Grammatical person

Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to the participant role of a referent, such as the speaker, the addressee, and others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns. It also frequently affects verbs, sometimes nouns, and possessive relationships as well.

English traditionally distinguishes three grammatical persons:

The personal pronouns I and we are said to be in the first person. The speaker uses this in the singular to refer to himself or herself; in the plural, to speak of a group of people including the speaker.

The personal pronoun you is in the second person. It refers to the addressee. You is used in both the singular and plural; thou is the archaic second-person singular pronoun.

All other pronouns and all nouns are in the third person. Anyone or anything other than the speaker and the addressee is referred to in the third person.

When used as adjectives, they should be hyphenated like first-person, second-person, and third-person. The grid below shows what different combinations of tense and grammatical person are generally appropriate:

           |Past         |Present        |Future               |
|1st Person|Novels       |Wills          |Shopping lists       |
|2nd Person|Text books   |Choose Your Own|Ransom notes         |
|          |             |Adventure books|                     |
|3rd Person|Novels       |Plays          |Instructions         |

In Indo-European languages, first-, second-, and third-person pronouns are all marked for singular and plural forms, and sometimes dual forms as well (see grammatical number). Some languages, especially in Western Europe, distinguish degrees of formality and informality (see T-V distinction).

Other languages use different classifying schemes, especially in the plural pronouns. One frequently found difference not present in most Indo-European languages is a contrast between inclusive and exclusive, a distinction of first-person pronouns of including or excluding the addressee.

Other languages have much more elaborate systems of formality that go well beyond the T-V distinction, and use many different pronouns and verb forms that express the speaker's relationship with the people she addresses. Many Malayo-Polynesian languages, such as Javanese and Balinese are well known for their complex systems of honorifics; Japanese and Korean also have similar systems to a lesser extent.

In many languages, the verb takes a form dependent on this person and whether it is singular or plural. In English, this clearly happens with the verb to be as follows:

  • I am (first-person singular)
  • thou art (second-person singular, extinct or archaic)
  • he, she, or it is (third-person singular)
  • we are (first-person plural)
  • you are (second-person plural/singular)
  • they are (third-person plural)

Additional persons

The grammar of some languages divide the semantic space into more than three persons. The extra categories may be termed fourth person, fifth person, etc. Such terms are not absolute but can refer depending on context to any of several phenomena.

Some languages, the most well-known examples being Algonquian languages, divide the category of third person into two parts: proximate for a more topical third person and obviative for a less topical third person. The obviative is sometimes called the fourth person.

The term fourth person is also sometimes used for the category of indefinite or generic referents, that work like one in English phrases such as "one should be prepared", when the grammar treats them differently from ordinary third-person forms.

Use of grammatical person in creative media

In literature, person is used to describe the viewpoint from which the narrative is presented. Although second-person perspectives are occasionally used, the most commonly encountered are first and third person. Third person omniscient specifies a viewpoint in which readers are provided with information not available to characters within the story; without this qualifier, readers may or may not have such information.

In movies and videogames first- and third-person are often used to describe camera viewpoints; the former being a character's own, and the latter being the more familiar "general" camera showing a scene. The second-person may also be used.

For example, in a horror film, the first-person perspective of an antagonist could become a second-person perspective on a potential victim's actions. A third-person shot of the two characters could be used to show the narrowing distance between them.

In videogames, a first-person perspective is used most often in the first-person shooter genre, such as in Doom. Third-person perspectives on characters are normally used in the adventure genre, for example Resident Evil. Since the arrival of 3D computer graphics in games it is often possible for the player to switch between first- and third-person perspectives at will. This is often to improve accuracy of weapons use in generally third-person games, or to give a better idea of the positioning of the player's character in a first-person game.

Text-based interactive fiction conventionally has description written in the second person (though exceptions exist), telling the character what she or he is seeing and doing. This practice is also encountered occasionally in text-based segments of graphical games.

One of the few examples of a second-person perspective in a modern videogame is in Metal Gear Solid. During one set-piece battle, attempting to enter the first-person view instead shows the antagonist's view of the player's avatar.

See also

ja:人称 zh:人称


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