"First-person inclusive" forms are ones that refer to both the first and second person. In that case, why call them "first-person" anything? Wouldn't it be equally logical to call them "second-person inclusive"? It isn't that there's a division within the first person into inclusive and exclusive forms -- that wouldn't mean anything. Is this just a historical convention, due to the fact that when speakers of a language without such an opposition encounter a language with one, they perceive its inclusive forms to correspond to their own "first-person plural"?

Or is it common for inclusive forms to somehow pattern more like first-person than like second-person forms, and if so how?

(I realize that you could ask similar questions about the term "first-person plural", since this usually doesn't refer to multiple speakers but to a speaker plus others, and about "second-person plural" when this refers not to multiple listeners but to a listener plus others. But those forms at least can refer to plural speakers or to plural listeners, while an inclusive form can never refer to the first person alone.)

  • My guess would be because first person is higher on the agency totem pole than second person. So you could say it's convention of logic. Oct 7, 2013 at 6:09
  • It's definitely a convention as the answers say. Being based on 1 > 2 > 3 is certainly likely. But there's also the possibility that one of the languages for which inclusive pronouns were first written about used first because the form was derived from or similar to a more usual first person pronoun in the language, and subsequent authors adopted the convention from there. We'd need some evidence to give a historically accurate answer. In the meantime we just have more or less likely hypotheses. Oct 7, 2013 at 9:57
  • 1
    The obvious (to me) answer is that when Europeans first encountered languages which made the distinction, both forms were expressed in their own language by the 1st person plural (or dual), so it was natural to regard them as refinements of the 1st person.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 7, 2013 at 21:18
  • Ah yes - terminology due to translation makes sense more clearly. Oct 9, 2013 at 7:51

4 Answers 4


There are some languages where the inclusive forms clearly pattern separately from the second person forms. One such language I've studied is Walmajarri, an Australia language. Here are the subject agreement markers:

Person singular dual plural
1 sg -rna
1 exc -rli -rlipa
1 inc -tjarra -rna-()-lu
2 -n -n-()-pilla -n-()-lu
3 -0 -()-pilla -()-lu

See The pronominal clitic complex in Walmajarri by Fritz Schweiger (Folia Linguistica Historica, 28(1-2), 251–268) for the full details. The brackets indicate where an object marker may be inserted, which could be considered an infix. (For those markers without brackets the object marker is inserted afterwards.)

If the first person inclusive markers were fundamentally second person then we would expect them to begin with an /-n/. Instead, the first person plural inclusive form /-rnalu/ is the same as the first person singular form /-rna/ with the common plural marker added on. On the other hand, the first person exclusive forms are unrelated.

  • I'm a little confused by the table. Why is the cell filled in for 1.INC.SG - How can a 1st person inclusive form be singular? Doesn't it refer minimally to two individuals?
    – P Elliott
    Oct 9, 2013 at 7:35
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    Good question. The inclusive/exclusive distinction of course only applies to the dual/plural. It would be easier to show if we could use borders, but I think I can edit it to clear up the confusion.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 9, 2013 at 7:41

There are interesting pragmatic consequences to using 1st person inclusive (1INC) in certain languages, e.g. in Tamil, 1INC is used by lower-caste members as a 1st person form to address higher-caste members. This may be taken to suggest that 1INC is fundamentally a 1st person form, but in Santali, 1INC is used as a 2nd person form in order to threaten someone. It doesn't seem as if the 1st or 2nd person components of 1INC are universally priveleged.

In conclusion, referring to 1INC as a 1st person form rather than a 2nd person form is due to convention - probably due to the person hierarchy in which 1 > 2 as noted by @Justin_Olbrantz, as, in actuality, it is both a 1st and a 2nd person form.

Reference: Nevins (2008), 'Cross modular parallels in the study of phon and phi'


I think it's just convention. If a pronoun includes in its reference the speaker then we call it a first person pronoun. If a pronoun includes in its reference the listener, then we call it a second person pronoun. If neither the speaker or listener are included then we call it third person pronoun.

  • Thanks for your answer. Do you think you could make it more relevant by referring to the "inclusive" part in the question?
    – robert
    Oct 7, 2013 at 10:01
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    I think of inclusive/exclusive as modifiers of the basic pronoun label, just as singular and plural are. I think some languages like Japanese don't have plural pronouns, which leads me to think that person is the primary category for pronouns. Inclusive and exclusive make it all a little more complex, but you can think of it as a hierarchy of pronouns ordered by specificity, so that the most appropriate one will be chosen.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 7, 2013 at 10:21

I think that the person you use is the lowest person number. "You (2nd) and some other people (3rd)" is 2nd person plural. "I (1st) and my company (3rd)" is 1st person plural. "You (2nd) and me (1st)" is 1st person plural.

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