Clusivity: Wikis


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In linguistics, clusivity is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns and verbal morphology, also called inclusive "we" and exclusive "we". Inclusive "we" specifically includes the addressee (that is, one of the words for "we" means "you and I"), while exclusive "we" specifically excludes the addressee (that is, another word for "we" means "he/she and I, but not you"), regardless of who else may be involved.

Clusivity is a common feature among Australian and Austronesian languages, and is also found in eastern, southern, and southwestern Asia, America, and in some creole languages. No European language outside the Caucasus makes this distinction grammatically, but some constructions may be semantically inclusive or exclusive.


Schematic paradigm

Clusivity paradigms may be summarized as a two-by-two grid:

Includes the addressee?
Yes No
the speaker?
Yes Inclusive we Exclusive we
No 2nd person 3rd person

Where found

The inclusive-exclusive distinction is nearly universal among the Austronesian languages and the languages of northern Australia, but rare in the Papuan languages in between. (Tok Pisin, an English-Melanesian pidgin, generally has the inclusive-exclusive distinction, but this varies with the speaker's language background.) It is widespread in India (among the Dravidian and Munda languages, as well as in the Indo-European languages of Marathi, Rajasthani, and Gujarati), and the languages of eastern Siberia, such as Evenki. In America it is found in about half the languages, with no clear geographic or genealogical pattern. It is also found in a few languages of the Caucasus and Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Fulani and Nama. [1] [2] No European language makes this distinction grammatically, but some constructions may be semantically inclusive or exclusive, as in the English, French etc. examples below.



English distinguishes let's from let us; the contracted form is inclusive while the full form is generally (though not always) exclusive.[3][4] For example, the "us" in "(come on,) let's eat" and "(hurry up,) let's go" can only be inclusive, while context and prosody make it clear that the "us" in "let us be" (= leave us alone) and "let us go" (= release us) is exclusive.


In French, nous autres (literally we others) can be used for exclusive we instead of just nous or on.


In Italian, noialtri (literally we others) can be used for exclusive we instead of just noi. A similar form voialtri (you others), instead, is used to divide the plural, second person in two disjunct groups: Voi andate a casa, voialtri andate a scuola (You (first group) go home, you other (second group) go to school).


In Brazilian Portuguese, there is a partial correspondence between the pronouns nós and a gente and clusivity. When addressing persons present in the conversation, nós is preferred. However, when a third person is added—whether the result in inclusive or exclusive,—a gente is more common.[5]


In Swedish, vi andra (literally we others) can be used for exclusive we instead of just we.

Dravidian languages

The distinction between the inclusive and exclusive we existed in proto-Dravidian, and has been retained in most modern Dravidian languages. In Tamil, the forms are inclusive நாம் (nām) and exclusive நாங்கள் (nāṅkaḷ). In Telugu, the forms are inclusive మనము (manamu) and exclusive మేము (memu). In Malayalam, നമ്മള് (nammaḷ) is the inclusive form of we while ഞങ്ങള് (ñaṅṅaḷ) is exclusive. Modern Kannada is the only one of the literary Dravidian languages that does not retain the distinction, though ನಂಗಳ (namgaLa), the exclusive we, is used in haLegannada and naDugannada (old and pre-modern Kannada, respectively). The urban, spoken form of Kannada makes use of just ನಮ್ಮ (namma), making no distinction. Certain dialects of Kannada like Sankethi retain the exclusive form, as does spoken rural Kannada.

Indic languages

The distinction is also found in a few Indic languages neighboring the Dravidian area, such as Marathi, with exclusive amhii and inclusive apaŋ, and Gujarati, with exclusive અમે ame and inclusive આપણે aapne.

Viet-Muong languages

Vietnamese makes a distinction between inclusive and exclusive we. Among the many Vietnamese pronouns there are chúng ta (inclusive) and chúng tôi (exclusive). Chúng is a plural marker derived from Chinese; ta is the word for "I" used in familiar settings, whereas tôi also means "I" but is used in polite settings.

Chinese languages

In standard Mandarin, the pronoun wǒmen 我們 "we", which is the plural of the pronoun 我 "I", is indefinite like its English counterpart. However, in northern Mandarin dialects there is an additional pronoun, zánmen 咱們, which is inclusive. In these dialects, wǒmen 我們 is exclusive. (See also: Chinese pronouns.) Many speakers, however, do not strictly maintain the distinction, but instead always use 我們.

