When to use second and third-person pronouns (and when to leave them out).

This week we discuss second and third-person pronouns.  From our lesson last week, recall that a pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun—such as “I” and “me” in the first-person singular.

The second-person pronoun—“you”—is used to refer to the person (or people) being spoken or written to, e.g.,

Gandalf:  You shall not pass!


Caterpillar:  Who … are… you?

Alice:  Why, I hardly know, sir.  I’ve changed so much since this morning, you see …

Caterpillar:  No, I do not C, explain yourself.

Alice:  I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, you see, because I’m not myself, you know.

Caterpillar:  I do not know.

Alice:  I can’t put it any more clearly, sir, because it isn’t clear to me.

Second-person pronouns—and, for that matter, first-person pronouns—are almost never used in legal briefs.  Remember, when writing to the court you are writing to persuade.  The judge is not interested in your personal opinions—only your well-researched and presented arguments.  So when writing to the court, the pronoun of choice is usually the third-person pronoun “she,” “he,” “her,” “him,” and “it”—which is used to refer to the person, people, or things being spoken or written about.  The use of the third-person pronoun puts distance between the reader and the writer (or what is written about), e.g.,

Arguably, therefore, Smith could have moved for summary judgment by stating that the Joneses have no evidence that he was involved in the entrepreneurial aspects of his legal practice.  But he did more than that.  He identified specific portions of the Joneses’ Complaint that show that their claim is not based on the “entrepreneurial aspects” of Smith’s legal practice.  That showing satisfied Smith’s burden of production.

Finally, because no list of examples would be complete without a Star Wars quote, here is an example of the proper use of the first and third-person pronouns—all in one awesome quote from The Empire Strikes Back:

Darth Vader:  What is thy bidding, my master?

The Emperor:  There is a great disturbance in the Force.

Darth Vader:  I have felt it.

The Emperor:  We have a new enemy:  Luke Skywalker.

Darth Vader:  Yes, my master.

The Emperor:  He could destroy us.

Darth Vader:  He is just a boy.  Obi-Wan can no longer help him.

The Emperor:  The Force is strong with him.  The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.

Darth Vader:  If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally …

The Emperor:  Yes.  Yes.  He would be a great asset.  Can it be done?

Darth Vader:  He will join us, or die, master.

That is all for now …

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