Words are like fingerprints, revealing much about your relationships, honesty and status. And perhaps the smoking gun among all words is a very simple one: “I.” Whether you use the word “I” frequently or hardly at all speaks volumes about you — everything from love to lies to leadership, according to University of Texas at Austin social psychologist James W. Pennebaker, author of “The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us.” “Using computerized text analyses on hundreds of thousands of letters, poems, books, blogs, tweets, conversations and other texts, it is possible to begin to read people’s hearts and minds in ways they can’t do themselves,” says Pennebaker, who used his groundbreaking research in computational linguistics to analyze pronouns, articles, prepositions and a handful of other small function words. “On their own, function words have very little meaning,” Pennebaker explains. “In English, there are fewer than 500 function words yet they account for more than half of the words we speak, hear and read every day. Who would have guessed that words like ‘I,’ ‘you,’ ‘the,’ ‘to,’ ‘but,’ and ‘and’ could say so much about us?” Some real-life examples about the function word, “I”:
What “I” says about personality
Those who say “I” a lot tend to come across as more personal, warm and honest, while those who don’t use it frequently come across as more self-confident. President Barack Obama uses “I” far less than any other modern president. Comparably, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush used “I” at very high rates.
What “I” says about honesty
The word “I” is very much like a linguistic lie detector. When people tell the truth, they not only use more complex language, but also use “I” more. “People who are lying tend to not use the word ‘I.’ They are psychologically distancing themselves,” says Pennebaker. “And they also avoid markers of complexity such as conjunctions and prepositions.”
What “I” says about love
When a couple uses function words, such as “I,” at a comparable rate and thus have a similar language style, they are far more like to be romantically compatible.