It's probably a silly question but it interests me when was the convention of writing proofs in first person plural introduced?

Are here any historical examples of a different POV for proof writing?

  • 18
    $\begingroup$ I rather like the first person plural. It is inclusive of the reader, and I think it facilitates the readers' participation, sort of like a "team" effort. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Dec 12, 2013 at 15:14
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I don't think it's a convention. The teacher, speaker, or author is addressing the students, pupils, readers, or audience, who are participating in the demonstration. It comes on naturally. $\endgroup$
    – Lucian
    Dec 12, 2013 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ I'm just glad that, in mathematics, we tend to write in the active - rather than passive - voice. This is unlike many of the other sciences. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Rust
    Dec 12, 2013 at 15:19
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @DonAntonio We are not amused. (but I am) $\endgroup$
    – Dan Rust
    Dec 12, 2013 at 17:13
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ We understand thou, sir @DanielRust ... off with his head! $\endgroup$
    – DonAntonio
    Dec 12, 2013 at 17:20

1 Answer 1


From what I could gather from some google searches (1, 2, 3-pdf, and Krantz has a good book on writing mathematical prose) the most common reasons for using we instead of I are:

  1. To emphasize participation by the reader and ensure that he or she is included.
  2. To not sound egotistical. As in, to stress the mathematics and reduce the role of the author in particular.
  3. To keep the writing in active voice.

I couldn't find when a the shift in writing style occurred, but I do recall reading papers by Euler in which he uses I. Though, I cannot read Latin and these were translated.


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