Verbs : 1st, 2nd and 3rd person…

We say that a verb has ‘persons’. The ‘person’ of the verb depends upon whom or what is its subject and whether the subject is singular or plural.

The issue of ‘person’ is also important when it comes to writing as it enables us to write from a particular point of view. There are three ‘persons’ and each ‘person’ has a singular and a plural option depending upon the subject of the verb…

1st person – this always includes the speaker/writer as the subject of the verb. If the speaker/writer is alone then this would be first person singular and the pronoun used would be ‘I’. If the speaker is included in a group then this would be first person plural and the pronoun would be ‘we’.

2nd Person – the speaker/writer is speaking to an individual or a group. In both cases the pronoun he would use is ‘you’.

3rd person – the speaker/writer is speaking to another person about somebody or something else (hence 3rd person). If the subject is singular then the pronoun would be ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’ and if the speaker/writer is referring to a group of people or objects it would be ‘they’.

The most common place where confusion occurs is in the verb ‘to be’ and whether to use ‘was’ or ‘were’. So here is a table to show the person, the appropriate pronoun and part of the verb for all three persons, singular and plural…

to be pronoun past present future
1st person singular I was am will be
2nd person singular you were are will be
3rd person singular he, she, it was is will be
1st person plural we were are will be
2nd person plural you were are will be
3rd person plural they were are will be

This video from Flocabulary does a pretty good job of explaining point of view (once you can get the ‘silly boys’ from dancing about!). There are a couple of useful exercises too..