Question Michelle Education

Essays: first person or third person

Should I use first person or third person when writing an essay?

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Answer Internal Staff

First person refers to the grammatical mode in which statements are indexed against the speaker. This produces sentences which use the pronouns I (singular) and we (plural). For example:

  • I think that the pears are nice this year.

By contrast, when using the third person, statements are indexed against neither the speaker nor the person they are speaking to, but to another party. This produces sentences which use the pronouns he, she or it. For example:

  • It is said that the pears are nice this year.

Because first person language reports the subjective state of the speaker, it can come across as untrustworthy - as a matter of opinion or perspective. On the other hand, third person language is used to report statements of objective fact, independent of the state of the speaker. For this reason, third person language appears to be more authoritative.

The decision over whether to use first or third person language therefore depends on the purpose of the essay. Academic essays are almost always concerned with presenting objective facts about the world (or at least, appearing to do so). As a result, you are almost always expected to use the third person when writing these types of essay.

However, for some courses you may be expected to write a reflective essay, which involves reporting your own feelings and experiences about a topic. For this type of assignment, you are almost always expected to use the first person, since this is appropriate to convey the authority of your subjective condition.