How often do you use these three words?

Spoiler alert: the three words are I, always and never.

Apparently, how often you use them reveals more about your personality than you might think.

The standard notion is that people who frequently use the word “I” are egotistic, narcissistic and full of themselves. And it’s long been believed that, in job interviews, frequent use of the pronoun “I” is a “signal of someone who takes all the credit, someone who is not a team player,” according to an article at

But a series of fascinating studies, led by Dr. James Pennebaker (author of “The Secret Life of Pronouns”) reveals that frequent use of the word “I” may instead be linked to insecurity and self-consciousness. Said Pennebaker, as quoted in that same article: “There is a misconception that people who are confident, have power, have high-status tend to use ‘I’ more than people who are low status…That is completely wrong. The high-status person is looking out at the world and the low-status person is looking at himself.”

In the 1990s, Pennebaker created a computer program that analyzed over 400,000 texts and concluded that function words, such as pronouns, articles, prepositions and conjunctions, “are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do,” according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. Explained Pennebaker:

“When we began analyzing people’s writing and speech, we didn’t expect results like this. For instance, when we analyzed poems by writers who committed suicide versus poems by those who didn’t, we thought we’d find more dark and negative content words in the suicides’ poetry. We didn’t – but we did discover significant differences in the frequency of words like ‘I.’ In study after study, we kept finding the same thing. When we analyzed military transcripts, we could tell people’s relative ranks based on their speech patterns – and again, it was the pronouns, articles, conjunctions, and other function words that made a difference, not the content words.”

In short, Pennebaker wrote: “pronouns tell us where people focus their attention.”


When our daughters were teenagers, these two words always caught my ear (I never missed an opportunity to respond with: “Always?” or “Never?”). The context, so often, had to do with late-night privileges. But the point is far broader than that.

Explained the website outofthefog: “‘Always’ and ‘Never’ statements are frequently used by people when they are arguing in order to emphasize or illustrate the merits of their position. ‘Always’ and ‘Never’ statements are usually exaggerations, which serve an illustrative purpose and are understood by both parties to be hyperbole and not literal. As the self-contradicting adage says, ‘Always and Never statements are always false and never true.’”

So when the opportunity presents, try to avoid these all-too-common phrases, courtesy of the website outofthefog:

“You never listen to me.”

“I always give you what you want.”

“My mother never loved me.”

“You always have to have the last word.”

“I never get any attention.”

“You are always shouting and screaming at the children.”


Words matter, explains Gina Barreca, Ph.D, writing for Psychology Today, so use them wisely. How many of the following phrases - courtesy of Barreca – do you use each day?

Phrases to avoid
• That’s not my problem.
• It’s not my job.
• That’s boring.
• What does that have to do with me?
• Way too complicated.
• There wasn’t enough time so I didn’t finish.
• You know I’m always late.
• Um, what were you just talking about?
• Oh, please, not again.
• You’re kidding, right?
• Give me a break.
• That’s not fair.
• Who cares?

Phrases to use more often
• How can I help?
• Here, let me do that for you.
• Thank you. I’m grateful and I want to make sure you know it.
• Tell that wonderful story about ...
• I’ve given it some real thought and I owe you an apology.
• I’ve given it some real thought and I accept your apology.
• This one’s on me. You can get it next time.
• Count on it.
• I got myself some coffee (tea, pizza, job equity) and I thought you might like some, too.
• C’mon, there’s plenty of room.
• You’re welcome. It was my pleasure.

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