# Is it better to use or not use personal pronouns? Specifically, "I" in questions and "you" in answers?

I noticed GcL put comments under answers to the this question and edited its title with this edit description: "Removed personal tone from title."

Old Title:

Can I make a Wall of Stone with 7200 hit points?

New Title:

Can a Wall of Stone be made with 7200 hit points?

This answer would be better without addressing the OP directly in the answer. Essentially, drop the "you". Suggest something like "Using 5x5 panels is not available."

This answer would be better without addressing the OP directly in it.

In all honesty, I have seen countless questions using "I" or "me" and countless answers using "you" (including rules-centric ones). I actually thought some of the personalization was helpful and had read the use of "you" as the generic pronoun form seen in "brushing your teeth is healthy".

But now I find myself questioning whether that was really the case. What do others think of the differences between these two styles of question and answer. Are there pros and cons to each? What should I consider when choosing between these styles?

• Needs a better title, I just can't think of a wording right now Mar 28 at 11:18
• Also, and perhaps this doesn't need to be said, this is not a callout post or anything of the sort. I am genuinely interested in people's ideas and experiences with this topic because I hadn't even considered it until today and it shapes a fundamental part of how I ask and answer questions Mar 28 at 11:25
• Doesn't this fall under stylistic variants, of which we canonically have no enforcement (i.e. the choice is up to the author)? Mar 28 at 11:28
• @vicky_molokh-unsilenceMonica I'm asking if there are benefits to either style over the other, not that one be enforced Mar 28 at 11:33
• I can't see any reason or benefit to those edits. I'm stumped. This isn't a peer reviewed journal after all. Mar 28 at 11:57
• @Exempt-Medic In part because pronouns are used as a shorthand for 3rd person (singular) pronouns (because that's where there is something to address usually), a better title wording might be along the lines of passive/active voice (which I believe to be the correct term here, and references to academic journals around the place reinforce that).
– Someone_Evil Mod
Mar 28 at 13:24
• Additional point: many rules systems use ‘you’ in addressing players. I see no reason to change that. Mar 28 at 14:22

There's no problem whatsoever with using “I” and “you” in answers. There just isn't—we do it all the time and have done for years. People frequently come here with a question of “Can I do this?” and ask it in those terms, and answers frequently opt to match those terms (“You can do this”).

This means there's no problem or imperative here whatsoever with “I” and “you” and other forms of personal address. Editing out uses of “I” and “you” simply in and of itself is no improvement whatsoever; such edits for their own sake should be avoided.

It's incorrect to suggest we should be avoiding those terms for some reason because that's just not the case. It's unhelpful to instruct users to avoid personal address, or to make edits simply to eliminate use of peronal address. Doing these things is at best noise and potentially disruptive (like now) and confusing for new users learning the ropes.

We may from time to time edit those particles in the course of other improvements, however. Sometimes when a lot is going on in a question, a sentence might change from “I got hit and fell unconscious” to “my wizard got hit and fell unconscious” or whatever. This means we're not forbidden from making these changes in the course of other normal work, just that we shouldn't be doing this out of some mistaken belief that I shouldn't be writing “I” in my question about what I can do with my wizard.

There is, sometimes, cause to avoid “I” and “you” in conversation: sometimes “you” can be read as accusative and put someone on the defensive (“you messed up here” comes with a lot of weight that “we messed up here” does not) and that can be avoided by other phrasing choices (like “we”!). This means an edit might change these for tone reasons, but specifically because improvement of tone is a valid improvement to a question (and these changes might happen in the course of making that improvement), not because removing/replacing personal address was supported in and of itself.

• I think this is also a great reminder that we are solving problems for individuals. The hope is that the individual solution helps others, but we're trying to help the folks asking with the issue that they are having. Mar 28 at 15:36

## If OP chooses "I", you are in no position to challenge that

There is a thing about editing: you shall only edit, if it improves the post.

Some common reasons to edit are:

• to fix grammatical or spelling mistakes
• to clarify the meaning of a post without changing it
• The local pronoun policy is wrong AFAIK and against StackExchange CoC. It's just we had somebody doing things like changing fireman to fireperson and not firefighter which are bad edits regardless. Mar 28 at 12:22
• @AncientSwordRage Our local pronoun policy mostly exists in response to people making edits to replace abstract pronouns with other abstract pronouns, primarily someone who was replacing lots of binary pronouns with they/them which people objected to. Mar 28 at 12:27
• I think your links to things about gendered pronouns are perhaps out of place. "I" and "you" are never gendered in English, so the links don't really make any sense Mar 28 at 12:33
• @AncientSwordRage We also observed attempts to neutralize gendered language within quotes from rulebooks. Mar 28 at 12:36
• @ThomasMarkov yeah that's also not good editing. Banning the whole thing feels like throwing the baby our with the bath water though. Here is perhaps no the best place to discuss though Mar 28 at 12:39
• Care to join me in dragon chat Mar 28 at 12:47

### If I can use "we" in a mathematics publication, I can use it as the point of view for a stack question.

In a comment on this meta question, AncientSwordRage made the observation:

This isn't a peer reviewed journal after all.

