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People always say that there 6 types of person in the conjugation of a verb:

  1. I
  2. he, she, it
  3. you (single)
  4. we
  5. you (plural)
  6. they

Somehow there is another group of people say that there are only 3 persons. What make two sides of opinion? What are the 3 persons?

  • This isn't really a question about Latin; it feels more like a general Linguistics question to me. – Glorfindel Jul 15 at 20:50
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It is a matter of counting, but I would consider it more natural to say that there are 3 instead of 6 persons. The point of the three-person view is that there is the additional property of "number". There are two numbers in Latin: singular and plural. (The dual number between the two has almost entirely vanished from Latin and it should be excluded from discussion of conjugation.)

The three persons are often simply called "first", "second", and "third". These are best understood through pronouns:

  • first person singular: I
  • second person singular: you (one)
  • third person singular: he, she, it
  • first person plural: we
  • second person plural: you (many)
  • third person plural: they

One can also try to give descriptions, but I think these pronouns make it clearest. You could say, roughly, that the first person is the speaker, the second person is the audience, and the third person is anyone else.

So, there are three persons and two numbers and thus six person–number combinations.

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3

Person vs. number

When we speak, there are three kinds of roles being played: someone speaking, someone being spoken to, and someone or something else being spoken of. For example, "I (first person) told you (second person) that Chris (third person) went to the store."

Grammatical person is the generic term for those roles.

  • The first person is the speaker.

  • The second person is the one being spoken to.

  • The third person is someone or something else being spoken of.

The word "person" comes from Latin persona, meaning a role in a play. This meaning is retained today in the phrase dramatis personae.

Grammatical number is a different concept, meaning the number of people or things being referred to, usually distinguished in Latin (and English) grammar as singular or plural.

The verb in Latin (and English) is said to "agree in person and number" with its subject. That is, the form of the verb varies according to the grammatical person of its subject and according to the grammatical number of whatever is playing that role.

English

In English, the plural is the same in all three persons, and our second-person pronoun you is grammatically plural even though we use it to stand for one person. We still retain an archaic second-person singular pronoun thou, which takes its own verb ending: -est. In the first person, our verbs also don't distinguish singular and plural. Hence:

  • First person: "I go," "We go."

  • Second person: "Thou goest," "You go."

  • Third person: "Chris goes," "They go."

In English, the plural form of the verb is also the same as the infinitive and imperative. Infinitive: "It's time to go", "Let him go." Imperative: "Go!" The rare subjunctive mood is also the same: "I require that Chris go."

In the past tense and with modal verbs (will, can, must, should, etc.), we do not modify the verb at all to reflect the person or number of the subject. Hence "I went," "we went", "you went", "Chris went", "they went" (But "thou went'st.")

Latin

In Latin, all six combinations of person and number are distinguished in the form of the verb.

  • First person: "Ego eō," "Nōs īmus."

  • Second person: "Tū īs," "Vōs ītis."

  • Third person: "Chrīstophorus it," "Illī eunt."

The Latin infinitive and imperative are also distinguished: "Īre"; "Ī," Īte."

And in Latin, the six combinations of person and number are distinguished in all tenses and moods:

  • First person perfect: "Ego īvī," "Nōs iimus."

  • Second person perfect: "Tū īstī," "Vōs īstis."

  • Third person perfect: "Chrīstophorus īvit," "Illī iērunt."

In Latin, since the verb indicates the grammatical person so clearly, subject pronouns are usually omitted.

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  • Great answer! If you go to that much detail, you might want to comment on the numbering of the persons too. Plural semantics shows that it's the order of precedence: any group containing the speaker is first person, any other group containing the addressee is second, all others are third. And of course there's a simple benefit from using the canonical order. (Cf. OP's order.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 15 at 17:03
  • @JoonasIlmavirta I hadn't heard about the order of precedence. Can you point me to a book that tells more about that? I just figured that variations like "inclusive we" simply don't apply in Latin or English. – Ben Kovitz Jul 15 at 17:09
  • Unfortunately not; it's merely an observation on my part. All languages I know (but surely not all languages on the planet, as any discussion of "clusivity" will show) have this same three-person system. If you describe the persons as you do, which plural person do you assign to a group consisting of the speaker and the addressee? The system is hardly complete enough unless it says that this combination is first person. My point was mostly to draw attention to how your good description of persons is insufficient for a plural "mixed group" (and this is why I avoided these details in my answer). – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 15 at 17:46

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