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Function Words and What They Reveal...

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posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 09:43 AM

I thought reading about them would be boring, but it wasn't. Here's what I found out:

Couldn't get to sleep last night so I did some late night reading on what your writing style says about you. Has anyone found a way to figure you out via your writing? What about how you speak with someone, the way you email? Well, yes, someone has. And it has to do with your use of function words. James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist, figured it out. He can tell if you're lying, honest, or how you see yourself simply by your use of "filler/function words". It seems the words that don't add content are more revealing then those ones that do.

There are some specific usage/combination of words you can look for when someone is speaking with you. Although, it is hard to keep track of them during conversation. The articles say the best way to figure out what a person is about is to read transcripts, written word, or text. Which, in today's world, texting is mostly what we do via social apps like twitter, Facebook, and such. So, it should be a bit more revealing to read those now after you read this.

Why function words are so important:

In English there are about 500 function words, and about 150 are really common. Content words—nouns, verbs, adjectives, and most adverbs—convey the guts of communication. They’re how we express ideas. Function words help shape and shortcut language. People require social skills to use and understand function words, and they’re processed in the brain differently. They are the key to understanding relationships between speakers, objects, and other people. When we analyze people’s use of function words, we can get a sense of their emotional state and personality, and their age and social class.

These words account for less than 0.1 per cent of your vocabulary but make up more than half of the words commonly used. Your brain is not wired to notice them but if you pay close attention, you will start to see their subtle power.

Examples of what he found:

They found that people who use the word "I" more frequently than others tend to be more self-focused, possibly depressed, and lower in status than others. Also, a person who uses "we" more often possibly is lying:

Yes. A person who’s lying tends to use “we” more or use sentences without a first-person pronoun at all. Instead of saying “I didn’t take your book,” a liar might say “That’s not the kind of thing that anyone with integrity would do.” People who are honest use exclusive words like “but” and “without” and negations such as “no,” “none,” and “never” much more frequently. We’ve analyzed transcripts of court testimony, and the differences in speech patterns are really clear.

As you switch in and out of your roles (from boss, employee, mother, spouse) you'll see an increase or decrease in the use of the word "I" which shows who holds the power in that relationship. According to these findings, sending a quick text to your child may find you not using the pronoun "I" at all, but you may over use it if you are emailing your boss.

They even figured out that women use the words "I, me, and mine" more than men. Men tend to be more focused on objects and things:

 But across studies and cultures, we found that women use “I,” “me,” and “mine” more. Women are more self-attentive and aware of their internal state. Men use more articles: “a,” “an,” and “the.” That means men talk about objects and things more. You use articles when you’re referring to concrete objects, because articles precede concrete nouns. Women also use more third-person pronouns—“he,” “she,” and “they”—because women talk more about people and relationships, and they’re better at managing them. And in many ways, relationships are more complex.

And your state of health as well:

The more people changed from using first-person singular pronouns (I, me, my) to using other pronouns (we, you, she, they) from one piece of writing to the next, the better their health became. Their word use reflected their psychological state.

It was also stated that a person who failed to report a traumatic experience in their childhood would have worse health than those that did report it. And it could be revealed by their use of function words. Writing/talking about that trauma seemed to improve their health both mentally and physically and change how they used pronouns in their daily speaking/writing activities.

One thing I would like to note is that in all of the articles I read, they said that these findings are all relative to context. Although they hold true the majority of the time, it may not always be the case.

There are some more findings at the links below.... And yes, these are a couple of old articles, from 2010/11. For some that may be a bother, but for me there are some things that are worth going back and taking another look at, especially when the world has become all about our word usage and how it represents us to the masses. Maybe the information is more relevant and valuable in today's world of texting and social apps than it was back than.

As always, thanks for reading.


Secret life of pronouns

Pronouns reveal your personality

edit on 12-6-2017 by blend57 because: Always an edit! : /

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 10:11 AM
a reply to: blend57
You're far more productive than I am when bored!
It is absolutely true that wording reveals much about personality. And from years of counselling I can confirm that people who are lying tend to say "we" a lot. "We believe", "we should", "we couldn't", even when solely talking about themself! I think it has to do with transferring blame onto another, i.e. it wasn't my lie, it was ours! Politicians always do this.

