Second-Person Pronouns | List, Examples & Explanation
Second-person pronouns are words like “you” that refer to the person or people being spoken or written to. Like first- and third-person pronouns, they are a type of personal pronoun.
The second person is used frequently in everyday speech and even in some formal speech and writing, but it should be avoided in academic writing.
Second-person pronouns vary less in form than other kinds of personal pronouns. You can see all the forms in the table below, with more detailed explanation in the following sections.
Table of contents
- The second-person subject and object pronoun (“you”)
- The second-person possessive pronoun (“yours”)
- Second-person reflexive pronouns (“yourself” and “yourselves”)
- Second-person pronouns in academic writing
- Other (nonstandard) second-person pronouns
- Other interesting language articles
- Frequently asked questions
The second-person subject and object pronoun (“you”)
Unlike the first and third person, the second person makes no distinction between subject and object pronouns, using the same form, you, for both. This form is also used in both the singular and the plural, which can sometimes cause ambiguity.
As both the subject and object pronoun, you can be used as the subject of a verb (e.g., “you talk a lot”) and as the object of a verb or preposition (e.g., “he gave you something”). It can be used to address a single person or a group.
The second-person possessive pronoun (“yours”)
The second-person possessive pronoun yours stands for something that belongs to whomever you’re speaking to. Like “you,” it’s the same in the singular and the plural.
It’s closely related to the second-person possessive determiner your. The difference is that determiners must modify a noun (e.g., “your house”), while pronouns stand alone, replacing the noun (e.g., “I think this is yours”).
Second-person reflexive pronouns (“yourself” and “yourselves”)
The second-person reflexive pronouns are the only ones that differ depending on number: the singular form is yourself, the plural yourselves. Reflexive pronouns are used with reflexive verbs and in other contexts where the subject and object of a sentence are both in the second person (e.g., “you should wash yourself”).
The same words are also used as intensive pronouns, which are used to place greater emphasis on the person who carries out the action (e.g., “you’ll have to do it yourself”).
Second-person pronouns in academic writing
Addressing the reader directly with second-person pronouns is almost never appropriate in academic writing (e.g., in a research paper, thesis, essay).
You might be tempted to do so when making a generalization or pointing the reader to a piece of information. To avoid it, rephrase or use the impersonal pronoun “one.”
- In order to become a doctor, you must complete a rigorous education and years of training.
- In order to become a doctor, one must complete a rigorous education and years of training.
- As you can see in Figure 1.2, most respondents chose the second option.
- As can be seen in Figure 1.2, most respondents chose the second option.
When you’re directly addressing someone or some group of people, even if it’s in quite a formal context (e.g., a cover letter or an email message to your dissertation supervisor), it’s perfectly fine to use second-person pronouns.
Other (nonstandard) second-person pronouns
There are some other second-person pronouns that are not part of standard modern English—and thus should not be used in any formal context—but which you may encounter in everyday speech, in various dialects, or in older writing.
Archaic second-person pronouns
There used to be a clearer distinction between singular and plural, as well as between formal and informal, in English second-person pronouns.
In Early Modern English, an alternative set of pronouns beginning with “th” instead of “y” was used for the singular. The “y” pronouns we use today were only used for the plural and for formal speech or writing (whether singular or plural), and “ye” was sometimes used as an alternate subject pronoun.
|Singular formal||ye / you||you||yours||yourself|
|Plural||ye / you||you||yours||yourself|
“Y’all” and other plural forms
In modern English, plural forms of the second-person pronouns are sometimes used in everyday speech—not in any formal context. Different alternatives are used depending on the region. Examples are shown in the table below.
|y’all||Used in the US, especially in the South and in AAVE|
|yinz||Used mainly in Pittsburgh, PA, and the surrounding area|
|you guys||Use in the US and increasingly in Canada, the UK, and Australia; mostly used in a gender-neutral sense despite containing the word “guys”|
|you lot||Used in the UK and Australia|
|yous(e)||Used in Ireland and various regions of the UK, as well as other parts of the world such as Australia and parts of Canada|
Other interesting language articles
If you want to know more about nouns, pronouns, verbs, and other parts of speech, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations and examples.
Frequently asked questions
- Is “you” a pronoun?
Yes, you is a personal pronoun. Specifically, it’s a second-person pronoun that can be either singular or plural and is used as both the subject and object pronoun. It’s used to address someone directly in speech or writing.
Other personal pronouns include first-person pronouns like “I” (used to refer to yourself) and third-person pronouns such as “she” and “it” (used to refer to other people and things). There are also other kinds of pronouns, such as the demonstrative pronouns.
- Is “you” singular or plural?
The second-person pronoun you is used for both the singular and the plural (i.e., whether you’re addressing one person or a group). The same goes for the second-person possessive pronoun yours.
However, the second-person reflexive pronoun does have two forms, the singular yourself and the plural yourselves.
Nonstandard forms such as “y’all” are sometimes used to express the plural in different dialects of English, but they should not be used in a formal context.
- What are the first, second, and third person?
In grammar, person is how we distinguish between the speaker or writer (first person), the person being addressed (second person), and any other people, objects, ideas, etc. referred to (third person).
Person is expressed through the different personal pronouns, such as “I” (first-person pronoun), “you” (second-person pronoun), and “they” (third-person pronoun). It also affects how verbs are conjugated, due to subject-verb agreement (e.g., “I am” vs. “you are”).
In fiction, a first-person narrative is one written directly from the perspective of the protagonist. A third-person narrative describes the protagonist from the perspective of a separate narrator. A second-person narrative (very rare) addresses the reader as if they were the protagonist.
Sources in this article
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