Taiwanese is similar. Exclusive goán is the plural of goá "I", while inclusive lán is a separate root also with the plural suffix. Lán may be used to express politeness or solidarity, as in asking a stranger "where do we live?" to mean "where do you live?".

Austronesian languages

In Malay and Indonesian, the pronoun kita is inclusive, and kami is exclusive. That is, you may say "We (kami) will go shopping, and then we (kita) will eat," making it clear that your guest is not to accompany you to the market, but is invited to dinner. What you cannot do is be ambiguous as to whether your guest is included, as you can in English.

Tagalog has a very similar system with kamí and táyo being respectively the exclusive and inclusive forms. The word kitá (or katá) was originally a dual inclusive pronoun "you and I". However, it has now become a portmanteau pronoun for first plus second person, as in mahál kitá "I love you", originally "you and I are dear."

In other Philippine languages, particularly those spoken in northern Luzon, the use of the dual pronoun is widely used. Kapampangan, for example, has ikata (dual inclusive), ikatamu (plural inclusive), and ikami (exclusive). Ilokano has data/sita, datayo/sitayo, and dakami/sikami.

Tausug of Sulu is the only Visayan language which has the dual form. Its pronouns are kita (dual inclusive), kitaniyu (plural inclusive), and kami (exclusive).

In Cebuano, a widely spoken Visayan language, the pronouns indicating clusivity are kita (inclusive) and kami (exclusive). These can be truncated to ta and mi respectively.

Tetum, spoken in East Timor, uses ami and ita, which correspond to kami and kita in Malay and Indonesian.

Amerindian languages

In Quechua, both forms, inclusive ñuqanchik and exclusive ñuqayku, are clearly based on the first-person singular pronoun ñuqa, but it is not immediately clear how they relate historically to the second-person pronoun qam or the plural suffix -kuna.

Aymara has four pronominal roots: Inclusive jiwasa, exclusive naya, second person juma, and third person jupa. All are indefinite as to number apart from jiwasa, which must refer to at least two people. Plurality may be emphasized with the suffix -naka; inclusive jiwasanaka implies at least three people. Verbal conjugations reflect the same four persons.

Other Amerindian languages that make the distinction are the Tupian languages, among them Tupinambá, Guaraní and Nheengatu. In these languages there is a singular first person (xe in Tupinambá, ixé in Nheengatu, che in Guarani) and two alternate plural forms: oré (exclusive) and îandé (Tupi) or ñandé (Guarani). The inclusive form may have been formed under influence of the singular first person (which is nde in most languages of the group).

Additionally, all Algonquian languages make a distinction between first person plural inclusive and exclusive. For example, in Shawnee, the first person plural exclusive independent pronoun is niilawe, the corresponding inclusive pronoun is kiilawe, while the first person singular pronoun is niila and the second person singular pronoun is kiila. The inclusive/exclusive distinction is also made throughout the pronominal inflection of verbs in all Algonquian languages.

The Isthmus-Mecayapan dialect of Nahuatl makes a distinction between first person plural inclusive and exclusive. This is unique in Nahuatl, and may have been borrowed from the neighboring Popoluca (Mixe-Zoquean) languages, which have the distinction.

Fula language

The Fula language (Fulfulde, Pulaar, Pular) of West Africa has inclusive and exclusive first person plurals.

Chechen language

The Chechen language spoken in the Caucasus has exclusive and inclusive "we" (txo and vay).

American Sign Language

American Sign Language has a distinct set of first person pronouns, but in most cases does not have a formal distinction between second and third person. To indicate first-person dual, a palm-up "K" handshape tilts back and forth between the relevant persons. For you and me, it tilts from the speaker to the addressee; for (s)he and me, the direction of the tilt changes from the addressee to the location set up to stand in for the person who is not present. That is, nothing distinguishes inclusive and exclusive except where the participants stand in real life or have been set up in sign space. The same strategy can be used in the plural, where a "1" handshape sweeps across the relevant persons. However, there are also conventionalized inclusive and exclusive plural pronouns that do not specify specific individuals: The generic plural for present persons, generally read as inclusive, taps the finger of the palm-down hand once on the upper ipsilateral side of the torso and then twists outward before coming back to tap the opposite side of the torso, while the generic exclusive simply taps each side of the torso once without twisting. However, the former may be modified to the side so that it includes a third person rather than the addressee. Thus the distinction is not actually one of clusivity, but whether the sign overtly indicates who is being included.[6]

Pacific Creoles

The Chinese pattern, with the plural form of "I" as the exclusive pronoun, is a common one. It is also common for the inclusive pronoun to be composed of the pronouns for "I" and "you". Both are the case in the English-Melanesian-based creole languages Tok Pisin and Bislama, where the inclusive pronoun is a variant of yumi (two people, that is, you + me) or yumipla (for more than two people; -pla or -pela is a plural suffix), and the exclusive pronoun is the plural of "me": mipla.


