Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The "I" Understood

Since more examples of I understood keep popping up, I wonder whether this rhetorical device will become an English language standard. 

We learned in elementary school and from hearing everyday speech that you is understood in imperative sentences, so we naturally—and correctly—drop the bracketed you in these sentences:

  • If you have any questions, please [you] contact me.
  • [You] Send the report to the president.
  • [You] Stop when you approach Security.

But dropping I? Here are some examples from official business emails I've received of a dropped I in sentences of various tenses, with the words in brackets omitted by the writer:
  • Past Tense: [I] Spoke with the broker yesterday.
  • Present: [I] Craft speeches for the CEO.
  • Present Continuous Tense: [I am] Completing slides for the presentation.
  • Future: [I] Will inform you by the end of the day.
Chances are people write sentence fragments like these as a gesture of humility, because they want to deemphasize themselves. They also may be attempting to limit the repetitious or selfish-centered use of I

Language is dynamic, especially English, because multilingual speakers of different non-English languages who need to communicate with each other generally default to English. While I understood might seem distasteful, most of us who have not been trapped for decades in a linguistic straitjacket agree that the following sentence is acceptable: [I] Thank you. Therefore, it's normal to muse about whether the other sentences will become standard in contexts where they're clearly understood in this fast-paced age of communication.