The Power of a Pronoun and the American Government

We all know that many of our fellow citizens think of the U.S. government as being some sort of remote entity – a far-off monster that sucks up vast quantities of their money and gives little in return. To address this perception, there have been several good posts on GovLoop about the importance of demonstrating all the benefits that government does provide. But with the current citizen mindset, it’s going to be hard to get that message across.

So, I propose that we also start by making a pronoun change.

Right now, when politicians, or the media, or U.S. citizens, or even most federal employees talk about the U.S. government, they usually refer to it as the government. The government, as in: that thing over there apart from us.

But if we instead routinely refer to the government as our government, then, suddenly, the picture changes. No longer is government something remote and apart. Now, it’s ours. And if, when addressing U.S. citizens, we also sometimes referred to government as your government, this would also help to emphasize ownership.

That recognition of ownership changes the dynamic in an important way. If it’s our government, then we now have a shared responsibility to make it as good as it can be. If it’s your government, then no longer does it seem appropriate for you to merely criticize. Instead, this suggests that you and I and our fellow citizens should all be part of its operation.

Admittedly, even if this pronoun usage became universal overnight, it would in no way fix all of the problems we face. But it would help us get past the idea that the American government is apart from us, and also help to promote the understanding that our government is our shared tool – a tool that we can use to build a better future.

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Kristy Howell

Great post, Jon. I completely agree. This is so much more than semantics–it really is a shift in perception, as you say. Back in June, I listened to a webcast of a speech by Patrick Bresette of Demos on trust in government and he made the same suggestion. It was a really interesting speech with some great suggestions for returning the public’s focus to what good work our government does: Trust in Government: Whose Problem is it?.

Carol Davison

Fascinating. I used to refer to “my customers”. Now I think bigger. Now I look beyond the businesses that the Commerce serves and think of the benefit to the U.S. taxpayers. I see them as our shareholders with the right to fire us if we don’t continually demonstrate results.

John Westra

The Biggest Challenge To “Our” Government is “Her” People

I think the premise of this post is dead on. Until people start viewing our government as something that belongs to them, we will continue to treat it with disassociated disrespect and when we do take an interest, fight over it like a bunch of unruly children.

As I thought about this, I found myself wondering what our Republic would think of Her people? Are they engaged? Do they collaborate well and work with efficiency and enthusiasm to meet both country’s day-to-day needs, as well as the greater long term challenges? Do they take a personal and collective interest in the security, health, spiritual, intellectual and physical well-being of their fellow citizens?

I believe restoring our perspective that “the” Government as is really “ours,” should be the single most important bi-partisan item on our national agenda!

Andrew Krzmarzick

Semantics are critical. Can we get the presidential candidates to say this in their stump speeches as they run around the nation and see citizens firsthand?


The National Plan for OpenGov addresses a lot of these ideas, in particular with the new “We the People” petition platform. To find out more, come to the Federal Intranet Content Managers’ OpenGov Webinar on Nov 10, 11 am PST. Free! Nick Skytland is a great speaker, and will also talk about NASA’s new International Space Apps competition.