In some languages, the three first-person pronouns appear to be unrelated. This is the case for Chechen, which has singular so, exclusive txo, and inclusive vai. In others, all three are related, as in Tok Pisin singular mi, exclusive mi-pela, and inclusive yu-mi (a compound of mi with yu "you") or yu-mi-pela. However, when only one of the plural pronouns is related to the singular, it may be either one. In Chinese, for example, exclusive wǒ-men is the plural form of singular "I", while inclusive zá-men is a separate root. However, in Hadza it is the inclusive, ’one-be’e, which is the plural of the singular ’ono (’one-) "I", while the exclusive ’oo-be’e is a separate root. In Vietnamese both are pluralized words for "I", familiar becoming inclusive and polite becoming exclusive.

Distinction in verbs

Where verbs are inflected for person, as in Australia and much of America, the inclusive-exclusive distinction can be made there as well. For example, in Passamaquoddy "I/we have it" is expressed

Singular n-tíhin (first person prefix n-)
Exclusive n-tíhin-èn (first person n- + plural suffix -èn)
Inclusive k-tíhin-èn (inclusive prefix k- + plural -èn)

In Tamil on the other hand, the two different pronouns have the same agreement on the verb.

Singular we

In Samoan, there are two separate roots for "we", inclusive ’ita and exclusive ’ima. Samoan pronouns must be used with the dual suffix -’ua or the plural suffix -tou to mean "we".

Samoan pronouns singular dual plural
Exclusive person a’u ’ima’ua ’imatou
Inclusive person ’ita ’ita’ua ’itatou
Second person ’oe ’oulua ’outou
Third person ia ’ila’ua ’ilatou

However, the inclusive pronoun ’ita may also occur on its own as a singular pronoun. In this case it means "I", but with a connotation of appealing or asking for indulgence, rather like the concept of amae in Japanese (and not like the royal we in English). That is, by using ’ita instead of the normal word for "I", a’u, there is involvement the other person in statements about yourself.


  1. ^ World Atlas of Language Structures 39: Inclusive/Exclusive Distinction in Independent Pronouns
  2. ^ World Atlas of Language Structures 40: Inclusive/Exclusive Distinction in Verbal Inflection
  3. ^ Wales, Katie (1996), Personal Pronouns in Present-Day English, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521471022 
    p58: a formal distinction in English English may partially be seen in let's (inclusive) v. let us (sometimes inclusive, often exclusive).
  4. ^ Levinson, Stephen C. (1983), Pragmatics, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521294140 
    p69: for the contraction from let us to let's only seems felicitous if the us is understood inclusively, as illustrated below (Fillmore, 1971b):
    (43) Let's go to the cinema
    (44) ?Let's go to see you tomorrow
  5. ^ há uma diferenciação no emprego de nós e a gente em relação a um uso mais restrito ou mais genérico. O falante utiliza preferencialmente o pronome nós para se referir a ele mesmo e mais o interlocutor (não-eu), ou a não-pessoa: referente [+perceptível] e [+determinado]. No momento em que o falante amplia a referência, indeterminando-a, há maior favorecimento para a forma a gente.[1]
  6. ^ Baker-Shenk, Charlotte and Dennis Cokely. (1980). American Sign Language: A Teacher's Resource Text on Grammar and Culture. Gallaudet University Press. ISBN 0-930323-84-X. pp.209-212
  • Payne, Thomas E. (1997), Describing morphosyntax: A guide for field linguists, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-58224-5 
  • Filimonova, Elena (eds). (2005). Clusivity: Typological and case studies of the inclusive-exclusive distinction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN 90 272 2974 0.

See also

Further reading

  • Clusivity: typology and case studies of the inclusive-exclusive distinction

By Elena Filimonova Published by John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2005 ISBN 9027229740, 9789027229748 436 pages


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