Second-Person Point of View: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Richard Davis

Richard teaches college writing and has a master's degree in creative writing.

You've heard of first-person and third-person, but did you know that there's a point of view that exists between the two? In fact, you're experiencing that point of view right now. Come and learn the ins and outs of second-person point of view, reading examples from Italo Calvino and Richard Hugo.

What Is Second-Person Point of View?

When it comes to storytelling, you've probably heard the terms 'first-person' and 'third-person' tossed around. You've read first-person narratives that tell a story from inside a character's head (using 'I'), and you've encountered third-person narratives that describe a character's actions from the outside (such as, 'Mary walked to the park.'). Still, did you know that there's a point of view between first-person and third-person? Guess what? You're reading an example of it right now.

Whereas first-person uses 'I,' and third-person uses pronouns (like 'he' and 'she') and names (like 'Mary'), second-person point of view uses the word 'you' to describe the main character. In other words, you (the reader) are the central character in a piece of writing that uses second-person. However, in second-person, there is still an implied speaker telling the story, even though an 'I' might not appear at all. It may help to think of a second-person narrative as one person talking to a second person.

Uses in Fiction

Our first example of second-person point of view comes from Italo Calvino's 1979 novel If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. The first chapter (and every odd-numbered chapter after that) is told in second-person, addressing the reader's experience of reading the book. Because it draws the reader's attention to the fact that they are reading a work of fiction, this kind of storytelling is known as metafiction.

Reading a description of metafiction isn't as effective as experiencing it, however. To give you a better understanding of the term (and perhaps to inspire you to check out this strange, engaging novel), here are the first two paragraphs of If on a Winter's Night a Traveler:

'You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, 'No, I don't want to watch TV!' Raise your voice - they won't hear you otherwise - 'I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!' Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: 'I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!' Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone.

Find the most comfortable position: seated, stretched out, curled up, or lying flat. Flat on your back, on your side, on your stomach. In an easy chair, on the sofa, in the rocker, the deck chair, on the hassock. In the hammock, if you have a hammock. On top of your bed, of course, or in the bed. You can even stand on your hands, head down, in the yoga position. With the book upside down, naturally.'

Uses in Poetry

For our second example of second-person point of view, let's turn our attention to poetry. Here is the first stanza of Richard Hugo's 'Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg:'

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn't last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he's done.

As you can see, Hugo's use of second-person narrative is very different from Calvino's. Hugo doesn't seem as interested in making the reader think about the act of reading. Rather, he invites the reader to enter the landscape he goes on to describe, even giving us a sense of the town's emotional climate.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member

Already a member? Log In

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 100 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,900 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Click "next lesson" whenever you finish a lesson and quiz. Got It
You now have full access to our lessons and courses. Watch the lesson now or keep exploring. Got It
You're 25% of the way through this course! Keep going at this rate,and you'll be done before you know it.
1
The first step is always the hardest! Congrats on finishing your first lesson.
5
Way to go! If you watch at least 30 minutes of lessons each day you'll master your goals before you know it.
10
Congratulations on earning a badge for watching 10 videos but you've only scratched the surface. Keep it up!
20
You've just watched 20 videos and earned a badge for your accomplishment!
50
You've just earned a badge for watching 50 different lessons. Keep it up, you're making great progress!
100
You just watched your 100th video lesson. You have earned a badge for this achievement!
200
Congratulations! You just finished watching your 200th lesson and earned a badge!
300
Congratulations! You just finished watching your 300th lesson and earned a badge!
500
You are a superstar! You have earned the prestigious 500 video lessons watched badge.
1K
Incredible. You have just entered the exclusive club and earned the 1000 videos watched badge.
20
You have earned a badge for watching 20 minutes of lessons.
50
You have earned a badge for watching 50 minutes of lessons.
100
You have earned a badge for watching 100 minutes of lessons.
250
You have earned a badge for watching 250 minutes of lessons.
500
You have earned a badge for watching 500 minutes of lessons.
1K
You have earned a badge for watching 1000 minutes of lessons.