Writing from the first-person point of view is often the easiest and least formal perspective from which to write. But many times, you’ll find that nearly all of your sentences begin with the letter I, which can make things sound repetitive and even dull.
There are a few ways to avoid overusing I in an essay or story, including adding an introductory phrase or clause, changing the focus or the subject of your sentence, and combining your sentences. While it is difficult to avoid using I all of the time, learning how to vary your sentence structure is essential to writing well.
Keep reading to learn more about point of view and how to avoid overusing I.
Understanding Point of View
Before we discuss different ways to avoid too many instances of personal pronouns such as “I” in an essay, we first need to review the various perspectives from which we can write, and how to use them correctly.
In English, there are three different points of view (POVs): First Person, Second Person, and Third Person.
At times, you may need to write from a particular perspective, such as the first person in an opinion piece or narrative essay.
There will also be situations where one perspective is more appropriate than another, such as the third person in a more formal academic, informative, or expository essay.
No matter which perspective you choose, the most important rule is to be consistent (source). Once you select a point of view from which to write, you will need to stick with that same point of view throughout.
You cannot switch back and forth from the first person to the third person, or first to second, etc. Doing so will create confusion for your reader, so think about your essay’s purpose before you begin writing, and then stay consistent.
Below we’ll take a quick look at each point of view and the corresponding pronouns.
If you recall, pronouns are words that replace a noun or noun phrase and refer to a person, place, or thing that you’ve already mentioned (source).
|Singular Pronouns||Plural Pronouns||Possessive Pronouns|
|First Person POV||I, me, mine, myself||we, us||our, ours|
|Second Person POV||you, yourself||you, yourselves||your, yours|
|Third Person POV||she, her; he, him; It; one||them, they||their, theirs|
As you can see, “I” is part of the first-person point of view and corresponds with the pronouns “we” and “us,” as well as the possessive pronouns “our” and “ours.”
Remember that possessive pronouns show ownership — to learn more about how to use the possessive form correctly, take a look at “Families or Family’s: When to Use Possessive Form.”
Below are a few sample sentences for each POV:
- 1st Person POV: I am very interested in learning more about space exploration, so we should head over to the library.
- 2nd Person POV: If you’d like to learn more about space exploration, you should check out some books from your library.
- 3rd Person POV: Neil deGrasse Tyson is a well-known astrophysicist, and he has written many influential books.
Notice that each sentence is consistent in the use of pronouns that match the point of view from which we are writing. Next, we’ll take a look at a sentence that uses two different points of view, and see why it can be unclear or confusing.
- As we walked by our friend’s house, you could see the new car in the driveway.
Above, there are two different points of view in the same sentence, both first and second person – “I” (first person) and “you” (second person). This is confusing because we don’t know who “you” refers to.
Instead, we want to be consistent, like this:
- As we walked by our friend’s house, we could see the new car in the driveway.
By changing “you” to “we,” the reader will understand that the people who can see the car are those who are walking by.
Now that we understand each different point of view, let’s focus on 1st person POV and discuss different ways to avoid the common mistake of overusing “I” in our writing.
How to Avoid Overusing “I” in Your Writing
It can be challenging trying to determine what to write instead of “I,” especially if you are writing a personal narrative — a story about yourself — or something in which you are stating what you believe about a topic or issue.
While you can’t avoid it all of the time, there are things you can do instead. It is important to vary your sentences to avoid repetitiveness in your writing. Let’s look at an example of a paragraph where too many sentences begin with “I.”
I immigrated to America from Honduras as a child. I was only four years old when my family moved here. I lived in a small, blue house on a quiet street. I had very friendly neighbors who welcomed my family. I learned how to speak English very quickly. I have lived in the United States for nearly 20 years.
There is not necessarily anything wrong, grammatically, with the paragraph above, but nearly every sentence begins with the letter “I.”
Strategy One: Add a Phrase, First
One strategy is to avoid starting your sentence with “I.” You can easily add an introductory clause or phrase to avoid beginning each sentence in the same way.
Remember that a clause or phrase cannot stand on its own as a complete sentence. Instead, it provides background or context for what is to follow (source).
Let’s look at an example using the first sentence above to see how we can add a phrase.
- Before: I immigrated to America from Honduras as a child.
- After: As a child, I immigrated to America from Honduras.
