As far as I know, there are two terms in English grammar to identify two main parts of a conversation: "First person" and "second person".

But my question is that what do you usually call them out of English grammar domain?

I searched a lot and found the following terms:

  • "Speaker" ---> I somewhat sure I'm on the right track with this.


  • "Spoken to" OR "Second person" ---> I doubt about it

For example:

a) You have to always know your second person (the person you are talking to) and speak accordingly.

b You have to always know your spoken to (the person you are talking to) and speak accordingly. [It sounds a bit odd to me.]

Which one is correct? "a" or "b"? If no one, then let me know what would be the normal term here?

  • I would like to be clear, you aren't asking about writing, but about speaking, am I correct? I ask because I usually hear about first person and third person (and so on) in relationship to writing. You are asking about identifying people when you are speaking, or in dialogue?
    – WRX
    Jan 26, 2017 at 14:43
  • @WillowRex yes, I am. I'm not about grammar and writing. I need something befitting for identifying the parties in a dialogue between two people.
    – A-friend
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:32
  • Then I like Ssav's answer. It sounds right to me.
    – WRX
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:38
  • @WillowRex then I would appreciate it if you give you own opinion on their answer and my last comment.
    – A-friend
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:40
  • 1
    "Always know your listener" is a phrase I have heard many times. I would like to point out that this concept has little to do with "first person" and "second person" - those are specifically grammatical terms referring to the two classes of pronoun use for "I" and "you". In this case your examples a) and b) are both written in the second person, referring to someone in the third person. Jan 26, 2017 at 18:34

4 Answers 4


At your request, I will say that Ssav's answer is the one I would select. This is because the word hearer, though it is perfectly correct, sounds awkward to me. Stoney is not wrong at all, this is simply my own preference.

John spoke to Mary. He spoke and she listened.

The speaker noted that the flowers were beautiful and his listener thought that he was right.

None of these are examples I'd use in writing, however. It just sounds strange.

When John/he spoke, Mary/she listened intently.

If Mary was another man, then he and he could not be comfortably used.

While he spoke, Mark listened.

I am not at all sure I've added anything that helps.

"a) You have to always know your second person (the person you are talking to) and speak accordingly.

b You have to always know your spoken to (the person you are talking to) and speak accordingly. [It sounds a bit odd to me.]"

should be, imo:

You have to know your listener (but audience is better) and speak accordingly.

You have to know your audience and speak their language.

You have to know your audience and speak to their level of knowledge/expertise.

Audience works better and can absolutely be used even if the audience IS one person.

  • I asked, but no body answered me. Could you please let me know about a TV program too? I guess the word "audience" works the best there. E.g. "This TV program has lots of audience". Does it work properly?
    – A-friend
    Jan 26, 2017 at 18:42
  • @A-friend A TV audience would mean (logically) more than one person. This TV program has many/a lot of/ is very popular with its viewers/audience. This television show is highly rated/ has high ratings. Just because English has many words, doesn't mean that they aren't used in different ways.
    – WRX
    Jan 26, 2017 at 18:50
  • 1
    @A-friend you would say "a large audience" not "lots of audience" if you want to describe an audience with lots of people in it.
    – Kat
    Jan 27, 2017 at 0:44

Speaker and hearer are the terms I see most often in linguistics.

In fact, Renaat DeClerck extends this to the ingenious practice of always referring to the speaker as she and the hearer as he.

  • Then does this sentence sound natural to you @StoneyB: "You have to know your hearer and then speak / behave accordingly"
    – A-friend
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:43

I would refer to the people in the conversation as the speaker and the listener.

In your example sentence, however, I would use audience. "Know your audience" is a standard piece of advice that's given in a variety of situations, and will be instantly recognised by many English speakers.

  • Supposing that the word "audience" works in this case, I have to clarify that I'm looking for a term to identify 'one' single person who you are contacting / speaking with, while "audience" means "a group of people together in one place to watch or listen to a play, film, someone speaking "@ssav. E.g. we can say: the tve program / the series of Downtown Abbey has lots of audience. Am I right or I'm missing something? ;)
    – A-friend
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:38
  • 2
    @A-friend You can have an audience of one, but it would not usually be used that way. I liked listener and much prefer it to hearer.
    – WRX
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:45
  • Then please let me know if my original sentence using "listener" sounds natural or there is something wrong with it yet: "You have to always know your listener first and then speak / behave accordingly." @WillowRex
    – A-friend
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:51
  • @A-friend it sounds strange to me because "know your audience" is such a common phrase. What context are you specifically thinking that "audience" won't work?
    – Kat
    Jan 27, 2017 at 0:49

In your example sentences, interlocutor would work well, although it can sound somewhat formal. It works better than listener, in the sense that it implies that the other person (the "spoken to") is in fact a participant in the conversation and is expected to reply to what you say.

From Merriam Webster:

1:  one who takes part in dialogue or conversation

And here are some examples from british newspapers.

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