There also seems to be a trend that women care more about the person an event happens to, whereas men care more about the event itself, hence the pronoun use or disuse.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 10:12 AM
a reply to: blend57

I'm going to have to start keeping track of my words now. I might not be who I think I am

Good news is, I talk a lot without a filter so I won't be able to hide my true self for long

Thanks for sharing blend.

ETA: i used "I" 6 times in 2 sentences.. does that mean I'm a narcissist? Well, 9 times now. Yea I'd say it's pretty accurate..

edit on 12-6-2017 by knowledgehunter0986 because: 10x

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 10:13 AM
a reply to: blend57

No replies? Lol.

People are too worried about being analyzed.

Interesting thread.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 10:39 AM
a reply to: blend57
Great read, thanks. Chomsky said something like we can learn more from what a person does not say than what that person say.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 10:55 AM
I usually use we and you a lot, I will actually use you as the word we you have to wash the car before starting to do body work. The you includes everyone, including me sometimes in that phrase. It is common to use you like that around here, many people do in the Yooper dialect. Here on ATS I notice some people take that as meaning I am telling them directly, pointing the finger at them. I am not, that is the way we talk around here, it was hard for me to comprehend why people were taking what I said wrongly or personal before I realized many people do not talk like us. I suppose that the young here are not realizing it either when I talk, they try to avoid yooper dialect. I learned this from the parents and their friends, it is a part of the way I talk...a hard thing to change too.

I am trying to correct this when writing on the net, and actually I learned that some people I now deal with that are younger also do not understand the You usage in a conversation. Maybe people think that you can only be used one way. The thing is people my age understand here and even one generation down, how you say the word you is also important, the tone is important. Something that cannot be understood in writing to communicate.

I use I when I am saying something that applies directly to me. I use me the same way. Those two words are not always meaning a self centered gesture, somehow you have to identify who the conversation is applying to. Notice my use of you as meaning anyone reading what I am writing.

So if you see me using you, it usually means all other people that are unaware of what I am trying to explain or it is a general statement meant to personalize the writing for the person reading it or the person listening to me. It should not be taken as an insult if it is constructive criticism.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 11:27 AM
a reply to: blend57

I read you OP. At first I thought, "wow, what does this have to do with me." I was really taken aback by the idea that people who use the word "I" are self-centered. I've never thought of myself as self-centered. I think words I use have more content than when other people use them.

edit on 12-6-2017 by dfnj2015 because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 11:36 AM
a reply to: blend57

Really great thread, thanks for sharing your findings.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 11:44 AM
a reply to: knowledgehunter0986

It's probably accurate to expect most people here at ATS are generally narcissistic, egotistic, arrogant, self-aggrandizing, grandiose, etc, by a slight degree higher than the average population. This is true for a large list of reasons, and I'd also like to point out that it is not necessarily a negative thing though on the individual level it is a challenge that all must meet and overcome in order to progress as healthy individuals.

Every human being must deal with these aspects of themselves in the end, but ATS (because of the virtue of it's content and themes) attracts the more intellectual among the population (give or take), so this community also suffers from many of the common issues prevalent among that demographic.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 12:37 PM
a reply to: muzzleflash

Good point and i totally agree with everything you said. I've grown tremendously because of ATS and it has/is shaping me in many ways.

Just wanted to make sure I called myself out before anyone else can

edit on 12-6-2017 by knowledgehunter0986 because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 01:21 PM
a reply to: rickymouse

It's good to know I'm not the only one who uses you as a more collective then personal pronoun.

But we're both midwestern even if you're a lot further north than I am. I'm more central than you are.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 01:22 PM

originally posted by: dfnj2015
a reply to: blend57

I read you OP. At first I thought, "wow, what does this have to do with me." I was really taken aback by the idea that people who use the word "I" are self-centered. I've never thought of myself as self-centered. I think words I use have more content than when other people use them.

I'm not sure how far you can read that into a place like this. We're invited to share our opinions here, so those will be more personal and self-centered by their very nature.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 01:34 PM

originally posted by: ketsuko
We're invited to share our opinions here, so those will be more personal and self-centered by their very nature.

Plato revealed that there are multiple levels of thinking with "The Allegory of the Cave and the Divided Line" in Republic.

