“The Night Circus”: First, Second, and Third Person

 Did you know there are three kinds of second person?

Mignon Fogarty
5-minute read
Episode #306

night circusToday’s topic is grammatical person (as in first person, second person, and third person) because I just finished reading a book called The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which uses all three types of grammatical person, which is very unusual to find in one book.

What Is Grammatical Person?

I talked about first, second, and third person in episode 259, but before we get to the interesting stuff, let’s quickly make sure everyone is on the same page about grammatical person.

Grammatical person is about who is telling the story, who the story is directed to, and who the story refers to. Grammatical person determines which pronouns you use. 


First Person

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When writers are using the first person, they use the pronouns “I,” “my,” and “we,”and “our.” You’re being told the story by one person, and you’re in that person’s mind. For example, The Hunger Games uses first person. Katniss is narrating, and here’s the first line of the book:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was also written using the first person. Huck is the narrator. Here’s an example:

Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable.

Second Person

When writers are using the second person, they use the pronouns “you” and “your.” Second person is the kind of voice that talks directly to you, the reader, and it’s more common in nonfiction than in fiction.

Third Person

Finally, when writers are using the third person, they use the pronouns “he,” “she,” “it,” and “they.” In the third person, a narrator tells you what different people are doing or what is happening in different people’s thoughts. Third person is the most common approach used in fiction because it makes it easy for readers to follow a story with lots of characters. The Harry Potter books were written in third person. Here’s an example:

Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age. He looked even smaller and skinnier than he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley's, and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was.

Next: Mixing Types of Person in One Book


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

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