How Are We Feeling Today?
Published: November 1, 2013 (Issue # 1784)
Мы с тобой: you and I
Мы (we): first person plural pronoun, used for referring to yourself together with other people. Straightforward, right?
Well, sort of. Мы means "we," but it can also mean "you," "him," "them" or just about anyone else, abstractly and specifically. It's one odd little pronoun.
First oddity: When мы (we) means я (I).
In English, we like to distinguish the individual participants who make up "we": George and I went to the movies. In Russian, this kind of movie-going lands you in the мы zone: Мы с Гришей пошли в кино (literally, "We went to the movies with Grisha," which you say when it was just the two of you). It's hard for English speakers to get used to this, but it's worth the effort. Мы с тобой уже видели этот фильм. (You and I already saw that film.) Saying "Гриша и я пошли в кино" or "Ты и я уже видели этот фильм" is like branding FOREIGNER on your forehead. And it sounds wacky, too.
Another case of мы = я is the so-called авторское мы (editorial we), which is also charmingly called формула скромности (the modesty formula). This is the convention of using мы in scientific and scholarly articles as well as newspaper editorials even though it was just one writer, scientist, etc. English speakers do this, too: В предыдущих лекциях мы рассмотрели, что такое статистические расчёты (In the previous lectures, we considered statistical calculations).
And then there's a мы = я usage that is not used colloquially but fun to know anyway: Мы, Император всероссийский … (We, the Emperor of all Russia … ). I have read that this was a reference to divine right — "God and I declare" — but it may be a ceremonial way of speaking not just on behalf of oneself, but on behalf of the nation.
Moving along, sometimes мы = все (everyone) is an abstract group of people. Мы все умрём (We will all die). Вместе мы изменим мир (Together we can change the world.)
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