First, second and third person accounts

A label titled ‘Personal pronouns’ has six images around it showing examples of first person ‘I/me’ and ‘We/us’, second person ‘You’ and third person ‘She/her’, He/him and ‘They/them’

A story has to be 'told' to the reader and a 'narrator' is needed to do this. A narrator's voice can be first, second or third person. Here is a quick summary:

  • First person uses 'I' or 'we' to tell the story. In this case, the narrator is a character and you will read about events from their point of view. You are more likely to be able to relate to and sympathise with their feelings because of this.
  • Second person uses 'you'. It is not often used in fiction texts and it's rare to find a story written entirely from this perspective (try writing a piece in the second person to see how difficult it is). However, some fiction texts, such as gamebooks (choose your own adventure) use this perspective.
  • Third person uses 'he', 'she', 'it' or 'they'. The narrator of the story will usually be the writer. Some texts will give many different characters' viewpoints, but others will focus on one character, the hero or heroine, and the reader will usually relate to and sympathise with them more than others.

Task

Have a look at the three extracts below. In each case, read through and decide which 'person' each one is written in.

You can check your answers below each extract.

Question

You see, frozen into the ice wall, an ornate trunk open and filled with gold and jewels. You hack away at the ice until you reach the trunk.

Caverns of the Snow Witch by Ian Livingstone

It is written in the second person. The writer is talking directly to you.

Question

Mr Fogg's wardrobe was amply supplied and in the best taste. Each pair of trousers, coat, and vest bore a number, indicating the time of year and season at which they were in turn to be laid out for wearing; and the same system was applied to the master's shoes.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

It is written in the third person. The writer is telling you about Mr Fogg's clothing and how it is arranged.

Question

I continued walking in this manner for some time, endeavouring by bodily exercise to ease the load that weighed upon my mind. I traversed the streets without any clear conception of where I was or what I was doing.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

It is written in the first person. The writer is telling the story from the perspective of one of the characters.