Unlike French, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian, English is not always able to express through personal pronouns the importance or respect we consider our interlocutor deserves. The English language provides us with only two second person pronouns, whose forms are identical for singular or plural: you. Arabic makes a similar distinction to Romance languages: whilst anta stands for ‘you’ singular, antum means ‘you’ plural. Addressing an important person with anta rather than antum would be considered impolite.

In Vietnam there are at least eighteen words for ‘you’, the usage of which depends on whom you are addressing, depending on whether they are a child, adult or senior citizen, and whether you are referring to them formally or informally. In the Western Australian Aboriginal language of Jiwali there are four words for ‘we’: ngali means ‘both of us including you’; ngaliju means ‘both of us excluding you’; nganthurru means ‘all of us including you’; and nganthurraju means ‘all of us excluding you’.