book hack

The Secret Life of Pronouns

James W. Pennebaker

5 mins

3 key insights

Visual, audio & text

The Secret Life of Pronouns is a collection of research and case studies explaining what our use of pronouns, articles and other style words can reveal about ourselves.


The Secret Life of Pronouns

The Secret Life of Pronouns

by James W. Pennebaker


We all know that the language we use shapes our reality and perception. The framework in which we express ourselves naturally guides our ways of thinking and understanding the world. However, our internal world is also more reflected in our word choice than we may think. James Pennebaker is a social psychologist. In The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, he explores our relationship to word choice. When Pennebaker first began researching what our choice of words said about us, his focus was on how the use of positive and negative words was a reflection of mental health. He employed a dedicated computer program to help him count the specific content words like nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. From there, he used those statistics to diagnose people's psychological make-up.

At some point, one of Pennebaker's students suggested analyzing a different aspect of the language used by study participants. The idea was to start looking at how they were saying what they were saying. That meant shifting the focus from the use of content words to style words. As it turned out, the latter was a real goldmine of insight, leading Pennebaker to discover previously unknown links between speech and human psychology.

Favorite quote

If you want to find your true love, compare the ways you use function words with that of your prospective partners.

- James W. Pennebaker

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