Referring to oneselves in plural

7

I am originally from Poland, but am living in the UK for a long while now.

One of the first "thing" that struck me after my arrival, is that some of the people are referring to themselves in plural when asking for something, e.g. "Give us a hug", or "Pass us that screwdriver, please", even though it is just one person, with no-one else around.

I keep hearing that from people that are born and raised in the UK, and it still sounds plainly wrong to me, so my question is: is it even grammatically correct? Is that just a quirk of the region I'm currently living in (Midlands), or there is a rule somewhere allowing such construction?

senemedar

Posted 2017-10-26T16:40:45.060

Reputation: 73

This is colloquial (slang). It is not gramatically correct, but very common in the UK so its fine to use conversationally – Bassie – 2017-10-26T17:09:34.863

It sounds like the "royal we" to me, but I'm not British. I'll take their word for it. It's not common in American English except every so often the "royal we" is heard and it's somewhat condescending. On an episode of a TV show I've seen, a doctor asks the patient, "How are we feeling?" and the patient responds, "We? Are we sharing this body? I'm dying here!" In American English, the word "you" when the person means "one" is widespread, but I think that's widespread all over and not just in the US. – Nick – 2017-10-28T02:54:25.470

Answers

7

It should be noted that we, our, ourselves aren't generally used with singular meaning. The use of we as a singular is called the "Royal we" because it is sometimes associated with the Queen.

By contrast, however, the use of us as a singular is widespread in colloquial British English, and isn't considered pretentious (if anything, the opposite).

The usage is common enough to be noted in the dictionaries. Cambridge calls it "not standard", while Oxford judges it more kindly as simply "informal".

From Cambridge Advanced Learners' Dictionary:

us pronoun (ME)

UK not standard (especially used in spoken English) me:

Give us a light, mate.

Give us it here and I'll see if I can mend it.

From Oxford Living Dictionaries:

us .... 2 informal first person plural Me.

‘give us a kiss’

The form is noted in the full Oxford English Dictionary as follows:

Eng. regional, Sc., Irish English, and colloq. Chiefly in unemphatic use (frequently with 'give'): me; to me.

Not including a quote from a dialect dictionary, and not including the much older Royal use, the OED's first citation for this usage of "us" is from 1857, when it appeared in the famous novel Tom Brown's School Days:

T. Hughes Tom Brown's School Days i. iv. 92: Tell us something more about the pea-shooting.

"Us" for "me" is also noted as a "commonly" encountered "nonstandard use" by Randolph Quirk et al., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Longman, 1985).

(In my view, singular "us" is significantly less strongly stigmatised than certain other nonstandard usages, such as "ain't" or the double negative. Nevertheless, I would certainly avoid using singular "us" at a job interview or on any formal occasions or at any time when you're trying to impress someone.)

On the other hand, the use of "let's" in phrases like "let's have a look" (= "let me have a look") is even more widespread, and is not considered nonstandard (because although "let's" stands for "let us", it can be taken as a polite way to make the addressee feel included - and also because "let's" has been partially grammaticalised, so not all speakers equate it with "let us").

rjpond

Posted 2017-10-26T16:40:45.060

Reputation: 8 564

Thanks for the great answer! And you're right, I haven't even noticed the "let's" being misused like that... – senemedar – 2017-10-27T21:45:04.897

2

I don't know if it's "gramatically incorrect" as much as just logically incorrect.

I'm no expert of British English, but I found a couple of discussions where people say it's a "Northern thing." For example:

https://www.reddit.com/r/britishproblems/comments/1a2qyw/why_us_instead_of_me/

I think Americans are generally aware of this type of speech, but people might think you were either strange or pompous (or both) if you used it here!

Ringo

Posted 2017-10-26T16:40:45.060

Reputation: 7 245

In BrE, using "we" or "our" instead of "I" or "my" would be considered pompous. But using "us" instead of "me" is colloquial and decidedly non-pompous. – rjpond – 2017-10-26T18:29:03.927

2I would not see "give us a hug" as pompous. I would mark it as decidedly British though (maybe incorrectly, I don't think I've heard it outside of movies and TV.) – ColleenV – 2017-10-26T18:46:49.600

Interesting! I wonder if it's rooted in the way grandparents talk to their children or something like that. "Give Daddy a kiss," even if he's not your real father. – Ringo – 2017-10-26T21:26:16.177