Debate-night pronouns

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In a comment on yesterday's "Debate words" post, I noted that Donald Trump's ratio of I-words to we-words was "off the charts" compared the other eight candidates, and several people have asked me to give all the numbers.

There's an idea Out There that such numbers are related to issues of personality and mood. This is true, but the relationships are complicated — see Jamie Pennebaker's 2009 guest post "What is 'I' saying?". So we really should classify first-person singular pronouns into what Pennebaker calls "graceful-I" vs. "sledgehammer-I" categories. And of course, various pronoun-usage rates also depend on details of topic and interactional context, as noted in yesterday's exchange of comments.

Still, let's look at the numbers.

This is in reference to the transcripts of Wednesday's Fox News Republican presidential debate, and Tucker Carlson's competing debate-night interview with Donald Trump on X.

We're looking at the ratio of the count of first-person singular pronouns (I, me, my, myself, mine) to the count of first-person plural pronouns (we, our, ours, us). The table below is sorted in descending order of ratios, and I've added each candidate's total word count.

Candidate   1st Singular   1st Plural   Ratio   Total Words 
Trump 334 104 3.21 8014
Pence 108 74 1.46 2362
Ramaswamy 94 89 1.06 2465
DeSantis 76 83 0.92 1932
Christie 47 67 0.70 1928
Hutchinson 34 49 0.69 1219
Burgum 41 63 0.65 1569
Scott 35 57 0.61 1241
Haley 28 61 0.46 1701


Update — in a debate context, especially one as loosely moderated as this one was, the total word count might be seen as an indicator of what Pennebaker calls "attempting to expand in the psychological environment". So it's interesting/amusing that the (male?) debaters' total word counts seem to be correlated with their I/we ratios:


  1. Arthur waldron said,

    August 26, 2023 @ 8:58 am

    Thank you for this. It is instructive. One pays attention. At least no Royal “we” yet. If you simply listen an American will eventually tell you everything. For example on a very long flight. Best to all

  2. Tom said,

    August 26, 2023 @ 11:10 am

    On social media and in politics, people with certain personality/character traits have phrases and word frequencies that seem to give away their personality and character traits—in other words, it's possible to guess the latter from speech (not a unique insight, as Facebook / Cambridge Analytica has exploited that):

    — “I decided”, appear more often when autists, often technology-loving and artistically gifted, announce their pet projects to the (social media) world.

    — “I want that” (in German), is quite often heard in stump speeches from Social Democrats (no longer a working-class party), seldom heard from Christian Democrats or Liberal Democrats.

    — Words of certainty, like “will, always, never, impossible, absolutely, any”, seem to give away that a person has little tolerance for uncertainty (gets stressed out easily), little grasp of possible future events (lottery situations), and little predictive powers—somebody saying, “we will win”, has good chances of losing out. Financial and other analysts take those clues, when they listen to CEO public statements and CEO telephone-conference calls; they hunt for the infamous psychopath in C-suits.

    Regarding I (me, my, myself, mine), the blogosphere, when it was new around 2001-2005, started to announce, they would happily embrace the "I" in their personal articles; twenty years later, "I" is considered journalistic, too, if not … presidential.

  3. Thomas Hutcheson said,

    August 26, 2023 @ 11:48 am

    I was sort of hoping this was about singular They. :)

  4. Tom said,

    August 26, 2023 @ 11:57 am

    (Offtopic: Is it possible to use markdown in comments Thank you.)

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