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Traditional Grammatical Terminology
by A. G. Rigg


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5. Person

In PDE person is signalled by the personal pronouns only; in earlier English, verbal forms are affected.

5.1 First person of the speaker/writer self-referentially in singular number: (I, me, my, mine). In the plural when the speaker includes others in the same reference (we, us, our). Exalted persons (monarchs, popes) sometimes refer to themselves in the "royal plural" (we, us, our). Note also the authorial and editorial plural ("as we have have seen").

5.2 Second person: the direct addressee of an utterance (you, your). In standard PDE there is no distinction between singular and plural. In earlier English the singular was thou, thee, thy/thine, and ye (nominative, obsolete), you and your were confined to plural usage. The appropriate reply to the royal we (5.1) was naturally ye, you; from this usage developed the "polite plural" which was courteously extended to all addressees except intimates and inferiors. You is sometimes used indefinitely ("you find fossils in old quarries").

5.3 Third person: someone or something other than the speaker or addressee, distinguished by gender and number (he, she, it, they, and the derivative case forms)

5.4 In PDE only the 3rd person singular is distinguished in verbs, by final -s/-es ("she walks"). In earlier English the singular persons were distinguished in the present tense ("I walk", "thou walkest", "he walketh"); in the past tense only the second person singular was distinguished ("I/he spake", "thou spakest"). In Old English the system is somewhat more elaborate.


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