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What is Grammatical Person?

By Ken Black
Updated May 23, 2024
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The grammatical person is a reference to the person or thing in a speaker’s or writer’s comments. The speaker may be referring to himself or herself, directly to another person, or about another person. The grammatical person normally affects the form of verb used in a sentence.

Many people can better understand what a grammatical person is by referring to the similar concept introduced in literature, which is known as a point of view. A grammatical person can referred to as a first person, second person or third person. It is known as a deictic reference, which is defined as a word that indicates identity or physical location based on the perspective of the speaker.

In grammar, the person referred to in a portion of speech, usually a sentence, determines a great deal. In some cases, the verbs themselves can take the place of the grammatical person, especially in foreign languages. However, in English, the grammatical person is nearly always mentioned, with the possible exception being those references to the second person.

A grammatical person reference in the first person is when the speaker is speaking about himself or herself. It could also be a group of people speaking about themselves and thus can either singular or plural. "I have the money," is an example of a grammatical first person reference.

A grammatical person reference can also be made in the second person. This may or may not include the use of the word "you" in English. If the context is clear without the deictic reference, it likely will not be used. "You have the money," is an example of a second person reference.

In the third person, the reference to the grammatical person deals with those the speaker is talking about, but not directly to. In English, common words used in the third-person include he, she, it and they. "She has the money," is an example of a third person reference. If the reference is third person plural, the form of the verb also changes as in the case of, "They have the money."

In many cases, the grammatical person in English makes no difference in verb forms. In examples given in the previous paragraphs, the verb form only changed once, in the third person singular. This is a peculiarity in the English language and is an exception to the way many other languages work. In many languages, verb forms change nearly every time the grammatical person changes.

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Discussion Comments
By Denha — On Jan 16, 2011

While they are way less popular, I really enjoy stories done in second person. They just give such a different spin to nearly any storyline, like reading a "choose your own adventure" book where you don't get any choices.

By vogueknit17 — On Jan 14, 2011

Most stories are written in either first person, third person, or some form of omniscient person. While the difference between first person and third person is fairly easy to understand, omniscient views are harder to distinguish.

The easiest way to tell if a narrator is omniscient is whether or not you can see into multiple characters' thoughts, or if there is or is not a certain character who is always present. If you can read more than one character's feelings or have all characters moving in and out of scenes, the narrator probably knows everything going on with everyone.

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