Narrative Tense and POV


Objective, Limited, or Omniscient?

The quiz at the bottom of this page checks your understanding of objective, limited, and omniscient points of view.

If you feel confident that you understand the difference, you can skip straight to the quiz.

However, if you'd like another explanation, read the summary below. It comes from a website called EReading Worksheets.

What is Point of View?

The term “point of view” has many applications, from video game development to the interpretation of art. This page will discuss point of view as it pertains to the study of reading and literature. When studying the perspective of the narrator, the reader is concerned with the relationship between the person telling the story (the narrator) and the agents referred to by the story teller (the characters).

Modes of Narration

There are six key terms used in the study of narrative view point: first-person, second-person, third-person, third-person objective, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient.  Each term refers to a specific mode of narration defined by two things: the distance of the narrator from the story (the pronoun case) and how much the narrator reveals about the thoughts and feelings of the characters (narrative access).  Let’s take a closer look at each term.

First-Person Narration

In this mode, the narrator is usually the protagonist or central character in the story.  But even if this character is not the protagonist, he or she is directly involved in the events of the story and is telling the tale “first hand.”  First-person narration is easy to identify, because the narrator will be telling the story from “I’s” perspective.  Readers should watch for the narrator’s use of first-person pronouns- “I, me, my, our, us, we, myself, and ourselves,” as these will usually indicate that the passage is narrated from first-person perspective.  Remember, with this skill readers are trying to identify the perspective of the narrator; therefore, one must ignore the dialogue of characters (indicated by “quotation marks”) and solely focus on narration, otherwise one is not analyzing the narrator’s point of view.

Second-Person Narration

In this mode of narration “you” are the agent, such as in this example: you walked down the stairs.  As it is generally awkward for a story to be narrated from “your” perspective, this mode of narration is not used very often in narratives and stories.  There are some exceptions, however, and second-person perspective is the primary mode of narration for Choose Your Own Adventure books and similarly styled writings.  More frequently, directions and instructions and usually narrated from second-person perspective.  In most cases, directions will be written in short imperative sentences, where the implied subject is “you.”  But even when “you” is not explicitly stated, it is understood that “you” are the subject of directions and instructions.

Third-Person Narration

With this mode of narration, the narrator tells the story of another person or group of people.   The narrator may be far removed from or not involved in the story, or he or she may be a supporting character supplying narration for a hero.  Frequent use of “he, she, them, they, him, her, his, her, and their” by the narrator may indicate that a passage is narrated from third-person perspective. There are three distinct modes of third-person narration: objective, limited, and omniscient. Which mode the narrator is using is determined by a single variable—how much the narrator accesses the thoughts, feelings, and internal workings of the characters and shares them with the reader through narration. Characters’ feelings and motivations can be inferred and understood through their behavior and dialogue in each of the three modes of third-person narration; however, in determining which mode the narrator is operating, readers should be concerned with finding instances where the narrator explicitly reveals a character’s thoughts or feelings.

Third-Person Objective Narration

In this mode of narration, the narrator tells a third-person’s story (he, she, him, her), but the narrator only describes characters’ behavior and dialogue.  The narrator does not reveal any character’s thoughts or feelings. Again, readers will be able to understand characters’ thoughts and motivations based on characters’ actions and dialogue, which are narrated; however, the narrator will not explicitly reveal character’s thoughts and/or motivations in narration.

Third-Person Limited:

When a narrator uses third-person limited perspective, the narrator’s perspective is limited to the internal workings of one character.  In other words, the narrator reveals the thoughts and feelings of one character through explicit narration. As with objective narration, readers may be able to infer characters’ thoughts and feelings based on the behaviors and dialogue of those characters, which are narrated, but the narrator also directly reveals the central character’s internal perspective.

Third-Person Omniscient:

In this mode of narration, the narrator grants readers the most access to characters’ thoughts and feelings.  With third-person omniscient narration, the narration will reveal more than one characters’  internal workings. The base word omni means “all,” and scient means “knowing,” so omniscient roughly translates to “all knowing.”  In this case the etymology is accurate, because in omniscient narration, the narrator is all-knowing.


Instructions for the Quiz

Determine the narrator's POV.