What Is Second Person? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Second Person (in Grammar)

The term "second person" refers to the speaker's audience (i.e.,"you").

second person in grammar

The personal pronouns ("I," "you," "he," "she," "it," "we," "you," "they") are grouped into one of three categories:
What is first, second, and third person in grammar?

Note: First person refers to the speaker himself or a group that includes the speaker (i.e.," I," "me," "we," and "us"). Third person refers to everybody else (e.g., "he," "him," "she," "her," "it," "they," "them"), including all other nouns (e.g., "Bill," "Russians," "termite," "lions").

Examples of Second Person Pronouns in Different Cases

Here are the second person pronouns in the subjective case, the objective case, and the possessive case:
PersonSubjective CaseObjective CasePossessive Case
Possessive Determiner
Possessive Case
Possessive Pronouns
Second Person Singular you

Example: You left early.
you

Example: She likes you.
your

Example: That was your fault.
yours

These are yours.
Second Person Plural you

Example: You left early.
you

Example: She likes you.
your

Example: That was your fault.
yours

These are yours.

Note: There is no difference in how the "second person singular" and "second person plural" forms are written. We have to rely on context to tell us whether "you" means one person or more than one.

First, Second, and Third Person Pronouns

The table below shows the first, second, and third person pronouns. The second person pronouns are shaded.
PersonSubjective CaseObjective CasePossessive Case
Possessive Determiner
Possessive Case
Possessive Pronouns
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

Why Should I Care about the Second Person?

In business writing, the first person adds a personal touch, and the third person adds formality. In storytelling, the first person makes it easier to engage your readers, and the third person affords the author a God-like status (i.e., as an all-seeing narrator). There are no such traits with the second person. It's the least interesting of the three person categories from a writing perspective. Nevertheless, here are three good reasons to care about the second person.

(Reason 1) Be mindful of the difference between "yourself" and "yourselves."

The second-person personal pronoun "you" has two forms: a singular form ("you are") and a plural form ("you are"). Hang on! Nothing changed! They are both "you are"! That's true. But, it's not always true. Look at these examples:
  • You can help yourself to the cakes.
  • (Here, "you" is singular.)
  • You can help yourselves to the cakes.
  • (Here, "you" is plural.)

(Reason 3) The subject of an order is "you."

The subject of an imperative sentence (i.e. one that gives an order) is "you." However, most of the time, the "you" is omitted. The "you" is said to be "understood" (i.e., is present without being present). For example:
  • Call me if you need help.
  • (There is an understood "you" in this order.)
  • [You] Call me if you need help.
  • (This is how we treat it, even though we don't say the "you.")
Why does this matter? This point matters because you can only use "yourself" or "yourselves" with an imperative verb (i.e., an order). You can't use "myself." This is a common mistake.
  • Contact your line manager or myself if you have any questions.
  • (You can't use "myself" with "you" (even an understood "you" in an order). This should be "me" not "myself.")
Read more about this writing mistake on the "reflexive pronouns" page.

(Reason 3) Understanding the person categories is useful for learning a foreign language.

Teachers and reference books all use the person categories to explain how grammar works (particularly verbs). So, if you are learning a foreign language or teaching English, it is essential to get comfortable with the person categories. Here are some examples of how the person categories appear in language books:
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
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What are personal pronouns? What is the first person? What is the third person? What is the subjective case? What is the objective case? What is the possessive case? What are possessive adjectives? What are absolute possessive pronouns? The different types of pronouns Glossary of grammatical terms