As you can see, I still used “I” in my sentence, but I changed the order to add an introductory phrase, telling the reader when the writer immigrated to America.
Even though I still used “I,” the sentence sounds different and is varied from the others in the paragraph.
Here is another example:
- Before: I have lived in the United States for nearly 20 years.
- After: For nearly 20 years, I have lived in the United States.
This time, I used a prepositional phrase at the beginning of my sentence. A prepositional phrase is a modifying phrase that tells more about time and space. Here, “for nearly 20 years,” tells the reader more about how long the writer has lived in America.
With this strategy, you are simply avoiding a repetitive pattern in your writing by moving the “I” from the beginning of the sentence to the middle, adding an introductory phrase or clause, first.
Strategy Two: Begin your Sentence with a Noun, Instead
Another strategy is to avoid the use of “I” as the subject of your sentence.
Remember that complete sentences have two parts:
- A subject — who or what the sentence is about, containing the noun
- A predicate — what the subject is doing, containing the verb or linking verb.
What we want to do with this strategy is to create sentences that use nouns — not pronouns, such as “I” — as the subject of the sentence. It seems a bit confusing, but let’s take a look at another example:
- Before: I lived in a small, blue house on a quiet street.
In the sentence above, “I” is the subject of the sentence, and everything that follows is the predicate. We want to change the focus from “I” to the small, blue house. Let’s take a look at how:
- A small, blue house on a quiet street became our home.
Now, the subject of the sentence is no longer “I,” but rather the small, blue house.
Here’s another example:
- Before: I had very friendly neighbors who welcomed my family.
If we remove “I” as the subject and change the focus to something else — another noun in the sentence — we can avoid using “I” entirely. Let’s take a look:
- Before: I had very friendly neighbors who welcomed my family.
- After: Very friendly neighbors welcomed my family.
We changed the focus of the sentence from “I” to the friendly neighbors, now the subject of the sentence.
Remember, when writing an essay or personal statement about yourself, your reader already knows that it is about you. With that in mind, you can simply take yourself out of the subject of some of your sentences to keep them varied.
Strategy Three: Combine Your Sentences
Often, new writers write a lot of short, simple sentences rather than longer, complex ones. While this is not inherently bad, it makes falling into the trap of too many pronouns pretty easy.
With this third strategy, if you notice that too many of your sentences are short, sound the same, and begin with “I,” you can try combining a couple of them.
Think of it this way — if every day you order the same sandwich from your local deli, you will likely get bored with it pretty quickly. But if each time you order your sandwich you add a few more ingredients, your old, boring sandwich becomes new again.
It may sound like a simplistic analogy, but consider your sentences in the same light.
The same short, simple sentence structure used repeatedly is a lot like eating the same sandwich for lunch day after day.
To avoid that, we can add a few more layers to our sentences, combining them so that a simple sentence becomes complex. Let’s take a look using the example above:
- Before: I immigrated to America from Honduras as a child. I was only four years old when my family moved here.
- After: As a four-year-old child, I immigrated to America from Honduras.
Here is another example:
- Before: I lived in a small, blue house on a quiet street. I had very friendly neighbors who welcomed my family.
- After: I lived in a small, blue house on a quiet street with friendly neighbors who welcomed my family.
As you can see, none of the information changed. I simply combined my sentences to add more detail and avoid the use of “I” a second time.
Wrapping it Up
Before we conclude, let’s compare the initial paragraph with too many uses of “I” to what it looks like using some of the strategies above.
I immigrated to America from Honduras as a child. I was four years old when my family moved here. I lived in a small, blue house on a quiet street. I had very friendly neighbors who welcomed my family. I learned how to speak English very quickly. I have lived in the United States for nearly 20 years.
As a four-year-old child, I immigrated to America from Honduras. A small blue house on a quiet street became our home. With friendly neighbors who welcomed my family, I learned how to speak English very quickly. Having lived in the United States for nearly 20 years, it is now my home.
You can see that the second paragraph sounds much more varied with fewer uses of “I.”
There’s no doubt about it, it’s tough avoiding the use of “I” all of the time, especially when you are writing about yourself. Still, there are ways to do so and, at the same time, make your writing more enjoyable to read.
Try some of the tips above. Begin with a phrase and move “I” to the middle of your sentence, change the subject of your sentences, or combine your sentences to create more complex ones.