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First, Second and Third Person; Singular and Plural

I and we are first-person pronouns. A verb whose subject is for we is likewise said to be in the first person.

You is a second-person pronoun. A verb whose subject is you is similarly said to be in the second person.

He, she, ft and they are third-person pronouns. A verb whose subject is he, she, it or they is said to be in the third person.

  • followed them along the street. (first person)
  • We wondered what had happened to her. (first person)
  • You must come at once! (second person)
  • You paint amazing pictures. (second person)
  • She paints excellent pictures too. (third-person)
  • They saw the man they were looking for. (third-person)

A verb whose subject is a noun or a name is also in the third person:

  • The builders completed the job remarkably quickly.
  • The girls were watching television in their bedroom.
  • True happiness is hard to find.
  • Tom Joined us for tea later on.
  • Paris is the capital of France.
  • Alaska became the 49th state of the United States in 1959.

However, if there is a pronoun in the subject as well as a noun or name, the pronoun dictates what person the verb is:

  • Many staff dislike the new management. (third-person)
  • We staff dislike the new management. (first person)
  • You staff dislike the new management. (second person)

A noun or pronoun that refers to one person or thing is a singular noun or pronoun. A verb whose subject is a singular noun or pronoun is likewise said to be singular.

A noun or pronoun that refers to more than one person or thing is a plural noun or pronoun. A verb whose subject is a plural noun or pronoun is similarly said to be plural.

  • Coffee disagrees with me. (singular)
  • Coffee and tea disagree with me. (plural)
  • Jerry was here a moment ago. (singular)
  • Jerry and Harry were here a moment ago. (plural)
  • The cat followed me home. (singular)
  • The cats all followed me home. (plural)

For almost all verbs, the first and second person singular and the first, second and third person plural of the present tense are represented by a verb that is identical to the base form of the verb, while the third person singular verb ends in -s:

I comeyou comewe comethey comehe comes
walkyou walkwe walkthey walkshe walks
teachyou teachwe teachthey teachhe teaches

The verb be has three different forms for the present tense:

  • am
  • you/we/they are 
  • he/she/it is

The verb have is irregular in the third person singular: he/she/it has.

walkedyou walkedwe walkedhe walked
I hadyou hadthey hadshe had
I wentwe wentthey wenthe went

The verb be, however, has two different forms in the past tense:

  • l/he/she/it was
  • you/we/they were

Unlike other verbs, modal auxiliaries (that is, verbs such as can and will) only have one verb form for first, second and third person, singular and plural:

can singthey can singBUT ALSOhe can sing
you must gowe must goBUT ALSOshe must go
will fallthey will fallBUT ALSOhe will fall

Always check in your own writing that the verb in a sentence agrees with its true subject.

If the subject of the verb is in the first person (that is, it is for we), the verb must also be in the first person:

  • I am lost.
  • I have no money.
  • I is lost. (incorrect)
  • We are lost.
  • We have no money.
  • We has no money. (incorrect)

Similarly, if the subject of the verb is in the second person (i.e. you), the verb must be in the second person, and if the subject of the verb is in the third person (e.g. he, she, it, they, Harry, honesty, a man, the boys, etc), the verb must be in the third person:

  • You are quite right.
  • You is quite right. (incorrect)
  • She is quite right.
  • The boys are quite right.
  • Harry are quite right. (incorrect)

Again, if the subject of the verb is singular, the verb must be singular, and if the subject of the verb is plural, then the verb must be plural:

  • I was in France.
  • Harry is at school.
  • I were in France. (incorrect)
  • We were in France.
  • The boys are at school.
  • The boys is at school. (incorrect)

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