who are lying use exclusive words like “but” and “without” and negations such as “no,” “none,” and “never” much more frequently.
  • If you want someone who’s really decisive in a position, a person who says “It’s hot” rather than “I think it’s hot” may be a better fit.



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