If you study grammar in your own language or a new language, you'll encounter some confusing terms: first person, second person, and third person. But when it comes to grammar, "person" doesn't refer to people at all! Here's what a grammatical person actually refers to and how you'll use it to help you learn a new language.
What do "first person," "second person," and "third person" mean?
A grammatical "person" isn't a person at all—it's a way of referring to 3 kinds of scenarios:
|Who is being discussed?
|The speaker is referring to themself or a group that includes them.
|The speaker is talking directly to another person or group of people about that person or group.
2. at least one listener who is being addressed directly
|The speaker is talking to another person or group of people about a third person or thing—not the speaker, not the listener, but someone or something else.
2. at least one listener
3. person or thing the speaker is discussing
(you all, y'all, ye, yinz, you guys)
When you'll use first person, second person, and third person
There are several kinds of words that will vary according to grammatical person, and it depends on which language you're studying.
For most learners, you'll need to think about grammatical person when learning pronouns and for conjugating verbs.
For example, personal pronouns are pronouns with different forms for each grammatical person. Those forms might also change depending on whether the pronoun is a subject or object, or if it has another role in the sentence.
In many languages, including Romance languages, Germanic languages like English and German, and Slavic languages like Ukrainian and Russian, verbs will also change forms depending on the grammatical person of the subject. That means there might be one verb ending for first person singular subjects, another ending for second person singular, a different one for third person singular, and so on.
For these languages, you might also see verb endings organized by grammatical person, just like the English pronoun chart above. Here's the present tense verb conjugation chart for the German verb sprechen (to speak):
|spreche (I speak)
|sprechen (we speak)
|sprichst (you speak)
|sprecht (you all speak)
|spricht (he/she/it speaks)
|sprechen (they speak)
Examples of first person, second person, and third person
Language learners will be familiar with first person, second person, and third person from grammar study, but they're not the only ones!
Here are some examples of personal pronouns in the 3 grammatical persons:
|Examples from English
|Examples from Spanish
|I, me, mine
|yo, me, (a) mí, mío
|tú, te, (a) ti, tuyo
|he, him, his
|él, lo, le, suyo
We also use "first person" and "third person" to talk about writing, literature, and storytelling. For example, if you use first person to tell a story, it means you're telling it from your point of view and are using the personal pronoun I—as in I went to the store and saw my friend. If a story, article, or text is in third person, the writer describes the action with third person pronouns: She took out her suitcase, and her cat gave her a dirty look. Often, the third person is used for an omniscient narrator—one who knows the perspectives and thoughts of all the characters. Very occasionally, you might encounter stories in the second person as well. This blog post is an example! 😅 Some of the sentences tell you directly what you need to know about your language study.
Grammatical person helps you organize your learning
The 3 different scenarios and tables for organizing first person, second person, and third person can help you keep track of what you're learning. Use grammatical person to your advantage!