My 2y5m old daughter speaks rather well for her age, but she keeps using 3rd person in almost every situation. Whether she speaks about herself or people she addresses to, she uses third person: not "I want to read" but "Sonya wants to read", not "You smile" but "Papa smiles" (while talking to me).

Showing her directly who "I" and "you" in a conversation fails so far: she's not getting the relative nature of these labels and says "I laugh" when I laugh and "you laugh" when she laughs. Watching other people (or cartoon characters) speak to each other also helps little: she only gets interested in the point of the conversation, not the grammar.

What are the good approaches to teach her ways to understand and use first and second persons in speech?

  • aah but they say the funniest things when they're small. She'll figure it out soon and you'll probably laugh when you think about how she used to talk.
    – Kai Qing
    Feb 2, 2015 at 20:49
  • @KaiQing: yes, we properly enjoy the funny bits, all these years :)
    – 9000
    Feb 2, 2015 at 23:23
  • 1
    @9000 I recommend keeping her away from Elmo. Elmo speaks in 3rd person all the time, but other toddler shows are okay.
    – AAM111
    Jan 18, 2016 at 15:41

4 Answers 4


The best way I've found to help with this is to teach them a song where they use the 1st and 2nd person pronouns along with pointing. They would point to themselves when saying I or me. They would point outwards or to someone else when saying you. They will scan their hand across the room or point to multiple people when saying they, etc.

This helped my 3yo bilingual son learn the pronouns and conjugated endings in Persian, which he was having trouble with, even though he had very little trouble with the pronouns in English.

They will gradually learn the proper use of pronouns anyways, so there is not much to worry about, but this seems to help them get there faster.


First of all, don't worry too much. Many 2yos have trouble getting pronouns right with regard to person (1st, 2nd, 3rd).

The way you're trying to teach person pronouns is suboptimal because if your child imitates you directly, she's doing it wrong. The easiest language learning begins with direct imitation. So, you can "cheat" by using a puppet or stuffed animal.

It's natural for kids to speak "for" their inanimate friend, so taking turns doing that for a toy (to other toys) is a good way she can imitate you and be correct at the same time. Speak "for" the stuffed animal using pronouns from it's perspective rather than yours.

  • 1
    Thanks, it's a good idea; she talks 'for' some toys a lot, and even talks to them 'by phone'.
    – 9000
    Apr 16, 2011 at 21:25

I realize I am a bit late for this question, but I only just found it.

What are the good approaches to teach her ways to understand and use first and second persons in speech?

As you will have found out by now, this was nothing to worry about, because your child presumably has learned it within probably 6 months of you asking this question. I suspect no amount of help regarding speech would have made any difference to Sonya.

The reason for this is that it is sometimes in their third year children gradually develop a self-consciousness: the ability every human has to distinguish between "me" and the rest of the world. This is necessary in order to recognize yourself in the mirror (touch a speck on your cheek which you see in the mirror) – and to be able to say "I", "me", and "you". It's a major step-up in the child's mental abilities and distinguishes us from most of the rest of the landscape. (Besides apes, dolphins, elephants, and a few birds from the crow family there aren't many species who can identify themselves in the mirror.)

I think all my children were able to say "I" and "you" before their 3rd birthday. If a child is not able to do that by that time, I'd ask a doctor about it.


Joel Spolsky mentioned once (probably a podcast, I did not find a reference now when searching) that the personal pronouns are typically the last class of words that a child learns because parents (and other adults) refer to themselves in third person, e.g. "Daddy can't see you", "Please give it to Mommy", etc.

What are the good approaches to teach her ways to understand and use first and second persons in speech?

Make sure you refer to yourself in first and second person. Children learn from what they observe others do.

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    And once some adults started that pattern, they seem unable to snap out of it. My youngest is six and still my Dad says to them: "Grandpa will drive you to school today."... <raised eyebrows and eye-rolls from the minors>
    – Stephie
    Jan 17, 2016 at 10:52

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