First, Second, and Third Person

16 Oct

When completing any writing assignment, it is important to choose the right tone. Determining whether you will use first, second, or third-person can help you choose your tone and maintain it throughout your assignment.

  • First-Person: The first-person point of view is used primarily for autobiographical writing. We tend to use first-person when we are writing about ourselves. We may find this type of writing in journals, memoirs, novels, autobiographies, short stories, and reflective pieces.
    • Pronouns: I, We, Me, Us, My, Mine, Our, Ours,
    • Example, Singular: I am looking forward to the concert tonight.
    • Example, Plural: We are looking forward to going to the movies next weekend.
  • Second-Person: The second-person point of view is used primarily to address the reader. We tend to use second-person when we are writing a letter or note to someone, or when we are providing them with instructions.
    • Pronouns: You, Your, Yours
    • Example, Singular: You should do the first three problems for homework.
    • Example, Plural: Class, your homework is due on Friday.
  • Third Person: The third-person point of view is the most common point of view. The third-person point of view removes the writer from the writing and offers a more objective viewpoint. It is frequently used in academic or professional writing, but can also be found in novels.
    • Pronouns: He, Him, His, She, Her, Hers, It, Its, They, Them, Theirs
    • Example, Singular: He found the book quite interesting.
    • Example, Plural: They were able to produce the necessary information quickly.

General Tips:

  • When in doubt, use third-person. This is particularly true for academic writing, as third-person is often considered the most professional.
  • When using third-person, you do not have to limit yourself to using only the listed pronouns. For example, we might write something like this: “A nurse can use critical thinking to better care for his or her patients.” Here, we have used a title (“nurse”) and third-person pronouns (“his” and “her”) to complete our third-person sentence.
  • The uses for second-person are very limited. You will likely not use this style of writing in an academic or professional situation, unless you need to provide specific instructions to a particular group (like in a Process Analysis assignment).
  • First-person can be used in situations where its use will provide clarity for the reader. If you are unsure if your instructor will accept a first-person assignment, ask them!
  • When choosing between first, second, and third-person, keep in mind your purpose and audience. Reflective writing or writing addressing personal experience may utilize first-person even if it is for an academic course, although a third-person approach can also work and may be preferable depending on the assignment. Research-based work, like a research paper, often benefits from third-person writing.
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4 Responses to “First, Second, and Third Person”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Word Crimes! | The Christ College Writing Center - August 27, 2014

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