LawProse Lesson 354: We the people demand to know!

LawProse Lesson 354: We the people demand to know!

Is we the people (or, in the Constitution, We the People) a set phrase that cannot be varied according to the grammar? Is it invariably we the people, or should we make it us the people when the phrase functions as the object of a verb or a preposition? We the people need to know; it’s important to us the people.

In a speech on Jan. 20, President Biden said, “America’s story depends on all of us, on we the people.” He has said similar things many times. So have other presidents. This isn’t a political piece; it’s a grammatical one.

Some people use us the people as an object. In a 2007 book titled We the People Must Vote (2007), the author, Vincent H. Wilcox, writes: “It could take a century or more for us the people to reestablish control of our economic destiny.” (P. 77.) In a 2003 book, Nikhilesh Dholakia asked, “Is consumption consuming us the people?” (Consuming People, p. 121.) And consider this: “They compare themselves with us, the people with diabetes.” Lynn Crowe & Julie Stachowiak, The Diabetes Manifesto 192 (2010). Economists, consumers, and diabetics.

Perhaps we the people should be an invariable phrase in political contexts. That’s a possible distinction: use we the people when invoking the phrasing of the U.S. Constitution.

Last night we did a Twitter poll (see @BryanAGarner). Rounded off, it was a clear vote for good traditional grammar: We the people are but to us the people. The divide was 62% for to us the people and only 38% for the technically ungrammatical to we the people.

At LawProse, we believe in preventive grammar. Hence we just avoid using the phrase in any sentence calling for a grammatical object. We make it we the people, but we ensure that the sentence always calls for the nominative (or subjective) case of the pronoun. We the lawyers at LawProse much prefer it that way; it’s satisfying to us (the lawyers at LawProse).

One thing is certain: We the lawyers at LawProse hope to see you soon.

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