First-Person Pronouns | List, Examples & Explanation
First-person pronouns are words such as “I” and “us” that refer either to the person who said or wrote them (singular), or to a group including the speaker or writer (plural). Like second- and third-person pronouns, they are a type of personal pronoun.
They’re used without any issue in everyday speech and writing, but there’s an ongoing debate about whether they should be used in academic writing.
There are four types of first-person pronouns—subject, object, possessive, and reflexive—each of which has a singular and a plural form. They’re shown in the table below and explained in more detail in the following sections.
First-person subject pronouns (“I” and “we”)
When used as the subject of a verb, the first-person pronoun takes the form I (singular) or we (plural). Note that unlike all other pronouns, “I” is invariably capitalized.
A subject is the person or thing that performs the action described by the verb. In most sentences, it appears at the start or after an introductory phrase, just before the verb it is the subject of.
First-person object pronouns (“me” and “us”)
When used as the object of a verb or preposition, the first-person pronoun takes the form me (singular) or us (plural). Objects can be direct or indirect, but the object pronoun should be used in both cases.
- A direct object is the person or thing that is acted upon (e.g., “she threatened us”).
- An indirect object is the person or thing that benefits from that action (e.g., “Jane gave me a gift”).
- An object pronoun should also be used after a preposition (e.g., “come with me”).
First-person possessive pronouns (“mine” and “ours”)
First-person possessive pronouns are used to represent something that belongs to you. They are mine (singular) and ours (plural).
They are closely related to the first-person possessive determiners my (singular) and our (plural). The difference is that determiners must modify a noun (e.g., “my book”), while pronouns stand on their own (e.g., “that one is mine”).
First-person reflexive pronouns (“myself” and “ourselves”)
A reflexive pronoun is used instead of an object pronoun when the object of the sentence is the same as the subject. The first-person reflexive pronouns are myself (singular) and ourselves (plural). They occur with reflexive verbs, which describe someone acting upon themselves (e.g., “I wash myself”).
The same words can also be used as intensive pronouns, in which case they place greater emphasis on the person carrying out the action (e.g., “I’ll do it myself”).
First-person pronouns in academic writing
While first-person pronouns are used without any problem in most contexts, there’s an ongoing debate about their use in academic writing. They have traditionally been avoided in many academic disciplines for two main reasons:
- To maintain an objective tone
- To keep the focus on the material and not the author
However, the first person is increasingly standard in many types of academic writing. Some style guides, such as APA, require the use of first-person pronouns (and determiners) when referring to your own actions and opinions. The tendency varies based on your field of study:
- The natural sciences and other STEM fields (e.g., medicine, biology, engineering) tend to avoid first-person pronouns, although they accept them more than they used to.
- The social sciences and humanities fields (e.g., sociology, philosophy, literary studies) tend to allow first-person pronouns.
Avoiding first-person pronouns
If you do need to avoid using first-person pronouns (and determiners) in your writing, there are three main techniques for doing so.
|First-person sentence||Technique||Revised sentence|
|We interviewed 12 participants.||Use the third person||The researchers interviewed 12 participants.|
|I argue that the theory needs to be refined further.||Use a different subject||This paper argues that the theory needs to be refined further.|
|I checked the dataset for missing data and outliers.||Use the passive voice||The dataset was checked for missing data and outliers.|
Each technique has different advantages and disadvantages. For example, the passive voice can sometimes result in dangling modifiers that make your text less clear. If you are allowed to use first-person pronouns, retaining them is the best choice.
Using first-person pronouns appropriately
If you’re allowed to use the first person, you still shouldn’t overuse it. First-person pronouns (and determiners) are used for specific purposes in academic writing.
|Use the first person …||Examples|
|To organize the text and guide the reader through your argument||
|To report methods, procedures, and steps undertaken||
|To signal your position in a debate or contrast your claims with another source||
Avoid arbitrarily inserting your own thoughts and feelings in a way that seems overly subjective and adds nothing to your argument:
- In my opinion, …
- I think that …
- I dislike …
Whether you may or may not refer to yourself in the first person, it’s important to maintain a consistent point of view throughout your text. Don’t shift between the first person (“I,” “we”) and the third person (“the author,” “the researchers”) within your text.
- The researchers interviewed 12 participants, and our results show that all were in agreement.
- We interviewed 12 participants, and our results show that all were in agreement.
- The researchers interviewed 12 participants, and the results show that all were in agreement.
The editorial “we”
Regardless of whether you’re allowed to use the first person in your writing, you should avoid the editorial “we.” This is the use of plural first-person pronouns (or determiners) such as “we” to make a generalization about people. This usage is regarded as overly vague and informal.
Broad generalizations should be avoided, and any generalizations you do need to make should be expressed in a different way, usually with third-person plural pronouns (or occasionally the impersonal pronoun “one”). You also shouldn’t use the second-person pronoun “you” for generalizations.
- When we are given more freedom, we can work more effectively.
- When employees are given more freedom, they can work more effectively.
- As we age, we tend to become less concerned with others’ opinions of us.
- As people age, they tend to become less concerned with others’ opinions of them.
Frequently asked questions
- Is “we” first-person?
Yes, the personal pronoun we and the related pronouns us, ours, and ourselves are all first-person. These are the first-person plural pronouns (and our is the first-person plural possessive determiner).
If you’ve been told not to refer to yourself in the first person in your academic writing, this means you should also avoid the first-person plural terms above. Switching from “I” to “we” is not a way of avoiding the first person, and it’s illogical if you’re writing alone.
If you need to avoid first-person pronouns, you can instead use the passive voice or refer to yourself in the third person as “the author” or “the researcher.”
- What is a personal pronoun?
Personal pronouns are words like “he,” “me,” and “yourselves” that refer to the person you’re addressing, to other people or things, or to yourself. Like other pronouns, they usually stand in for previously mentioned nouns (antecedents).
They are called “personal” not because they always refer to people (e.g., “it” doesn’t) but because they indicate grammatical person (first, second, or third person). Personal pronouns also change their forms based on number, gender, and grammatical role in a sentence.
- What are the first, second, and third person?
In grammar, person is how we distinguish between the speaker or writer (first person), the person being addressed (second person), and any other people, objects, ideas, etc. referred to (third person).
Person is expressed through the different personal pronouns, such as “I” (first-person pronoun), “you” (second-person pronoun), and “they” (third-person pronoun). It also affects how verbs are conjugated, due to subject-verb agreement (e.g., “I am” vs. “you are”).
In fiction, a first-person narrative is one written directly from the perspective of the protagonist. A third-person narrative describes the protagonist from the perspective of a separate narrator. A second-person narrative (very rare) addresses the reader as if they were the protagonist.
Sources in this article
We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.This Scribbr article Sources Show all sources (3)