Point of View — First, Second, & Third Person

Malcolm McKinsey
Written by
Malcolm McKinsey
Edited by
Courtney Adamo
Fact-checked by
Paul Mazzola

Point of view definition

In English, the point of view is the narrator's position or perspective through which the story is being communicated. An author's point of view tells the reader who the person is experiencing the event or the topic of the writing.

All types of writing — fiction, song lyrics, nonfiction — are written from a point of view.

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First, Second, And Third Person

First, second, and third person are the three main types of point of view.

  • First person is the I / we perspective

  • Second person is the you perspective

  • Third person is the she / he / they / it perspective

The author chooses a point of view to relate the story as if you were experiencing it, to force you into the story, or to allow the author to show different points of view.

Point of view examples

  1. First Person POV (You are experiencing it) – "My heart leaped into my throat as I turned and saw a frightening shadow."

  2. Second Person POV (Force you into the story) – "You turn and see a frightening shadow."

  3. Third Person POV (Show different points of view) – "The children turned and saw the frightening shadow. They were unaware a cat had walked close to the low-hung lantern."

How to identify point of view

Identifying a point of view in a writer's work can sometimes be challenging. The best way to find the point of view is to skip the dialogue, go to the narration, and look at the pronouns used in the narrative:

  • I, me, my, mine, myself, we, our, ours, ourselves — First person

  • You, your, yours, yourself — Second person

  • She, her, hers, herself, he, him, his, himself, they, them, themselves, their, theirs — Third person

Point of view pronouns
1st, 2nd, 3rd Person Subject Object Possessive Reflective
det. Pron.
Singular 1st I me my mine myself
2nd you you your yours yourself
3rd male he him his his himself
female she her her hers herself
neuter it it its its itself
generic or 4th person one one one's oneself
Plural 1st we use our ours ourselves
2nd you you your yours yourselves
3rd they them their theirs themselves

Identifying a point of view
Identifying a point of view

First person point of view

Usually, we speak in the first person when we talk about ourselves, our opinions, or our experiences.

Anytime a writer wants to share another person's life, you will see the first-person perspective. With a first-person view, every person reading the passage sees into the character's life.

First person pov
First person pov

The first-person point of view is identified by singular pronouns such as; me, my, I, mine, and myself or plural first person pronouns like we, us, our, and ourselves.

First person Pronouns
Singular Plural
I Our
Me Ourselves
Mine We
My Us

John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the song, “In My Life” in first person:

There are places I'll remember All my life, though some have changed Some forever, not for better Some have gone and some remain All these places had their moments With lovers and friends, I still can recall Some are dead and some are living In my life, I've loved them all

New Yorker magazine writer and children's book author E.B. White often wrote in the first person, especially in his nonfiction essays. This excerpt is from "Goodbye to Forty-Eighth Street":

One day a couple of weeks ago, I sat for a while staring moodily at a plaque that had entered my life largely as a result of some company's zest for promotion.

Choose first person when you want the reader to go along for the ride with you. You direct the action, sure, but the reader feels it. Consider these famous first-person plural words:

We the People of the United States in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preamble of us constitution - first person example
Preamble of us constitution - first person example

Novels from around 1900 to the present usually show this active, engaged point of view. Tasks ideal for the first person (singular or plural) include:

  • Autobiographies

  • Journals or diaries

  • Fiction

  • Essays

  • Blogs

  • Reading records

  • Song lyrics

  • Poems

  • Letters (formal or friendly)

Places to avoid the first person:

  • Academic work

  • Instructions

Types of first person

First person narration can take different forms:

  • Reliable – the writer's character speaks the truth

  • Unreliable – the writer's character is hiding something; they are an unreliable narrator

  • First-person central – the narrator is the main character and central to the plot

  • First-person peripheral – the narrator is a witness, but not the main character

To read a gripping first-person narrative, revisit Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy.

Second person point of view

Second person point of view is known as the “you” perspective. It is the perspective of the person or persons that the narrator is addressing. The second person perspective is identifiable by the author's use of second-person pronouns: you, yourself, your, yours, or yourselves.

