Person in Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The four members of the British rock group the Beatles performing
The Beatles creatively used first, second, and third person in the lyrics for "I Am the Walrus".

 Wikimedia Commons

In English grammar, the category of person (etymology from the Latin persona, "mask") identifies the relationship between a subject and its verb, showing whether the subject is speaking about itself (first personI or we); being spoken to (second personyou); or being spoken about (third personhe, she, it, or they). Also called a grammatical person.

Personal pronouns are so called because they are the pronouns to which the grammatical system of person applies. Reflexive pronouns, intensive pronouns, and possessive determiners also show distinctions in person.

Examples and Observations

According to linquistics expert, William O'Grady, PhD, "A widely attested type of verbal inflection in human language involves person—a category that typically distinguishes among the first person (the speaker), the second person (the addressee), and the third person (anyone else). In many languages, the verb is marked for both person and number (singular or plural) of the subject. When one category is inflected for properties (such as person and number) of another, the first category is said to agree with the second....
"Modern English has a [comparatively] impoverished system of person and number agreement in the verb, and an inflectional affix is used only for the third person singular in the non-past tense." 

Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton

"I am
You are
We are Australian."

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

"I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together."

The Three Persons in English (present tense)

1. First person:

Walt Whitman

"I see great things in baseball."

The Talmud
"We see things as we are."

2. Second person:

George Bernard Shaw

"You see things, and you say 'Why?'"

3. Third person:

G.K. Chesterton

"The traveler sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he has come to see."

Oscar Wilde

"[M]urder is always a mistake. One should never do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner."

Julius Gordon

"Love is not blind: it sees more, not less."

Mike Tyson

"They see me as some sort of pathetic character."

The Forms of 'Be'

According to "The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar," "Be is unique among English verbs in having three distinctive person forms in the present tense (am, is, are) and two in the past tense (was, were). Other verbs have a distinctive form only for the third person singular of the present tense (e.g., has, does, wants, etc., as opposed to have, do, want, etc.)."

Sources

Aarts, Bas, Sylvia Chalker, and Edmund Weiner. The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar. 2nd ed, Oxford University Press, 2014.

Chesterton, G.K. Autobiography. Hutchinson & Co., 1936.

Lennon, John and Paul McCartney. "I Am the Walrus." Parlophone, 1967.

O'Grady, William et al. Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction. Bedford, 2001.

Shaw, George Bernard, "Back to Methuselah," Selected Plays With Prefaces, vol. 2, Dodd Mead & Co., 1949, p. 7.

Tyson, Mike. Quoted in Wallace Matthews, "Desperate Tyson Prepares For His Real Last Stand." The New York Sun, 23 June, 2004.

Whitman, Walt. With Walt Whitman in Camden by Horace Traubel, vol. 4, no. 508, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953.

Wilde, Oscar, "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, July 1890, pp. 1-100.

Woodley, Bruce and Dobe Newton. "I Am Australian." EMI Australia, 1997.