Grammar First Person vs. Second Person vs. Third Person: Which One Do You Want? |
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First Person vs. Second Person vs. Third Person: Which One Do You Want?

Part of being a precise and eloquent communicator is conveying the right point of view. Person is used in grammar to distinguish who is speaking, who is being addressed, and who is not speaking or being addressed. Grammatical person includes first person, second person, and third person.

In this post we will help you understand the use of person supported by some examples.

What First Person, Second Person, and Third Person Mean

Each person in grammar represents a different perspective in a narrative.

  • The first person is the speaker or a group that includes the speaker. It is expressed by the words “I” and “me” in the singular and “we” and “us” in the plural.
  • Second person is used for those who are being spoken to. It is expressed by the word “you” in both the singular and the plural.
  • The third person includes anyone or anything else other than I, me, us, or you. It is represented by the words “he,” “she,” and “it” in the singular and “they” and “them” in the plural.

The First-Person Point of View

When you write or speak in the first person, you are telling your own thoughts or ideas or those of a group you belong to. The following are examples of self-directed statements:

I arrived at the party before the other guests did.

There was a ticket waiting for me at the counter.

This has always been a favorite movie for us.

The Second-Person Point of View

The second person addresses the audience whether it is one person or many people:

You are my best friend.

You can feel good about the way you played today.

You all deserve credit for the company’s performance this quarter.

The Third-Person Point of View

We will use the third person to refer to someone or something that is either not us or not an audience we’re addressing:

After leaving late from the meeting, she had to run to catch the bus.

They should be careful when walking around that puddle.

It wouldn’t start because the battery was dead.

Knowing Which Point of View to Use

Now that you understand the different perspectives in English, how do you know which one to use for different things you are writing?

In many cases the answer will be obvious, as shown in the preceding examples. If you are telling your own story, you will speak or write in the first person. If you are communicating with another person or group directly, you will use the second person. If you are saying something about someone or something else, you will refer to the third person.

Sometimes you might choose the voice in which thoughts are expressed to achieve a desired effect (e.g., in fiction). The following general guidelines might be helpful in making those choices:

  • First-person points of view tend to be more descriptive and individual.
  • The second person is usually recognized as more intimate, immediate, and persuasive.
  • Third-person perspectives create more distance and often feel more rational.

By experimenting with different voices in your writing, you’ll learn to use each effectively as it suits your intentions. An essay may be most powerful in the first person, for example, while a science-fiction short story might explore new possibilities in the third person.

Pop Quiz

Identify the person being used (first, second, or third) in each sentence.

1. She is always late for class on Tuesdays.

2. I can’t remember when I started speaking with a French accent.

3. You should try yoga to alleviate the back pain.

4. He could not be convinced of the mistake.

5. I must have left the math book at home this morning.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. She is always late for class on Tuesdays. (third person)

2. I can’t remember when I started speaking with a French accent. (first person)

3. You should try yoga to alleviate the back pain. (second person)

4. He could not be convinced of the mistake. (third person)

5. I must have left the math book at home this morning. (first person)

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6 responses to “First Person vs. Second Person vs. Third Person: Which One Do You Want?”

  1. Abdullahi Bashir says:

    What are the conditions for using main verbs ending in “s” and “ed” at the end? For instance, ”Fire claims ten lives,” and “Fire claimed ten lives,” what is the difference?

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      English uses the concept of tense to communicate an action’s place in time. “Fire claims ten lives” is present tense. The action could be instant, but we are not certain if it is happening now.”Fire claimed ten lives” is past tense. The simple past tense in English communicates that an action occurred at an earlier time. The action has been completed, and it is not continuing in the present or into the future. See our posts What Is the Simple Past Tense? and Present Progressive Tense.

  2. Suman says:

    I told him, “You should try yoga at home to alleviate your back pain.”
    I told him that he should try yoga at home to alleviate his back pain.
    Are both of those sentences first-person perspective?

  3. Rohit says:

    Is there a rule for placement of each person in a sentence? I always thought it should be in the order of third person, second person, first person – in case all 3 are involved. Eg: X, you, and I are invited to this meeting (rather than I, you, and X).
    And in the case of a first and second person, it should always be You and I/me and not I/me and you.
    Is this correct?

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      There is no formal rule for the order of names and pronouns. At the same time, native and fluent speakers of American English understand that certain sequences sound more natural than others (e.g., “you and I” vs. “I and you”). In addition, it is typically grammatical courtesy to place one’s own name or pronoun last unless there is a good reason to do otherwise.

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