'Person' in Grammar

What Is 'Person' in Grammar?

homesitemapA-Z grammar terms 'person' in grammar
Person is a category used to distinguish between (1) those speaking, (2) those being addressed, and (3) those who are neither speaking nor being addressed (i.e., everybody else). These three categories are called the first person, the second person, and the third person.

Table of Contents

  • Grammatical Person Explained
  • How "Person" Relates to the Personal Pronouns
  • Common Terms with "Person"
  • Why "Person" in Grammar Is Important
  • Test Time!
grammatical person

Grammatical Person Explained

In grammar, the personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they) are grouped into one of the three categories:
  • The First Person. This category is used for the point of view of the speaker or a group that includes the speaker. A basic sentence in the first person would typically start "I [did something]" or "We [did something]." (In grammar, the first-person personal pronouns are I, me, we, and us.)
Read more the "first person" in grammar.
  • The Second Person. This category is used for those being spoken to. A basic sentence in the second person would start "You [did something]." (In grammar, the second-person pronoun is you.)
Read more the "second person" in grammar.
  • The Third Person. This category is used for everyone else. A basic sentence in the third person would start "He [did something]", "She [did something]," or "They [did something]." (In grammar, the third-person pronouns are he, him, she, her, it, they, and them. The third person also includes all other nouns, e.g., Fritz, Germans.)
Read more the "third person" in grammar.

How "Person" Relates to the Personal Pronouns

As well as being categorized as one of three "person" categories, each personal pronoun is also categorized as either singular or plural. Therefore, there are six person categories overall.

The table below shows the pronouns in the six person categories and in the various cases.
Person Subjective Case Objective Case Possessive Determiner Possessive Pronoun
First Person Singular I me my mine
Second Person Singular you you your yours
Third Person Singular he/she/it him/her/it his/her/its his/hers/its
First Person Plural we us our ours
Second Person Plural you you your yours
Third Person Plural they them their theirs
Read more about the subjective case, the objective case, determiners, and possessive pronouns.

Common Terms with "Person"

The idea of grammatical person is used in some everyday terms:
  • First-person gaming. In video games, first-person games show the viewpoint of the player's character. In other words, when I play the game, the graphics are rendered from my perspective (i.e., what I can see).
  • First-person narrative. In storytelling, a first-person narrative relays events using "I" or "we."
  • Third-party insurance. Third-party insurance protects against the claims of others. Here's more: I (the first party) am ensured by you, the insurer (the second party), to protect me against them (the third party).

Why "Person" in Grammar Is Important

The overwhelming majority of native speakers – even those who've never heard the term grammatical person before – can use all the pronouns and adjectives in the table above flawlessly. Nevertheless, there are two good reasons to be familiar with the person categories.

(Reason 1) Understanding the person categories is useful for learning a foreign language.

Understanding terms like "first person singular" and "third person plural" is extremely useful when learning a foreign language because the vast majority of teachers and reference books use the person categories to explain how grammar works (especially verbs).
Person English German French Spanish
First Person Singular I play ich spiele je joue yo juego
Second Person Singular you play du spielst tu joues tu juegas
Third Person Singular he/she/it plays er/sie/es spielt il/elle joue el/ella/usted juega
First Person Plural we play wir spielen nous jouons nosotros jugamos
Second Person Plural you play ihr spielt vous jouez vosotros jagais
Third Person Plural they play Sie spielen ils/ells jouent ellos/ellas/ustedes juegan
Similarly, being familiar with the two tables above will allow you to anticipate what's to come. Put another way, you can now enter your first lesson with empty versions of these tables in your head and think "Bring it on. Just fill in the gaps." This too will make learning easier.

(Reason 2) Choosing the right person can help portray the right image.

Choose the right person? Yup, I'm still talking about grammatical person. If you want to portray a personal touch or show responsibility for your actions, write in the first person (i.e., use "I" or "we"). For example:
  • I will handle your claim within 24 hours.
If you want to portray formality or distance yourself from your actions, write in the third person (i.e., use "he," "she," "it," or nouns). For example:
  • Lees Ltd will handle your claim within 24 hours.
If you really wanted to distance yourself from your actions, you could also write in the passive voice.
  • Your claim will be handled within 24 hours by Lees Ltd.
Read more about the passive voice.

Key Points

Video Lesson

Watch a video summarizing this lesson on grammatical person. video lesson

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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