Some languages around the world use the generic we instead of English's preferred one or you. I have noticed that some people, when asking questions on this site (EL&U although the same principle applies to ELL), use 'we' in this generic way.

For example:

See more and more

More specifically, is it ever possible to use 'we' when talking about a group to which one does not belong?

My instinct is to use you or even one here to form How does one pronounce... etc.

I can only think that it is either a transatlantic difference or a feature that has come from other languages, since the only other uses of 'we' I could find are inappropriate.

Is my instinct right, or is this acceptable grammar?

  • 2
    We're fine with it.
    – Doug Warren
    Oct 14, 2016 at 17:13
  • 1
    You may be, but I don't think you can use it like that. Oct 14, 2016 at 17:14
  • 3
    I would also associate it with the speech of a primary school teacher or the writing of an academic paper (author's we in your link), aiming to be inclusive but perhaps sometimes coming across as marginally patronising. So its use is not grammatically wrong, but it may not always have the desired effect
    – Henry
    Oct 14, 2016 at 17:28
  • 2
    The Cambridge DIctionnary doesn't see a problem with it dictionary.cambridge.org/fr/grammaire/grammaire-britannique/… it may sound more snob because "we" is also found as Royal We ,see the various incarnation of Nosism (yeah that's what using We as generic is called) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nosism
    – P. O.
    Oct 14, 2016 at 18:02
  • 1
    We wouldn't normally ask questions like How do we spell archaeologist? simply because we there probably doesn't include the speaker - he doesn't spell it at all, because he doesn't (yet) know how to. Oct 14, 2016 at 18:17

1 Answer 1


When we ....

is a rhetorical ploy found in contexts as wide-ranging as philosophical treatises (What does it mean when we say a man is noble?) to chemistry textbooks (When we mix oxygen and hydrogen...) to websites about health issues (What should we do when we're constipated?)

  • Sounds good, do you have any references? Oct 17, 2016 at 19:26
  • Not sure what "references" you need. We has been used in a GAZILLION places for hundreds of years in this way, and your "instinct" that it is somehow ungrammatical is wrong. But for starters: google.com/…
    – TimR
    Oct 17, 2016 at 19:35
  • Sorry, I should have mentioned; as was referenced in the comments, we say when used by a group including oneself, is fine; what is being questioned is whether it can be used as a replacement for you: can you say we when referring to a group to which one does not belong? Oct 17, 2016 at 21:03
  • Yes. Compare the constipation example above. We = people. If that still doesn't satisfy you, you'll have to visit et.stackexchange.com
    – TimR
    Oct 17, 2016 at 22:32

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