inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Matt. 17:4 / Mark 9:5 / Luke 9:33)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse (“Lord, it is good for us to be here” in English translations), Yagua translators selected the exclusive form (excluding Jesus), whereas Avaric, Tok Pisin, Jarai, Fijian, and Adamawa Fulfulde translators chose the inclusive form (which includes Jesus).

Source: Paul Powlison in Notes on Translation with Drills, p. 165ff. and Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.

SIL International Translation Department (1999) documents that there are reasonable differences of opinions about the use of the inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun for this verse mentioned above.

In Mark and Luke the second plural pronoun (“let us put us a tent” in English) is always translated with an exclusive pronoun (excluding Jesus). Likewise, in Fijian, the exclusive trial keitou (I and two others but not you) is used, specifically including Peter, James and John, but not Jesus.