1st, 2nd, and 3rd Person Narratives

1st, 2nd, and 3rd Person Narratives Video

Most everyone is familiar with the idea of a narrator, the person who’s “behind” the story as it’s being told. But did you know that there’s more than one type of narrator? Being able to tell the difference can be difficult, so let’s take a closer look.

First Person

When you’re reading something from the perspective of a first-person narrator, it’s kind of like you’re reading someone’s diary. You get to hear someone’s unfiltered thoughts and emotions, and see other characters through their eyes.

Some singular keywords you can look for in the text are I, me, and my, and some plural keywords are we, our, and us.

An example of standard first-person narration is the popular children’s book, Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell:

I was now beginning to grow handsome; my coat had grown fine and soft, and was bright black. I had one white foot and a pretty white star on my forehead.

Now, you’ll notice that this example uses the pronouns I and my, which tells us the narrator is speaking in the first person.

First Person Omniscient

Let’s look at a subtype of first-person narration now called “first person omniscient.”

This type of narrator is very much like a regular first-person narrator, but instead of just relaying their own thoughts to the reader, they also know and discuss the thoughts and emotions of the other characters in the book.

It might be easier to remember the difference between first person and first person omniscient if you break up the word omniscient: omni meaning “all,” and scient meaning “knowing.” When we put these together, we come up with a word that means “all-knowing.”

If Black Beauty had been told by a first-person omniscient narrator, the excerpt we just looked at might have said something a little bit different, like this:

I was now beginning to grow handsome; when people looked at me they thought, “My, what a gorgeous horse he’s becoming.” My coat had grown fine and soft, and my owner felt happy every time he brushed me. I was bright black, with one white foot and a pretty white star on my forehead that reminded my owner of the North Star.


Second Person

Okay, let’s move on and talk about second-person narration. This type of narration is addressed to a singular audience member, who is actually involved in the story as a character.

One example of using second-person narration can be found in the novel The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin. While most of the novel is written in the third person, every chapter written about the character Essun is written in the second person. This makes the reader feel as though they are a character in the story.

You’re leaning on an old post that someone jammed up against the hill, maybe the remnants of a fence that ended here, drifting off with your hands tucked into your jacket pockets and your knees drawn up.

In this example, the author uses the second-person pronoun your to turn the reader into one of the characters.

Third Person

Now let’s take a look at the most common type of narration: third person. This type of narration uses words like she, he, or a character’s name to discuss the characters in the story. There are several different types of third-person narration, which makes it a flexible choice for a writer to use.

Objective Third Person

The first is called “objective third person,” which doesn’t include any thoughts or feelings belonging to the characters. You can think of this type of writing as if you’ve been asked to recount the factual details of an event, like if you were asked to give a report to a security officer about something you witnessed. That might look something like this:

The woman was wearing a pink sweatshirt with jeans. She walked into the store and looked around for a while. She walked over to the jewelry display, and after fiddling with the bracelets for a minute or two, she left the store. It wasn’t until later that the store manager realized there was a bracelet missing, and by that time, the woman was long gone.

This piece of writing only presents the observable facts, and there’s not much wiggle room for opinions or feelings to show up.

Subjective Third Person

If the author wanted to include thoughts of characters, they would need to write in subjective third person. That might look something like this:

Charlotte was wearing her favorite pink sweatshirt with jeans. She walked into the store and looked around for a while, trying to convince herself that what she was about to do was okay. She walked over toward the jewelry display, and thinking of her niece’s birthday, she slipped a bracelet into her purse. She tried to suppress the guilt she felt, promising herself that she’d come back and pay for the bracelet as soon as she could.

In this version of the same event, the narrator relays the character’s thoughts and feelings to the reader. This type of narration is also called “third person limited,” because the perspective is limited to only one character.

Third Person Omniscient

The final type of third-person narration is known as “third person omniscient.” We already talked about the meaning of the word omniscient, so it may be easy for you to figure out what this type of narration looks like. This type of narrator knows all of the characters’ thoughts and feelings and can choose which character they want to feature at will. If we take another look at our same scenario and rewrite it in third person omniscient, it might sound something like this:

Charlotte walked into the store and looked around for a while, trying to convince herself that what she was about to do was okay. Linda, the store manager, received a text from the guy she went on a first date with last night. She had really liked him, and was so excited that he’d already texted. Linda was staring at her phone and didn’t notice Charlotte as she slipped a bracelet into her purse and left the store. Philip, a customer looking for a gift for his mom, approached Linda and asked where the bracelets were. When Linda went over to the display, she was horrified to notice that there was a bracelet missing! She called security, and Philip was nice enough to give a statement to them. He felt really nervous that security would think he was guilty, but he tried to be as factual as possible.

This narration of the event has given us lots of details, which of course, made the narrative a lot longer, since it includes the thoughts and feelings of three people instead of just the basic facts. Notice that this type of narration can “jump” between characters whenever it serves the story best.

All right, we’ve talked about first, second, and third person narration today, including subtypes of each. Now you’ll be able to identify what kind of narrative you’re reading, and who is actually narrating the story!




by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: December 27, 2023