Take for example the words 'I' and 'you' (or 'I' and 'we'). Is it more reasonable to analyze them as different lexemes, or as different forms of a same lexeme inflected for grammatical person (or number)?

As pointed out in the comments, it doesn't make much sense to ask what's the right view, but what are the advantages and disadvantages of these opposing views? Is any of them more widely adopted in a given context?

Original question:

I believe the commonest view is that words like 'I' and 'me' are just different forms of a single lexeme, inflected for grammatical case. But are 'I' and 'you' (or 'I' and 'we') different lexemes or again just different forms of a same lexeme, inflected for grammatical person (or number)?

Insights for languages other than English would also be very welcome.

  • 1
    It is not the commonest view among grammarians. English personal pronouns are so common and ubiquitous, and they are the only surviving case paradigms, and there are so few forms of them, that they are almost certainly learned as individual lexemes, probably clitics (they are contracted whenever possible). The idea of positing an objective case and a paradigm, just to accomodate four irregular words (me, us, him, them) is silly. You might as well say English has nine moods because it has nine modal auxiliaries.
    – jlawler
    Jan 17, 2014 at 15:42
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    I don't think there's a correct answer to this question, just different opinions based on different analyses unless a god reveals his or her design plan languages are conventions rather than things with concrete essences. Then again maybe you're just asking about suppletion and didn't know the terminology? Jan 18, 2014 at 7:01
  • It depends how you do morphology - if you adopt the lexicalist hypothesis, you'd probably be forced to say that the different forms are different lexemes, whereas if you adopt a non-lexicalist model, such as distributed morphology you can treat the different forms as spelling out different feature combinations.
    – P Elliott
    Jan 18, 2014 at 21:40
  • In the context of the changed question, if you were to develop a parser, considering them one lexeme would result in a (unification) grammar with fewer rules, since agreement would be dealt with within one CF rule.
    – Atamiri
    Jan 19, 2014 at 8:44

1 Answer 1


Yes, I and me are different forms of a lexeme, it wouldn't make any sense to consider them different lexemes. As for grammatical person, I / you / we etc. are sometimes analyzed as one lexeme in NLP applications (morphological analyzes/taggers). In lexicalist grammars, incorporated pronouns are generally referred to as 'pro' regardless of person, number, and so forth.

  • Oh, they don't have to be considered lexemes; it's just that some people do learn and retain them as lexemes instead of allomorphs. There's enough variation in use to support just about any personal parsing strategy, one way or another.
    – jlawler
    Jan 18, 2014 at 3:45
  • Note, how different the distinction between a typical noun in singular and plural (a book vs. books) and I vs. we is. In the former pair books means "a book + a book + a book ... etc." while we doesn't mean "I + I + I ... etc." Actually, we means "I + some other people", I means "the person who is saying this", but "we" doesn't mean "the people who are saying this", because several people cannot (normally) say the same thing at the same time.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jan 18, 2014 at 23:52
  • @YellowSky Your comment is completely irrelevant. I and we differ in grammatical number. Period. In some languages there's another category--inclusiveness, but again, pragmatics and indexicality have nothing to do with morphological classification.
    – Atamiri
    Jan 19, 2014 at 8:39
  • They do differ in grammatical number, only the meaning of that number is different from the number of nouns.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jan 19, 2014 at 8:55
  • @YellowSky The difference between collective and distributive meaning exists in nouns too and is generally independent of POS. There's no "meaning of the number" from a morphosyntactic perspective.
    – Atamiri
    Jan 19, 2014 at 11:04

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