1) Guesses, Opinions.
2) Practical Common Sense, Trial and Error.
3) Scientific Theory.
4) Philosophical Evaluation and True Understanding.

So I invite you to leave your opinions behind and to share your theories, philosophy, and understanding.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 02:03 PM
Very interesting! When I was a kid, a woman who was like a mother to me absolutely hated when I used "I" when writing a letter or note to someone. She said that it showed that I was uninterested in that person and too focused on myself. Even now, when I write a letter, or even a text, I try to avoid it. This was in the 70's, and she was a suburban housewife. She was a wise woman, and ahead of her time, obviously!

On another note, people who are lying don't use contractions.

5. Liars don’t typically use contractions. (See what I did there? You can trust me, I swear.) They’ll say, “I did not eat your ice cream,” instead of, “I didn’t.” Avoiding contractions makes the statement sound more powerful, but the extra impact is unnecessary for a truth-teller.


So now we all will make sure everything we write will have contractions and we'll avoid "I" or "me".

edit on 6/12/2017 by Lolliek because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 02:17 PM
a reply to: muzzleflash

I suppose since I have little resource to actually test my theories, my philosophy is uniquely my own and so is my understanding ... most others here would simply place them in the category of my opinion. So I make it simple for the purposes of this post and leave it all there.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 02:18 PM
a reply to: Lolliek

Never heard the contraction one. How many of those I use depend on how formal I'm trying to sound.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 02:37 PM
a reply to: Lolliek

Although these things might be generally true more often than not, they are certainly not always true.

There are many times someone asked me something and I responded "I did Not see it" or whatever, and I was telling the truth plainly. I might even repeat it sometimes in different ways too and elaborate and offer help.

So even if your gut instinct is telling you someone may be lying, and they are giving clues that they might be, it's still important to collect evidence and think things through thoroughly before making the final conclusion that they are indeed lying and in addition it's best to also think over the consequences and implications of formally accusing someone as well.

Every situation is different and should be handled on it's own unique circumstances.

posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 08:42 PM

I'm not that productive when I'm bored normally. But, when your mind is too busy to sleep, sometimes it is good to focus on one thing until the mind calms down enough to get some Zzzzz's. That is what helps me sometimes at least...changing my focus. I also looked up why I see more people slouching and how it effects your health. But that is a thread for another time.


I think most would prefer you to be you. Whatever a study says, it isn't the gospel and hopefully I quoted the part where it said it wasn't 100% accurate all the time, as well as context matters. What if the subject matter happened to be focused around would be very hard to respond without using the word "I"


Thanks for stopping by! I haven't met an ATS member yet who was too shy to respond to many Thanks for your interest and reading/comments.

Too true. Sometimes the absence of evidence is the evidence itself. I'm glad you found some interest in it.


It is about the context. Sometimes you need to use "I" or "we". But it would be interesting to see if maybe your boss uses "I" more then you when your are exchanging emails. Which one of you holds more power in that relationship? I think, for me, that is where I would most use this new found knowledge. In those types of exchanges.


Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it!

Thanks to everyone who took the time to add your thoughts. And sorry it took so long to get back to respond to them.


posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 09:12 PM
So ...

This idea does not take into account the variations worldwide in the use of language.

First off, does it only apply to English or do we dump the other languages in there as well ... without even understanding how those languages work.

A married couple, siblings and groups will usually use 'we' because 'I' would not work.

Interestingly ... as an Author ... what does this say about my characters ... especially as my hero has a symbiotic mind link with a Great Dragon. If they do things together ... that would always be we or us.

The idea that the OP is providing does not sit well with me. There are so many variables including upbringing, education huge family influence and personal values all rolled up together.

Interesting concept for us to consider but as with many of these psych approaches, they lose their value pretty quickly in real world situations.

Nice thought provoking OP.


posted on Jun, 12 2017 @ 09:44 PM

originally posted by: dfnj2015
a reply to: blend57

I read you OP. At first I thought, "wow, what does this have to do with me." I was really taken aback by the idea that people who use the word "I" are self-centered. I've never thought of myself as self-centered. I think words I use have more content than when other people use them.

This was sarcasm... correct ? 😂 Laughed when I read it so really hope it was.

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