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Mixing up first, second and third-person points of view

Mixing up first, second and third-person points of view: A common mistake in writing

Let’s start with an overview of what is meant by the First, Second and Third-person points of view.

The third person is the most common form of narrative. Most novels and most academic writing are in the third person. The third person is writing about someone else. An easy way to remember this is to imagine a documentary being made about someone, documenting what is happening to that person. The writer would talk about what he or she did.

The second person is more like an interview or a sales pitch. The salesperson is saying how you can benefit.

The first person is like a writer writing about themselves and their experiences (I).  Think of the movie ‘The Blair Witch Project’ where the point of view is from the person holding the camera.

Mixing up first, second and third-person points of view: A common mistake in writing

When reviewing articles, I find that some people mix up the first, second, and third-person points of view throughout an article; this can be very confusing to the reader. The reader does not know who is being addressed or from whom the address is being given. If the reader is confused about who talking or being talked about, they might stop reading.

PerspectivesWhat is the first-person perspective?

The writer is relating their point of view, with pronouns like ‘I, me, my, mine.’ Writing in the first person is suitable for a narrative style of writing novels, in biographies and memoirs. Writing in the first person is suitable for blogs when telling a personal story. The first person engages the reader and adds a personal touch.  In novels, the reader would see through the eyes of the main character.


Examples of the first person:

  • From F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gadsby” 
    • “I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
  • A movie in the first-person perspective is The Blair Witch Project

What is the second-person perspective?

Writing in the second person addresses other people, the ‘you’ perspective. The Second person pronouns include ‘you, your, yourself, himself, herself.’ The second-second person perspective is common in advertising. An example with a call to action: “Call now, and you will receive a free gift.”

Politicians love giving speeches in the second person. Politicians can tell the audience that they identify with the wants and interests of the audience.  For example: If you vote for me, your taxes will be reduced by 10%.”.

Rocket Languages English

What is the third-person perspective?

The third-person perspective is used when talking about other people. The third-person pronouns include “they, them, he, him, she hers.” The third-person perspective is the most typical novel writing style. Technical and professional writing is mostly common in the third-person.

What I am not saying

I am not saying that you should only use one point of view in an article. I am saying that when the perspective is changed, it should be clear that the perspective has changed. For example.

I sometimes start an article telling a story about my personal experience,’I’.

In a different section of the article under a different heading, I will switch to the third person. Under a different heading there is no confusion.

Conclusion

Be clear on who is saying what. If you are relating your experience then don’t suddenly switch to what someone else said and who they are saying it to. Pay attention to the first person pronouns being used.
Grammarly logoIf you need help with writing, Grammarly is a valuable tool. 

Aaron Skudder

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this educative and informative article, its ready true that most people mistake these three point of views for each other, the first person, second person, and third person point of view, and this can be as disastrous as it could be because the reader will definitely not know who is who. Please, the first person point of view, must it always be about you or it can just be in form of a narrative?? Thanks and pls I’ll be expecting answers.

    • Yes.  Naratives can be first person ‘I’.  Narratives (storytelling) are more commonly third-person

  2. Circumstance being described and the current issue of discourse often contribute to the reasons for change in perspective and the various perspective to be used while communicating. It is generally supposed to be one perspective for each narration but due to the dynamism present in Enlglush language, virtually anything can be changed too. Though most people do not know about this and as simple as it seems, getting it right would help to improve our knowledge with communication. But I would like to know better clarification between the second persona and the third person point of view. You gave example of “him” and “himself”. Is there any difference?

    • Himself is a way of referring back to the object of the sentence ‘Him or he’.  Himself is a reflexive pronoun.

      Himself can only be a subject in a sentence, never an object.

  3. Lan and Aaron, I am delighted to find your site.  I am from Houston, Texas, and retired to Latin America 3 1/2 years ago.  Currently, my wife and I live in Medellin, Colombia, and I come across people who are struggling to learn English all the time.  I read through the article on first, second and third person, and pronunciation errors made by Spanish learners of English.  I don’t envy them especially with the different pronunciation of our vowels.  

    One thing that impresses me about Spanish is that each of the vowels is always pronounced the same way.  It makes it much easier to pronounce words.  I just wish I had started much earlier trying to learn Spanish.

    We are starting a Christian church for English speakers, and several of our participants are Colombians who are studying English.  The resources you are providing are amazing.  I know many people here who teach ESL and I will tell them about your site.  

    • Hi Steve.  I am glad my website is useful to you and your friends in Colombia.  I am very keen on Spanish and have been learning for two years.  Spanish is more consistent in pronunciation and grammatical rules than English.  

  4. Thank you for clarifying when and what the person is using. It’s very informative. But I would ask you if you want to explain a little to the third person, how and when to use ,,it”. Thanks.

    • The third person is the most common form of narrative. Most novels and most academic writing are in the third person. The third person is writing from the perspective of someone else. An easy way to remember this is to imagine a documentary being made about someone, documenting what is happening to that person. The writer would talk about what he or she did. The second person is more like an interview or a sales pitch. The salesperson is saying how you can benefit. The first person is like a writer writing about themselves and their experiences (I).

    • For blogs, it is a safe bet to write in the third-person perspective for clarity and to avoid confusion. The third-person is objective and delivers facts. It is ok to talk in the first person if you are relating your personal experience, however, your experience is more subjective. Write in the second person to list the benefits the reader will receive. Do not over-use the second-person, people get tired of the sales pitch. It is most important not to mix up perspectives in a sentence or paragraph.

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