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First, Second, and Third Person

When to use first, second, and third person.

By
Geoff Pope, read by Mignon Fogarty
January 20, 2011
Episode #259

Page 1 of 3

First, Second, and Third Person

You probably know what it means to write in the first person, but you may not be as confident about using the second- or third-person point of view. Today we’re going to focus on each of these three points of view.

In grammatical terms, first person, second person, and third person refer to personal pronouns. Each “person” has a different perspective, a “point of view,” and the three points of view have singular and plural forms as well as three case forms.

First Person

In the subjective case, the singular form of the first person is “I,” and the plural form is “we.” “I” and “we” are in the subjective case because either one can be used as the subject of a sentence. You constantly use these two pronouns when you refer to yourself and when you refer to yourself with others. Here’s a sentence containing both:

I (first-person singular) look forward to my monthly book club meeting. We (first-person plural) are currently reading Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda.

The first-person point of view is used primarily for autobiographical writing, such as a personal essay or a memoir. Academics and journalists usually avoid first person in their writing because doing so is believed to make the writing sound more objective; however, using an occasional “I” or “we” can be appropriate in formal papers and articles if a publication’s style allows it. Joseph M. Williams, author of Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, agrees: “…deleting an I or we does not make the science objective; it makes reports of it only seem so. We know that behind those impersonal sentences are flesh-and-blood researchers doing, thinking, and writing” (1).

Besides “I” and “we,” other singular first person pronouns include “me” (objective case) and “my” and “mine” (possessive case). Plural first person pronouns are “us” (objective case) and “our” and “ours” (possessive case). Those are a lot of forms and cases, so the following example of a sentence that uses the first person--with both singular and plural forms and all three cases--will, I hope, help identify the different uses:

I asked Sam to help me with my Happy New Year mailing, and we somehow got the project done early during the last week of December in spite of our packed schedules. I’m quite proud of us and ended up calling the project ours instead of mine.

For further clarification regarding the eight first-person pronouns just used, here’s a table:

First Person

(singular, plural)

Subjective Case

Objective Case

Possessive Case

I, we

me, us

my/mine, our/ours

 (2)

Next: Second Person

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