Category Archives: using “I”

Three examples of effective use of the word “I” in essay writing

In a recent blog, I wrote about how the use of the pronoun “I,” once frowned upon, is now widely accepted in essay writing.  Here are three effective examples of writers using “I”:

  • “I share the concerns of other city workers that the return to office is too sudden. . .” [The New York Times, September 15, 2021] Jennifer Gavel, who has been working from home during the pandemic, here expresses her frustration with a mandate that city workers in New York must return to the office.  Because she is a city worker, using “I” strengthens her argument.  She is an insider giving voice to a concern of her colleagues.


  • “Not everyone observes this holiday [Yom Kippur], of course. But in its practices, I believe there is wisdom that can help all of us.” [The New York Times, September 15, 2021]  The writer, Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles, is in a position because of his training and experience to know about Yom Kippur and to explore its nuances.  Could he have left out “I believe” and still have written an effective essay.   Yes.  But is it natural for him to include himself in this essay?  Yes, especially since he begins and ends the essay with an anecdote about a friend.


  • “I didn’t understand what I was seeing but I knew it was important, and came to understand it had to do with loyalty and grief. And of course I remember it now because that is what I am feeling toward 9/11.” [The Wall Street Journal, September 9, 2021]  Columnist Peggy Noonan here refers to a childhood incident, something she witnessed and later recalled as the anniversary of September 11, 2001, approached.  She could have written about grief in the abstract, but her personal memory is a more moving introduction to her column.

Is it okay to use “I” in student writing?

Never use “I” in essays.

Never start a sentence with “because.”

Paragraphs must have at least five sentences.

Never start a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “so.”

“Were you taught these rules in school, as I was?  If so, it might surprise you that many teachers no longer enforce them or even support them.  Let’s look at one of these rules, “Never use I,” to see why the consensus is changing.

Using “I” can eliminate the passive voice.  Without “I,” you might need to use the passive voice (another no-no) as in “The essay was written by this writer.”  Isn’t “I wrote the essay” clearer? 

Using “I” can shorten your writing.  Concise writing is usually clearer and preferred.

Using “I” can eliminate awkward referrals to yourself.   I have read interviews by a Pulitzer Prize winning biographer who refers to himself in his books not as “I” but as “this interviewer” or “this writer.”  He seems to go out of his way not to use “I.”  He is trying to make himself inconspicuous in the text. Wouldn’t the word “I” do that better than “this interviewer”?

Using “I” can give your writing the authority of a witness, of a primary source.  If you are part of a group you are writing about, then you should be up-front about that.  Not using “I” can seem disingenuous. And if you were there to see and hear what happened, doesn’t that make your writing more believable?

However, writing “I think” is rarely justified.  If you are the writer, then obviously the thoughts are yours.  Since “I think” can sometimes mean “I am not absolutely sure,” using “I think” can undermine the strength of your writing. This is especially true if you add “I think” after making a statement. “Yes, officer, I saw the red car rear end the blue car. I think.”

Some teachers or editors follow the old rules religiously, so students should ask about using “I” before composing.  Or when appropriate, check a style book.  Use an up-to-date one though.  The rules of English, like all languages in use, change.