Second person pronouns
Singular Plural
You You
Your Your
Yours Yours
Yourself Yourselves
  You all (y'all)

Second person pov
Second person pov

The second person point of view attempts to turn the reader into the character. It is seldom used in novels but does give an immediate jolt.

Second person point of view examples

The use of second-person perspective in novels or stories is rare, but it does exist. Consider this example from fiction, "Earth and Ashes" by Atiq Rahimi and Erdag Goknar:

With your back to the autumn sun, you are squatting against the iron railings of the bridge that links the two banks of the dry riverbed north of Pul-i-Khumri.

Second person helps to deeply immerse new readers in many children's books. The entirety of "How to Babysit a Grandpa" is written as a second-person book of instructions:

As soon as your grandpa says, “I give up,” jump out and shout, “Here I am!”

The second person point of view is perfectly natural for recipes and directions. Here is a way to make lemonade, written in the second person:

  1. You need six lemons, six cups of cold water, and one cup of sugar.

  2. You'll need a large pitcher for mixing everything and a juicer.

  3. Before you juice the lemons, you can make your work easier by rolling the lemons on the counter, hard.

  4. Then you just juice them normally.

  5. You combine the fresh lemon juice, water, and sugar in the pitcher.

  6. Stir; you may want to adjust sweetness or water to taste.

Using second person point of view
Using second person point of view

With instructions and directions, second person can be an “understood” point of view:

“Turn to page 178 and solve problems 6 through 10.”

The understood but unwritten subject of that sentence is “You”, the pronoun is just left out.

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Third person point of view

The third-person point of view belongs to the people or person the narrator is referring to. Third-person pronouns are she, he, her, him, hers, his, herself, himself, it, its, itself, they, their, theirs, them and themselves.

Third person pronouns
Singular Plural
She They
He Them
Her Their
Him Theirs
Hers Themselves

For the writer who must tell several interwoven stories, provide psychological distance between the subject and the reader, or who needs to stay neutral, nothing beats the third-person viewpoint.

All academic writing, most advertising, many novels, and most quotations or aphorisms are written in the third person.

Third person point of view
Third person point of view

Third person limited

The third-person limited point of view is when the narrator only has some access to the experiences and thoughts of the characters. Many times, the third person limited perspective limits the narrators access to the thoughts and experiences of just one character.

Third person omniscient

The third-person omniscient point of view is when the narrator has access to all the experiences and thoughts of all the characters in the story. An omniscient narrator knows the main character's thoughts and those of every other character in the novel or short story.

Third person point of view examples

Here is a passage from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, showing the power of third person:

Harry moved in front of the tank and looked intently at the snake. He wouldn't have been surprised if it had died of boredom itself...

In fiction, third person allows a writer to put the reader into the heads of all the characters, explain important plot points, and present information in a seemingly neutral way.

Speaking In Third Person

Speaking in the third person is not typical, but people do it. It can be an excellent  comedic effect or to grab someone's attention.

Here is an example of Larry speaking in the third person:

Fourth person point of view

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The fourth person point of view is a term used for indefinite or generic referents. A common example in the English language is the word one as in “one would think that's how it works.” This example sentence is referring to a generic someone.

You may also see the fourth person point of view called the third person generic.

Choosing a point of view

We all like to write in a natural way. As a writer, you have a duty to your reader to think carefully about your point of view. Many writers rewrite their work if the point of view seems awkward.

That paragraph went from first person to second person to third person, all in just three sentences!

Choosing a point of view
Choosing a point of view

The first-person point of view or a first-person narrator can fool a reader into trusting the narrator when the narrator is not a reliable reporter (great for mysteries, recounted tales, and fictional confessionals).

Many great novels such as "The Great Gatsby" are written from a first-person perspective. Another classic in first person POV is Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." It is clear who is narrating with the line "Call me Ishmael."

The second person is suitable for simple, direct storytelling (for children, recipes, assembly instructions, and the like).

A third person narrator creates the most distance between events and the reader. It is almost always seen as a reliable, neutral viewpoint. With the third person, the author can select the point of view of a single character or be omniscient (all-knowing, all present) and move in and out of the minds of all the characters.

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