Grammatical person

In linguistics, grammatical person is the grammatical distinction between deictic references to participant(s) in an event; typically the distinction is between the speaker (first person), the addressee (second person), and others (third person). Put in simple colloquial English, first person is that which includes the speaker, namely, "I", "we", "me", and "us", second person is the person or people spoken to, literally, "you", and third person includes all that is not listed above.[1] Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns. It also frequently affects verbs, and sometimes nouns or possessive relationships.

English pronouns in the nominative case

Pronoun Person and number Gender
I First-person singular
we First-person plural
you Second-person singular or second-person plural
he Third-person masculine singular masculine
she Third-person feminine singular feminine
it Third-person neuter (and inanimate) singular neuter
one Third-person gender-neutral singular common
they Third-person plural or sometimes singular
me First-person singular, dialectal Caribbean English and colloquial special uses
thee Second-person singular, literary, dialectal Yorkshire, and occasional use by Quakers
allyuh Second-person plural, many English-based creole languages, dialectal Caribbean English
unu Second-person plural, many English-based creole languages, dialectal Caribbean English
y'all Second-person plural, dialectal Southern American, Texan English, and African American English
ye Second-person plural, dialectal Hiberno-English and Newfoundland English
yinz Second-person plural, Scots, dialectal Scottish English, Pittsburgh English
you guys Second-person plural, dialectal American English and Canadian English
you(r) lot Second-person plural, dialectal British English
youse Second-person plural, Australian English, many urban American dialects like New York City English and Chicago English, as well as Ottawa Valley English. Sporadic usage in some British English dialects, such as Mancunian.
yourse Second-person plural, Scots, dialect Central Scottish Lowlands, Scouse, Cumbrian, Tyneside, Hiberno English.
us First-person plural subject, as in, us guys are going...
them Third-person plural subject, as in, them girls drove...
thou Second-person singular informal subject
thee Second-person singular informal object
ye Second-person plural

In Indo-European languages, first-, second-, and third-person pronouns are typically also marked for singular and plural forms, and sometimes dual form as well (grammatical number). Some languages, especially European ones, distinguish degrees of formality and informality (T-V distinction).

Some other languages use different classifying systems, especially in the plural pronouns. One frequently found difference not present in most Indo-European languages is a contrast between inclusive and exclusive "we": a distinction of first-person plural pronouns between including or excluding the addressee.

Some other languages have much more elaborate systems of formality that go well beyond the T-V distinction, and use many different pronouns and verb forms that express the speaker's relationship with the people they are addressing. Many Malayo-Polynesian languages, such as Javanese and Balinese, are well known for their complex systems of honorifics; Japanese and Korean also have similar systems to a lesser extent.

Effect on verbs

In many languages, the verb takes a form dependent on the person of the subject and whether it is singular or plural. In English, this happens with the verb to be as follows:

  • I am (first-person singular)
  • you are/thou art (second-person singular)
  • he, she, one or it is (third-person singular)
  • we are (first-person plural)
  • you are/ye are (second-person plural)
  • they are (third-person plural)

Other verbs in English take the suffix -s to mark the present tense third person singular.

In many languages, such as French, the verb in any given tense takes a different suffix for any of the various combinations of person and number of the subject.

Additional persons

The grammars of some languages divide the semantic space into more than three persons. The extra categories may be termed fourth person, fifth person, etc. Such terms are not absolute but can refer depending on context to any of several phenomena.

Some Algonquian languages and Salishan languages divide the category of third person into two parts: proximate for a more topical third person, and obviative for a less topical third person.[2] The obviative is sometimes called the fourth person.

The term fourth person is also sometimes used for the category of indefinite or generic referents, which work like one in English phrases such as "one should be prepared" or people in people say that..., when the grammar treats them differently from ordinary third-person forms. The so-called "zero person"[3][4] in Finnish and related languages, in addition to passive voice may serve to leave the subject-referent open. Zero person subjects are sometimes translated as "one," but the problem with that is that English language constructions involving one, e.g. "One hopes that will not happen," are rare and could be considered expressive of an overly academic tone to the majority of people, while Finnish sentences like "Ei saa koskettaa" ("Not allowed to touch") are recognizable to and used by young children in both languages.

See also


  1. Hattum, Ton van (2006). "First, Second, Third Person: Grammatical Person". Ton van Hattum.
  2. Harrigan, Atticus G.; Schmirler, Katherine; Arppe, Antti; Antonsen, Lene; Trosterud, Trond; Wolvengrey, Arok (2017-10-30). "Learning from the computational modelling of Plains Cree verbs". Morphology. Springer Nature. 27 (4): 565–598. doi:10.1007/s11525-017-9315-x. ISSN 1871-5621.
  3. Laitinen, Lea (2006). Helasvuo, Marja-Liisa; Campbell, Lyle (eds.). "0 person in Finnish: A grammatical resource for construing human evidence". Grammar from the Human Perspective: Case, space and person in Finnish. Amsterdam: Benjamins: 209–232.
  4. Leinonen, Marja (1983). "Generic zero subjects in Finnish and Russian". Scando-Slavica. 29 (1): 143–161. doi:10.1080/00806768308600841.
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