Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns. It also frequently affects verbs, sometimes nouns, and possessive relationships.
Grammatical person in English
In Indo-European languages, first-, second-, and third-person pronouns are typically marked for singular and plural form, and sometimes dual form as well (see grammatical number). Some languages, especially European, distinguish degrees of formality and informality. See T-V distinction.
Other languages use different classifying systems, especially in the plural pronouns. One frequently found difference not present in most Indo-European languages is a contrast between inclusive and exclusive "we", 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 they are addressing. 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 happens with the verb to be as follows:
- I am (first-person singular)
- you are/thou art (second-person singular)
- he, she, one or it is (third-person singular)
- we are (first-person plural)
- you are/ye are (second-person plural)
- they are (third-person plural)
The grammars 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, including among Algonquian languages and Salishan 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 works like one in English phrases such as "one should be prepared" or people in people say that..., when the grammar treats them differently from ordinary third-person forms. The so-called "zero person" (Laitinen 2006, Leinonen 1983) in Finnish and related languages, in addition to passive voice may serve to leave the subject-referent open. Zero person subjects are sometimes translated as "one," but the problem with that is that English language constructions involving one, e.g. "One hopes that will not happen," are rare and have an elitist ring to them, while Finnish sentences like "Ei saa koskettaa" ("0 cannot touch") are recognizable to, and even used by, young children.
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