Person (Point of View)

Person refers to the point of view you use in your writing. Simple as that.

First Person

When you use the pronouns I or we, that's first person. Since first person expresses the writer's perspective, it's used most often for personal or autobiographical writing like memoirs.

That's why you've probably had a teacher or two (or ten) tell you not to use I in your academic writing: it can make your writing seem less objective. So save first person for your personal essays and that triple-locked diary you keep hidden in the bottom of your underwear drawer.

Second Person

When you address the audience using the pronoun you, that's second person. You'll spot second person most often in advertising, correspondence, and business or technical writing. Makes sense, right? Advertising tries to zero in on the consumer and convince you—yes, you!—that you simply can't live without the new Chop-O-Matic Pocket Smoothie Maker. Letters and emails are addressed to a specific person. And business and technical writing are often process-oriented and instructional in nature.

Third Person

Last (but certainly not least) there's ye olde third person, which uses the pronouns he, she, it, or they. Writing in third person creates an objective, impersonal narrator, which makes it perfect for most formal academic writing.

The point of view you use depends on your purpose and audience, but no matter which perspective you choose, you must remember this: be consistent. When a paper switches between points of view, it messes with the reader's head. So if you start with third person, you better finish with third person… unless you want a bunch of confused readers wandering around your front yard.

Here's a quick and easy way to check your perspective: First, identify the subject of the sentence. If that subject is talking about itself, that's first person. If the subject is being spoken to, that's second person. If the subject is being spoken about, that's third person. Easy-peasy.

 

Examples

Miranda is a terrible gift giver. Last Christmas, she gave all of her siblings disposable razors.

Here we have an example of a third person sentence. Miranda is the subject of the sentence and she's being spoken about. And, in Miranda's defense, her brothers and sisters are all pretty furry.

When the waiter handed me the bill for our dinner, the tab was so huge that I almost spit my Bananas Foster across the restaurant.

Ah, we love a good flaming dessert. We also love the consistent use of first person in this sentence where the speaker is talking about him- or herself.

If you want the most intense, stomach-churning ride, you should sit in the first car of the rollercoaster.

In this thrilling example, we have some top-notch use of second person perspective. The subject of the sentence is being spoken to. And, according to science, if you want the best view of all those twists and turns, sit in the front. If you want that stomach-tugging sense of weightlessness, sit in the back (and maybe skip lunch).