Pronoun Changes May Signal Breakup, New Study Suggests

Ever wonder if your relationship might be heading south? If you have your suspicions that your mate is less than committed, you might take a closer look at the way they use their pronouns.

Yes, the “I’s” and “we’s” might have merit outside of a grammatical context and may in fact hold the key to your partner’s true feelings. Feelings that they might not even realize subconsciously exist.

According to a February study from the University of Texas, a person’s language can begin to change as early as three months prior to breakup. After analyzing more than 1 million posts by 6,800 Reddit users one year after they shared news of their breakups, the study shows that the writing was already on the wall prior to the relationship falling apart.

Regardless of whether it was the person doing the dumping or getting dumped, the study found, their language became more impersonal and informal, indicating a drop in analytic thinking, as the words “I” showed up much more frequently in their exchanges.

These pronounced patterns peaked on the day of the breakup, per the study’s authors, and remained up to six months later, even in discussions on other topics in different subreddit communities.

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“These are signs that someone is carrying a heavy cognitive load,” said Sarah Seraj, lead author of the study. “Sometimes the use of the word “I” is correlated with depression and sadness. When people are depressed, they tend to focus on themselves and are not able to relate as much to others.”

The researchers also looked at users going through divorce and other similar emotional upheavals and found similar language patterns, though they found they were much more mutual, per the study’s finding.

“What makes this project so interesting is that for the first time, through technology, we can see the way people experience a breakup in real time,” said study co-author Kate Blackburn, research fellow at UT Austin. “Implications for this research are far reaching. At the most basic level, it gives you, me, and everyday people insight into how loved ones might respond over time to the end of a romantic relationship.”

So, if your partner begins to refer to the plans that he or she might be making for the weekend or the vacation that they soon may be taking, you might take heed and dump them first.