A reader named Kris sent this question: “I notice that people are no longer writing or speaking pronouns at the beginning of sentences. Is this acceptable now? I was taught that an implicit ‘You’ did not need to be written/spoken, but I’m noticing ‘I’ and ‘We’ not spoken or written.”
Kris gave several examples from recent communications:
“Glad you’re here today.”
“Recently was at a conference and heard Dr. Smith speak.”
“Hoping to develop a workflow…”
“Delighted to have you here. Just wanted to welcome you all.”
I can add these from business emails I’ve received this month:
Interested in participating and meeting communications students? (Missing Are you.)
Have an opportunity, event, or resource to share? (Missing Do you.)
Thought you’d get a kick out of this! (Missing I.)
Look forward to speaking with you! (Missing I.)
Hope to hear back from you soon. (Missing I.)
Kris ended the email with this question: “Should I stop cringing when I don’t hear the ‘I’ or ‘We’?”
How do you respond to Kris? Do missing–implicit–pronouns bother you? Or is their absence acceptable in your email inbox and at staff presentations? I’d love to hear your thoughts before I share mine.
UPDATE ON JANUARY 23, 2020
Readers made valuable comments on this topic, which you can read below in the comments section. Here are my thoughts on implicit pronouns:
Language and communication are always changing. I am even more aware of that, having recently read David Shariatmadari’s Don’t Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth About Language. When I graduated from college and entered professional work, we wrote business letters, reports, and memos. Those documents had flowing, fleshed out paragraphs. But in today’s communication, we generally write emails, texts, and a range of online posts and updates–almost none of which have flowing paragraphs. And I believe we are more informal in our in-person communication as well.
Enter sentences without pronouns.
Our quick emails are often made up of one- or two-sentence paragraphs, many of which would begin with I if we let them:
I was glad to hear from you.
I agree with your ideas about . . . .
I look forward to our call on Friday.
To avoid having a series of choppy paragraphs that begin with I, we drop some but not all of the pronouns:
Glad to hear from you.
Looking forward to our call on Friday.
The same is true of texts and other quick communications, which we sprinkle with expressions like these:
Got it! Thanks.
Running a few minutes late.
See you then.
And that brevity and informality have moved into our in-personal communication, even at presentations:
Nice to see you!
Glad you are all here.
Need a bathroom break?
In the reader comments below, you will see that several people suggested the “Know your audience” guideline, which goes along with “Know your purpose.” In a formal communication or meeting, you would not write or say, “Will do.” You’d use “I will handle that for you” or “I’ll take responsibility for doing that.” At a formal presentation, you would not ask “Need a bathroom break?” You’d say “Let’s take a 10-minute break.”
Getting back to Kris, who raised this subject, I recommend not cringing about pronouns that are left out. As long as the message is clear, absent pronouns can lead to shorter documents and a friendly tone. Of course, if the situation requires a formal approach, pronouns and well-constructed sentences and paragraphs make sense.
As least one comment below mentions that leaving out pronouns can lead to miscommunication. “Read Donald’s report” can mean that I have read it or that you should–two very different thoughts. We risk that kind of confusion whenever we focus on brevity rather than clarity. The other day I wrote “I’m on it” to tell someone that I was working on something. But she thought I meant I was on a list, and she wrote back to tell me that I was not “on it.” I should have said “I’m working on it.”
As with many writing dilemmas, the solution is to choose your language based on your audience and purpose.
Thanks to everyone who commented below!