First-, Second-, and Third-Person Pronouns

Learning Objectives:

  • Use first-, second-, and third-person pronouns correctly.
  • Correctly match pronouns and antecedents by number and gender.

LESSON
A pronounA part of speech that substitutes for a noun or noun phrase. Examples include: I, he, you, they. is a word that takes the place of a nounA part of speech that refers to a person, place, or thing. Examples include: swimmer, lake, sunscreen.. Without the use of pronouns, writers would have to use the same nouns repeatedly, and their writing would be repetitive. Pronouns fall into one of three categories: first-, second-, or third-person pronouns. Using appropriate pronouns helps make writing cohesiveIn writing, ideas and evidence that work together to create a unified statement., interesting, and easy to understand.

First Person

First-person pronounsA word that takes the place of the writer or narrator. Examples: I, we, me, us, my, mine, our, and ours. refer to the writer. They include I, me, my, mine, our, ours, us, and we. These are used in a number of situations, including responses, emails, cover lettersA letter that is sent along with a resume that provides context and more information for the reader., memosA short written message from one person to another or to a group of persons, usually containing business information., and some reports, like a witness report in a criminal case. However, in some situations, first-person pronouns are not appropriate. Academic writing often omits first-person pronouns even when the writer is discussing a personal opinion. Avoiding first-person pronouns in an essay ensures that the reader focuses on the topic and not the authorA person who wrote a text..

Consider the following statements:

In both cases, it is clear that the author did not like the movie. However, in the first statement, the focus is on the author. In the second statement, the focus is on the quality of the movie. In most college classes, it is best to avoid using first-person pronouns unless you are writing a personal narrative essay.

Second Person

Second-person pronounsA word that takes the place of the intended audience. Examples: you, your, yours. always refer to the reader, the intended audience. They include you, your, and yours. A writer should use second-person pronouns when speaking directly to the reader. For example, it is appropriate to use these pronouns in instructions, an email to a specific person or group, text messages, and presentations. Second-person pronouns are rarely used in academic writing. Using the second-person point of view in research and thesis papers can make them less effective, making them seem more like advice instead of information or persuasion.

Consider the following statements:

In both cases, the information about texting while driving is clear. However, the second-person point of view is weaker than the third-person point of view, which sounds like a fact instead of advice.

Third Person

Third-person pronounsA word that takes the place of persons, places, or things that are not the writer or the intended audience. Examples: he, she, it, they, him, her, them, his, her, hers, its, their, and theirs. are used more often than first- and second-person pronouns because they refer to persons, places, or things that are not the reader or the writer. They include he, him, his, she, her, hers, it, its, they, them, their, and theirs. They almost always come after the noun they refer to has been introduced and they should always agree with that noun in both number (singular or plural) and gender. This is called pronoun-antecedent agreementCorrect grammatical form where pronouns agree with the noun they refer to in both number (singular or plural) and gender. and is similar to subject-verb agreementA grammatical term that describes when a writer uses subjects and verbs that match each other in both number (singular or plural) and person (first, second, or third). Example: The girls have pretty dresses and bows that match. In this sentence the subject, girls, is plural, so the verb have, and the nouns dresses and bows must also be plural., although sometimes it can be more difficult to identify because errors in pronoun agreement are quite common in everyday speech.

For instance, the pronoun does not agree with the noun it refers to in the following sentence:

A student is likely to do well in this course if they attend every class and turn in all of the homework.

This is a common error and comes from the fact the noun student is singular but not gender specific (meaning that it can refer to either a male or female student), but the appropriate pronouns are gender specific (he or she). Many writers address this issue by using the term s/he as the pronoun, but people often find that phrase awkward. Another way to solve this issue is to make the noun plural, which allows for the use of they, which is a pronoun that is not gender specific.

Students are likely to do well in this course if they attend every class and turn in all of the homework.

+ PRACTICAL APPLICATION+ EXAMPLE+ YOUR TURN+ METACOGNITIVE QUESTIONS