As a writer, it’s important to understand perspective, as the right POV can enhance your story, either by clarifying points to a reader or purposely making those points vague. We’re already look at first-person POV, and in this article we’ll break down the second person point of view and explore how to use it effectively.
Definition of Second Person Point of View
The second person point of view is used when a main character is referred to by second-person personal pronouns, like “you”. This also may include addressing the reader directly, as seen in the example below:
Ex. “You seem like the type of person that would be comfortable behind the wheel of a large truck, although you’ve never actually driven a vehicle like that before.”
It is helpful to determine whom the “you” is referring to from the context of the words preceding its usage. This includes the genre of the book is written in (see “Usage” below).
Grammar with Second Person Point of View
When using the second person POV, you are addressing the reader. The pronouns of the second person writing perspective are “you”, “your”, and “yours”, which can be used when addressing one or more persons.
Here is an example of the singular second-person:
Ex. “John, you need to do the laundry so that you’re clothes are ready for the morning.”
This is a plural second-person sentence:
Ex. “Thank you everyone for showing up to this conference. Without you and your dedication, this organization would not be able to function at its highest level.”
Here is the list of all of the pronouns used for the second person point of view:
(singular) “you” Ex. “You make me feel wonderful.”
(plural) “you” Ex. “All of you need to sit down and think this through.”
(singular) “you” Ex. “The boss wants you there first thing in the morning.”
(plural) “you” Ex. “They want you to learn together.”
(singular) “your” Ex. “Your car is beautiful.”
(plural) “yours” Ex. “Take what is yours and leave the rest.”
Usage of Second Person Perspective
The second person point of view is typically an informal way of addressing a reader that implies a rapport with the person it is addressing. For informal communication like emails and presentations, it is appropriate. Guidebooks, do-it-yourself manuals, instructional writing, self-help books, and other non-formal works use the second person point of view extensively to convey knowledge on a set of topics. One example of this includes the For Dummies series of books, which address the reader in a familiar and uncomplicated way.
It can also work as an element of persuasion related to advertising. Slogans like “What’s in your wallet?” (CapitalOne), “Have it your way” (Burger King), or “Statefarm is on your side” assume a relationship even before establishing one.
Because of the singular and plural similarities (“you” vs “you”), the second person perspective is a useful tool for rhetoric. Consider the following the statement:
“You need to stop all of your bad habits and start learning new ones.”
The reader/listener is left to decide how that statement applies to them personally; or, how it may apply to other people they know. Authority is implicit, as the speaker/narrator isn’t using the first person “we”, instead differentiating that “you” is being addressed, not the narrator. The narrator becomes a separate entity that imparts their knowledge.
The second person point of view serves as a literary device authors use to express a character’s inner monologue. Some authors use a different type of punctuation, like italics, to differentiate between what’s happening internally and externally.
Ex. “You look great. I marched up the stairs of the coffeeshop and felt all of the eyes of patrons on me as I tripped on the last step. You don’t look so great after all.”
Another literary technique is to use the second person writing perspective to break the 4th wall. This is especially useful in musical theatre, where the narrator disengages from the story and addresses the audience directly. One iconic example is from Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera:
“You may proclaim, good sirs, your fine philosophy But till you feed us, right and wrong can wait! Or is it only those who have the money Can enter in the land of milk and honey?”
Drawbacks to Second Person POV
The second person point of view has a few limitations. Some writers may use it as a way of demonstrating the inner monologue and conscience of the narrator. However, consistency is key, as repeatedly switching points of view from the second to the first can cause a bit of mental fatigue from the reader. Consider the following example:
“You never did anything right. I repeated this phrase over in my mind as I walked to the pier. Was I right in thinking this way about the past? I can’t be sure… and you’ll never know, either.”
The informal way of speaking in the second person point of view isn’t applicable to academic and formal writing environments unless it is used as a quotation or citation. Appealing directly to the reader of formal works tends to give the air of bias and persuasion that critics may find off-putting.
Examples of Second Person Point of View
One doesn’t have to look far to find examples of the second-person in everyday communication. Emails, advertisements, and informal documents are just a few of the places to find it.
The second person point of view is commonly used in popular or quasi-fictional written genres. Self-help books, like Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment” and Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, are popular example of the second-person in action. It is interesting to wonder if those books would be as successful if they were written exclusively in the first or third-person.
For those that grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, you may recall the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, where the reader is given instructions on how the story should proceed. Written in the second person, these books (and other types of interactive fiction and roleplaying) create a personal way of engaging the reader directly into the material.
It is also very applicable in fiction. Junot Diaz’s “Drown” is a compelling example of how the second person point of view can bring reader into the fold, through personal stories that speak beyond the surface of “you”.