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Osceola Writing Center

Understanding 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Person

It's as easy as a Conversation

To understand person, it may be helpful to use the context of a conversation. Consider this diagram as you read the explanation that follows:

diagram showing 1st, 2nd, and third person

1st Person

First person is always going to be what you would use to personally respond to a question; if asked as a single person, you would answer with “I”;  if asked as a member of a group, you’d answer with “we.” Think of 1st person as the person you are closest to (yourself).

2nd Person

Second person is the person or people that you are talking directly TO or WITH (using "you"). If I’m in a conversation with a person, I might ask “What do YOU want to eat for breakfast?” They are the next closest person/people in terms of proximity.

3rd Person

Third person includes the person, people, or things that you are talking ABOUT. If the person/thing in your sentence could be replaced with "he", "she", "it", or "they", you are using 3rd person.

Going back to our conversation example, I cannot ask a direct question to a guy in the classroom next door; he is not participating in the conversating. I can ask someone a question ABOUT that person (What do you think HE wants for breakfast?), but not TO the person. Once I go over to the person and ask him a question, he has gone from being 3rd person to 2nd person since I would ask him a question using “you.” Third person is the furthest away in proximity.

Remember, objects are 3rd person. Take a look at this sentence:

The car was very ugly.

In my sentence, “the car” is the thing that I’m talking ABOUT, and I could replace “the car” with “it.” Consequently, car is 3rd person – I’m not having a conversation WITH the car (otherwise it might be time to seek professional help).

When Writing your Essays

Don't forget that for most of your academic writing assignments, you will probably be told to use 3rd person. As a result, the subjects of your sentences should be those things that could be replaced with the pronouns discussed above: he, she, it, and they.

Example:

You should not smoke because it can harm your lungs. (2nd person)

Nobody should smoke because... (3rd person- "nobody" is a he or she)

 

 
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