inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Matt. 6:13 / Luke 11:4)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

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, translators typically select the exclusive form (excluding God).

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

This story of the translation of a new version of the Bible in Kwara’ae illustrates the importance and the problem of this, especially in this verse: “It is necessary to distinguish in Melanesian languages between the inclusive and exclusive first person plural pronoun. For example in, ‘We must go soon or we will lose the tide,’ ‘we’ here includes the persons addressed. But in, ‘Wait, and we will be with you soon,’ ‘we’ here excludes the persons addressed. Two different pronouns are used. Early missionaries, not knowing this, used the inclusive form in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Forgive us our trespasses (yours and ours).’ This, of course, had to be corrected.” (Source: Norman Deck in The Bible Translator 1963, 34ff. ).

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