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The Pronoun Game

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Using pronouns in dialogue to force other characters to ask for an explanation or conceal info

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
arbiter099 on Jun 16th 2014 at 1:14:05 AM
Last Edited By:
arbiter099 on Nov 26th 2016 at 3:00:24 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

Poor Communication Kills and when something is important as important as the fate of the world as we know it, it can do nothing but help to clearly identify what you're talking about. Not so in fiction land. Characters will obscure very important details behind pronouns or other non-specific names like "the device" because if they didn't our protagonist would never get to ask what "it" is and thus have some handy exposition served up. Sometimes it's a critical twist in the plot where changing just one thing to a proper noun could wrap all of this up in a second and probably save the lives of countless Red Shirts but then we wouldn't have a story. Compare The All-Concealing "I" for when pronouns or other selective techniques are employed to hide something about the first-person narrator.

Troper Namer is Cinema Sins, not too attached to the name if anyone has a suggestion. Since it's 3am, will find some examples in the morning but I've Seen It A Million Times



  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Mutt says, "They're going to kill him" so that the audience can be caught up on Indy's old friend Oxley who is appearing in this series for the first time.
  • Spider-Man: Norman Osborne phrases a line to his son as "Maybe you can tell me who she is," prompting Peter Parker to be able to discover that Harry has a girlfriend.

Feedback: 15 replies

Jun 16th 2014 at 11:25:36 AM

Would The All Concealing I be a subtrope of this rather than a comparison?

Jun 16th 2014 at 12:09:49 PM

  • Inverted in RWBY, where the wrong pronoun gives away more information. More specifically Blake uses "we" to refer to The White Fang, revealing that she was a member.

Jun 16th 2014 at 12:27:35 PM

^ "The purpose of the game is usually to obscure someone's gender or identity to the audience (or other characters) in a natural manner. It can be used as a way to talk about the Wholesome Crossdresser before revealing their gender without anyone technically lying about it."

This trope is sort of a part of Pronoun Trouble in that part of the decription but the rest of it and the examples all seem devoted to the Gender Neutral Pronouns confusion.

Jun 16th 2014 at 2:56:21 PM

^ to be honest, I have no idea what this yk here wants to be, so I just assumed it'd be covered by something relevant in Pronoun Trouble.

EDIT: oh, this is when Bob refers to Charlie by simply a pronoun, promoting Alice to ask 'who's s/he?'. Questioning the tropeworthiness. At least for now, though, needs a better name. Like "Introduced as a pronoun" or "Need to ask who he is".

Jun 16th 2014 at 4:16:11 PM

^ Though Bisected8's example does sound like a good trope in play.

Again, Suspicious Referral Usage

Jun 16th 2014 at 8:32:32 PM

All sorts of examples of this are in the You Tube Cinema Sins videos (those might be the Trope Namer) and thus probably a good source of examples.

Jun 18th 2014 at 12:06:14 AM

And yes I do think this is a trope and I move we do not discard it. It definitely isn't pronoun trouble.

Pronoun Trouble is when they use pronouns to obscure things from the audience. This trope is where someone uses a pronoun so that someone else will have to ask for clarification, giving them an excuse to reveal it to the audience.

Jun 18th 2014 at 12:48:23 AM

^ yeah, I got that now. A better name would be lovely, taking Dan's to Suspicious Pronoun Usage or Questionable Pronoun Usage: questionable bēing both 'suspicious' and causing it to actually be questioned.

Jun 29th 2014 at 10:59:42 AM

So basically this trope is an attempt to not blatantly introduce someone. Like in RWBY wherein Ozpin mentions a "dusty old crow" and Ruby responds in saying "that's my uncle Qrow." Of course, that's not an example because Ruby was the one to clarify rather than asking who he meant.

Jun 29th 2014 at 3:03:37 PM

Basically, an aversion of As You Know?

Jan 11th 2016 at 10:34:48 AM

Bumpty this thread, seems like it got some steam and then drove into a canyon with it.

This Bumpty is the Lakitu that picks you up out of the canyon.

Nov 26th 2016 at 3:00:24 PM

Hmm. The Cinema Sins definition of "playing The Pronoun Game" seems to lie somewhere between "You Know The One" and "As You Know". As Statzkeen said, it's the use of a deliberately vague description by one character for the purpose of prompting another character to request clarification, thereby granting the first character the opportunity to deliver exposition. I guess it's an attempt by the script-writer to avoid perpetrating a straight-up "As You Know" by causing the question to be asked. Essentially it's a character deliberately giving too little information because they desperately want someone to ask them to give more information. Hence the "game" aspect, I guess: it's "I want you to know that I possess this information, and deep-down I really want to give you this information, but I'm going to be super-cagey about it until you ask me for it." XD

It probably does deserve to be included, I think, because it's a Trope that's used so often in entertainment media and none of the existing Tropes quite covers it.