The Royal We

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After you become part of a couple or get married, “you” become a “we,” and “we” is a powerful pronoun.

crownCouples begin many of their sentences with the word “we,” and they’re particularly fond of “the royal we.” In case you’re not familiar with the royal version, “the royal we” was originally used by kings and queens to suggest they were acting in conjunction with the people over whom they ruled. Queen Victoria is famous for the quote “We are not amused.”

But couples tend to use it for more practical reasons, like passively handing off responsibility for a task to someone else, while giving the illusion that we are in this thing together. Here’s an example of the royal we in action:

“We should get up early and take the puppy outside for a bathroom break.”

Now if the we is not specifically clarified, both he and she go to bed thinking the other half of the royal we is going to take care of said puppy. Then the next morning, there’s a puddle on the floor and “we” are definitely not happy about it. Now “we” have to clean this up.

See how easily the royal we can go astray?

That being said, I definitely use “the royal we” to my advantage. After 17 years of marriage, my husband knows that when I say, “We should really put down new mulch in these flower beds,” I am referring to the “he” part of “we.” The “she” part of “we” prefers to avoid the pollen and supervise the job by staying inside and glancing out the window supportively. If the flower beds get new mulch, it’s always the “he” part of “we” that gets it done.

Of course, there are also times when Tom benefits from use of the royal we. If we bump into a friend with a new baby, I might say, “We saw your baby announcement and we think your baby girl is just beautiful. Her big blue eyes are amazing!”

Tom will nod his head and offer his congratulations, even though he knows that the “we” refers only to me, who actually looked at the birth announcement and sent a gift. The “he” part of “we” never laid eyes on the birth announcement and was probably not even aware that the friend was pregnant.

Once “the royal we” have children, the kids learn how to get in on the act and take advantage of the pronoun’s perks. Not long ago, our middle-schooler said, “Mom, we forgot to wash my gym clothes and put them in my backpack.”

What that sentence translates to is this: “I forgot to take my stinky gym clothes out of my backpack and give them to you for washing because I was far too busy playing whatever iPhone app happens to be cool this week. I also forgot that I’ve we are not amusedbeen taught how to use the washing machine, which means I could’ve washed the gym clothes by myself. But I will use the royal we in this sentence on the off chance that it will trigger some misplaced mom guilt and get me off the hook.

The kids also like to say that “we” lost the remote control and now “we” really need to find it, even though “we” can’t be bothered to lift a sofa cushion and find the thing.

Needless to say, sometimes use of “the royal we” is more about a person’s reluctance to get off his or her royal duff, and, to that, I’ll reply by borrowing that famous line from Queen Victoria: “We are not amused.”

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