Notice how each of the above sentences makes you feel different?
It’s important to think about when to use which pronoun, because switching a pronoun can change how a person feels about what they’re reading. Let’s examine the big three blogging pronouns – you, we, and I – and see when to use which one.
You – The Direct Pronoun
You is a special pronoun. It makes the discussion a one-on-one conversation. You grabs attention in the same way that hearing your name does – it’s the most direct way to address the reader.
Saying you does two things – it gets the reader’s attention, and increases their emotional involvement in what you’re saying. Getting the readers’ attention is positive. When you use you correctly, you come across as personal and engaging. Using you and I makes it seem like a one-to-one conversation with the reader.
But when you’re giving advice or criticizing, the reader’s heightened emotional sensitivity make negativity and/or demands a bad idea. When you use you poorly, you come across as egotistical and accusatory. Readers who are on the defensive aren’t receptive readers; you lose your reader – maybe forever.
When to use YOU
- When you have something important to say.
- When you want your readers to take your words to heart.
- In positive prose (“You can do it, you are going to win, I believe in you.”)
- In “emotionless” instructions (“You want to hold the pear at a 45 degree angle and whack it good…”)
When not to use YOU
- When doing so will label your readers (“If you don’t go to college, you’re not a learner.”)
- In negative prose (“You are weird.”)
We – The Community Pronoun
We is personal (but less so than you), and it rarely sounds accusatory. Can you guess why? Because we includes me. That’s smart writing!
We is also flexible – it can mean anything from two people to the entire human race. It is the context which tells us which specific group is being referred to. If you’re reading a blog post on weight loss and the writer says, “We need to stop eating two lbs. of bacon every day,” the we refers to “those of us who eat 2 lbs. of bacon a day and are interested in losing weight”.
When to use WE
- When talking about an issue common to the general population (“We have a hard time staying awake when we don’t get enough sleep.”)
- When you want to establish a community vibe (“We can beat this. We are in this together.”)
- When you criticize, because you can’t accurately criticize a reader you’ve never met (“We (humans) often lose our temper when our ego is bruised.”)
When not to use WE
- When there are stronger options. Unless the community element of we is especially powerful, a relevant personal experience or story is better.
- To cover up weak data or a weak point with vagueness (“We misuse pronouns.” No context is given and we’re left with a frustrating, meaningless sentence.)
- When you need to be specific (“We need to pay taxes.” Who needs to pay taxes?)
I – The Wild Card Pronoun
I can be your greatest strength or weakness.
Have you ever read a post filled with too many I’s? It’s annoying, unless the writer is telling an interesting personal story, right? That’s because people are mostly interested in themselves.
Look at previous sentence. “That’s because people are mostly interested in themselves.” What if I had used the pronoun I in this sentence? “I am mostly interested in myself.” This sounds egoistic, and will put off most readers.
But talking about yourself can have some distinct advantages. Look at this example and the emotional response it generates: “When it comes to being thankful, I am the worst.”
In a post on thankfulness and how important it is, if there are some thankless readers out there who know their shortcoming, you might not want to dump a bucket of fresh guilt on them for not being thankful enough. What you can do is ‘sacrifice’ yourself to make every reader feel better. This is a humble and likable thing to do occasionally. We (as in all of humanity) don’t like prideful people without flaws; we like to see the human-ness in humans.
Self-deprecating humor is fun too. “The first time I went for a yoga class, the teacher mistook me for a mat, because 10 minutes after the class had ended, I was the only one still there.” This is an embarrassing story, but it shows my human-ness in a humorous way.
Of course, I is also used to boast, and you’ll want to limit that as much as possible. Boasting has the opposite effect of humility – making readers feel inferior or threatened, and not liking you!
When to use I
- To share personal experiences and stories
- When you express an opinion – I recommend doing this infrequently, though it depends on your style
- To show humility or self-deprecating humor – a very powerful writing technique that I’ve noticed master bloggers use well.
When not to use I
- While having an opinion rant (Is it ironic if I don’t stop here?)
- When you want readers to feel included
Surprise Final Exam!
Choose A, B or C to fill the blanks in 1, 2, and 3. Use each answer only once, and be careful. They’re tricky. And no peeking!
1. ______ terrible.
2. ______ should live the dream.
3. ______ need to exercise more.
A. We (are)
B. You (are)
C. I (am)
#1 Answer: C – I am a terrible person.
I is most suitable for humor or a confession, but also because the other two aren’t suitable at all. Saying “you are a terrible person” insults the reader, and saying “we are terrible people” is too general and negative to be useful.
#2 Answer: B – You should live (your) dream.
“You should live (your) dream” works best because it is a positive and encouraging statement that gets the reader’s attention. You is better than we because our dreams are personal to us, and it is relatively rare for an entire community to share a dream.
Using I in this case makes it less interesting for readers.
#3 Answer: A – We need to exercise more
We is best suited for this one because it includes everyone and boosts an important life practice. The community boost is helpful because exercise is a healthy activity that isn’t always fun or easy.
“I need to exercise more” is a close second because it can be used as a motivating example or confession, but it lacks the ‘we’re in this together” vibe.
How did you do?
Keep in mind that the context in which a pronoun is used changes the way it is perceived, so this test is only for most typical uses. I hope that you enjoyed this. May we all pay more attention to how we use pronouns in our writing so that you and I can rock our writing!
What’s your favorite way to use these pronouns? Sound off below and let me know!