But even if it were a peer reviewed journal, this isn't a position of enforcement we would even take. Speaking from the first person, typically using "we", is standard fare in mathematics papers. Indeed, in the abstract of one of my own papers, we see:

Using “eigenflag” embeddings, we give a very explicit description of these metrics in the case of the unitary group. As a byproduct we show that $$\ U_n / (U_{n_{1}}\times...\times U_{n_{k}})\$$ has exactly $$\k!\$$ invariant complex structures, a count which seems to have hitherto escaped attention.

If it's good enough for research in Symplectic Geoemetry, it's good enough for table top RPGs. This is certainly not something we should care to enforce, and it typically shouldn't even be seen as an improvement to questions.

The only case where such an edit should be seen as an improvement is where it resolves some sort of ambiguity associated with the phrasing and word choice.

• I'm a bit confused as to how "we" and "you" are equivalent? Perhaps a brief explanation on their equivalence when it comes to meaning and "personal tone" would help? Mar 28 at 12:50
• @Exempt-Medic I think I'm addressing use of "I" and 1st person perspective specifically. We don't typically see "you" used in mathematics, it is much more common to see "one" in the third person used, i.e. "One observes that Lemma 2...". We just generally need not to take ourselves so seriously as to think that rigidity and formality are virtues here, I think. Mar 28 at 12:58

## The Generic 'You'

I cannot speak for the original author of that answer, but I can speak for myself as a native speaker of English: It did not even occur to me that the phrasing was meant to speak directly to, or to directly address, the original querent.

Rather, it read to me like a use of the 'generic you' which is the informal way of saying 'one'. It wasn't actually until this post that I realized what it was in that answer that was being called out as a direct address.

Again, I could be wrong about the answer-writer's intent. But I am sure I have written answers in that mode without even having a clear and conscious intent to use the 'generic you' grammatical structure-- it's a natural mode of speaking, and of informally writing.

I see no issue at all with this usage.

The only case I can see where this would be a problem is if 'you' is used to deliver a personal attack, which is clearly not the case here. (And that would not be a 'generic' you, but a pretty specific one.)

## Removing "I" and "You" would be a regression.

From a place of Search Engine Optimization, most search engines prefer a more literal match of someone's question. Most people, when searching, use these, and therefore, to make the answer easier to find, so do we.

"Can my wizard wear heavy armor in [insert-rpg-here]?" is a perfectly valid search query, and exactly the kind of people that should be redirected to this site.

While I don't think we should edit them in, honestly I'd be more okay with that than editing them out.

• I don't think this is true. Pronouns are stop words (or function words, as Yoast calls them) and should usually be ignored by search engines. I'm also not convinced that people use pronouns when searching more than other wordings (wizard, a wizard, wizards, their wizard). I do however agree with the reasoning in the other answers for why we don't need to remove pronouns here. Apr 6 at 13:14
• That's a reasonable argument, though I stand by my points, and believe that they do account for the formality of language used. Downvote if you don't think so. That's what Meta is for. Apr 6 at 16:47

## As a whole, I think we value the personal pronouns

I am certain there are more examples, but one relatively recent one was when we were deciding how to approach the option of pinning the top-voted answer above the accepted answer.

We ultimately decided to let an accepted answer default to the top and a key reason for that was acknowledgement that there are person-specific issues which need to be acknowledged. Even the person writing the opposing opinion has indicated a switch in her preference on the matter.

To be clear, as someone with ADHD I love really rigid rules that remove all vaguaries as it makes things very easy for me to process. But on the same note, I also really like to be verbose and over-explain and go off on tangents, and a variety of other esoteric personality traits because that is intrinsically part of who I am.

We have many questions which focus on rule interactions and just as many, if not more, which focus on table dynamics. And in both cases the correct answer will likely be something along the lines of, "It depends," and one of the things it depends on is what's going to work for the querent.

So give me tired "mine's", poor "I's", huddled "me's" yearning for answers, and we shall respond with "you's" and stories of "this DM" to your teeming shore.

But seriously, I want to answer your question, not some universal question fundamental to space-time.