I versus We
Because using the first person, singular pronoun is the norm for truthful statements, investigators need to look for a lack of the pronoun “I” and overuse of the pronoun “we,” which is first person, plural.
The following version of a teen-ager’s account when asked to relate what he did on Saturday evening illustrates the norm:
“I met four friends at the movie theater, watched a movie, then stopped to get something to eat with them. We had a few drinks at the bar on the way home. I stayed until just after midnight. I drove home….”
The following version of the same account, when contrasted with the above statement, indicates deviation from the norm:
“We all met at the movie theater, watched a movie, then stopped to get something to eat. We had a few drinks at the bar on the way home. We stayed until just after midnight. We each drove home….”
Because the second statement contains only “we,” instead of the expected norm, which uses mostly “I,” the investigator should wonder why there is no individual involvement. Perhaps the teenager hopes to conceal something or at least to avoid sole responsibility for some act.
The Pronoun “We”
In speech and the written word, linguists consider the shortest way to say something as the easiest and clearest way to communicate. The pronoun “we” is a short, clear way to describe one’s self and others after proper introductions have been made. “We” also denotes togetherness; it indicates a relationship between persons. Omission of the pronoun “we” is significant, particularly when the individuals are spouses.
In the following versions of an account of events given by a husband, the first statement indicates the norm; the second one denotes deviation:
“My wife and I were invited to a neighbor’s 50th birthday party. We arrived at the party a little late. The party was still in full swing when we left for home.”
“My wife and I were invited to a neighbor’s 50th birthday party. My wife and I arrived at the party a little late. The party was still in full swing when my wife and I left for home.”
The second statement reveals distance between the husband and his wife. Once the husband introduces his wife into the statement, using the pronoun “we” is the shortest way to communicate. Yet, the husband avoids this word. Why? Perhaps because there is no “togetherness” in the relationship. If later that night the wife is murdered, and the husband, when recounting the day’s activities, provides a statement devoid of the pronoun “we,” investigators questioning the husband should focus on the couple’s relationship. If the husband admits to marital problems, but vehemently denies any involvement in the death, investigators may clear him as a suspect, barring contrary evidence. However, if the husband responds that the couple was very close, investigators should be wary, because statement analysis reveals otherwise. A shift from “they” to “we” also is significant, for it reveals personal involvement.
In white-collar crime cases, the guilty person who denies complicity may find it difficult to keep the pronoun “we” out of a statement completely. In such instances, investigators need to search the entire written statement for “we.” Then, during the interview, they should focus on the transaction described with “we.” This pronoun indicates that the writer was involved.