The use of first, second, and third person creates the perspective or "point of view" of a piece of writing. Writing in first person uses the personal pronouns "I," "we," "me," and "us," and the possessive forms "my," "mine," "our," and "ours;" while second person uses "you," and the possessives "your" and "yours." Third person, on the other hand, uses pronouns such as "he," "she," "it," "they," and "them," along with the possessives "his," "hers," "its," "their," and "theirs." The third person can also have an effect on the verb forms used and writers should choose the proper perspective for different types of writing.
First Person Perspective
If someone speaks or writes in the first person, he or she talks about himself or herself. An example is the simple sentence, “I like movies.” This indicates an expression about the speaker or subject of a sentence from his or her point of view. If the speaker or writer uses a plural, to indicate a group that he or she is a part of, then the sentence would change to, “We like movies.” Writers use "me" and "us" for objects in first person, such as "He gave me a box," and possessive forms such as "my" and "our" express ownership of an object like "I drove my blue car."
Second Person Perspective
The second person is just the opposite of first person in that instead of referring to “I,” the speaker refers to “you,” as the writer directly addresses the reader. Using the previous examples, in second person they might read, “You like movies,” or "You drove your blue car." Modern English lacks a second person plural pronoun, which has led to the creation of slang words such as "y'all" or "yins" in different regional dialects. Writers do not typically use second person in formal writing, though it is common in some technical applications, such as instructions.
Third Person Perspective
If a person writes in the third person singular, the speaker or writer refers to “he,” “she,” or "it;" though the gender-specific objective forms become "him" and "her." In English, the third person singular in the present tense often changes the verb form, usually by adding the letter “s” to the end of the verb, if it is a regular verb. For example, "I like movies," becomes “He likes movies.” Possessive forms such as "His blue car is not as nice as hers," are fairly simple; "its" can be difficult for some writers who mistakenly add an apostrophe like the word "it's," a conjunction for "it is."
There are two major types of third person writing: limited and omniscient. The limited form means that the "narrator" of a work presents only what a main character knows. In this type of writing, the action typically follows one or more main characters and reveals only the events they see or participate in directly. Omniscient writing, however, can jump between characters and reveal more than what they see, providing the reader with information beyond the scope of the main character's actions.
Teachers typically advise students in academic courses, or engaging in other types of formal writing, to avoid the second or first person and use third person instead. Most writers consider these perspectives informal and inappropriate for scholarly audiences. They may be acceptable in academic writing if a teacher asks students to provide a personal opinion or experience that is informal in nature.
First person is fairly common in "personal" professional writing, such as someone's memoirs. Some creative works use this perspective to tell a story from the point of view of a character within it. Second person is quite rare in creative writing, though it can draw a reader into a story when used well. In other professional texts, such as corporate documents or product descriptions, writers commonly prefer third person over the other two.
It is important for a writer to use only one type within a piece of writing and not to shift perspective, which can become confusing for readers. All three might be used together in a few rare situations, such as emails or letters between friends and coworkers. It is not unusual for someone to write in first person to indicate personal opinions or needs, shift to second when addressing the recipient directly, and use third person to discuss someone else.
The major verb change in English perspective is in the third person singular. However, in many other languages, these forms may change nearly every time the grammatical person shifts. Understanding how to use each perspective and form them accurately often distinguishes a new language learner from one who has mastered it.