The Farlex Grammar Book > English Grammar > Parts of Speech > Pronouns > Personal pronouns > Personal Pronouns - Person (First person, Second person, Third person)
Personal Pronouns - Person (First person, Second person, Third person)
Grammatical person refers to the perspectives of the personal pronouns used to identify a person in speech and text—that is, it distinguishes between a speaker (first person), an addressee (second person), and others beyond that (third person).
First-person pronouns are used to express an autobiographical point of view—they tell what is directly happening to the speaker, writer, or fictional character. For example:
- “I don’t know where my hat is!”
- “Janet is meeting me in town later.”
- “Hey, that book is mine! I bought it!”
When the speaker is part of a group, the first-person pronouns inflect to the plural form:
- “We brought our own car.”
- “They told us to help ourselves.”
We use the second-person pronouns to indicate those who are being addressed directly by the speaker. Unlike first-person pronouns, there is not a distinction between singular and plural second-person pronouns (except in the reflexive form). Here are some examples:
- “Bill, I was wondering if you could help me with the dishes?” (second person singular)
- “Children, where are your manners?” (second person plural)
- “You really must learn to help yourself.” (second person singular)
- “I’m sick of cleaning up after all of you; from now on, you can clean up after yourselves!” (second person plural)
Usage note 1: Generic “you”
The second-person pronouns are also often used to indicate an unspecified person. This is sometimes referred to as generic you, impersonal you, or indefinite you. This is less formal than its counterpart, the pronoun one, but it is sometimes preferred because it does not sound as snobbish or unnecessarily formal.
If one is writing something very formal or professional, then one might be better off using the generic pronoun one. If you’re writing something a bit less formal, then you are probably just fine using the generic pronoun you.
Usage note 2: “You guys” and the second person plural
The second-person pronoun you functions both as a singular and a plural pronoun; unlike the first- and third-person pronouns, it does not have a distinct form when referring to multiple people.
In different dialects, though, informal terms are often used to specifically refer to more than one person. In American English, the term “you guys” is commonly used as a gender-neutral pronoun for multiple people. For example:
- “Hey, where do you guys want to go for dinner?”
- “You guys need to study harder if you’re going to pass the next exam.”
However, this is sometimes seen as problematic, because, although it is used as a gender-neutral term, the word guys marks it as specifically masculine. A common alternative that is more truly gender-neutral is the term “you all,” as in:
- “Hey, where do you all want to go for dinner?”
- “You all need to study harder if you’re going to pass the next exam.”
In southern regions of the U.S., this is commonly contracted into the term “y’all”:
- “Hey, where do y’all want to go for dinner?”
- “Y’all need to study harder if you’re going to pass the next exam.”
(Other terms are also used in various dialects of American and British English, including you lot, yous/youse, and ye.)
While these terms are generally considered acceptable in conversational English, they are all informal, nonstandard usages; it would not be advisable to use them in formal, professional, or academic speech or writing. If in doubt, continue to use you for both the singular and the plural second person, because it is always correct.
Third person is used to talk about someone or something that is not the speaker and is not being directly addressed. This is most widely used in fiction writing. When the person or thing is singular, the pronouns used in the third person are the different forms of she, he, and it:
However, when there are multiple people or things, we use the ungendered forms of they:
Third person plural
Let’s look at some example sentences:
- “My teacher said that he would help me with the course material.”
- “Janet lent me her car for the weekend.”
- “I’ve tried to understand this book, but it is too complicated.”
- “The child smiled at himself in the mirror.”
- “Mom was supposed to be home by now, but she’s late.”
- “Countries should always have the right to assert their independence.”
- “I’ve reminded the students countless times, but they always forget to submit their homework online.”
Sometimes, when a single person of an unknown gender is being discussed, the third-person plural forms (they, them, etc.) are used as a gender-neutral alternative to the third-person feminine/masculine forms. To learn more about this, please see the Usage Note about “Singular they” under the chapter section explaining gender in personal pronouns.
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