#EngVocab: British English (4) –Archaic English pronouns

Still continuing on the topic of British English, have you heard about the word ‘thee’ or ‘thou’?

Yea i have. Thee means you. – @cony_fibri

I have! Esp. In holy bible. – @yoshiaozh

Besides bible,Qoran,and other holly books of religion,you can also find example in shakespearian’s poet/poetry. Ex.Sonnet 18 – @SingMardhika7

While discussing previous topics on British English, some of our followers asked about words that were used during Shakespeare times or in the Bible. We will talk about them in this post.

Words such as ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ are usually called Archaic English pronouns. It was stated “The English words ‘thou, thee, thy and thine’ are translated from an emphatic Greek and Hebrew personal pronoun, stressing the identity of the one being addressed to the exclusion of all others.”

These words have been dropped out of the main dialects of Modern English, which is why we don’t use it anymore. These pronouns are now hardly used or no longer used as often as it was.

The following are tables listing the archaic personal pronouns and verb endings which usually follow them. These tables were taken from different sources.

A. By A. Davies, R. Lipton, D. Richoux et al.:

B. By Richard Anthony:

C. By Daniel R. Tobias:

It was rumoured that ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ were for familiar conversation, and ‘you’ and ‘ye’ were considered formal. This was untrue except during two centuries, roughly 1450-1650, including Shakespeare’s time where the previously plural ‘you’ was used in the singular for politeness and respect, while ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ were used for general conversation or even rudeness. Some sources even stated that people in that era were punished for addressing people with wrong pronoun.

Eventually, the politer pronoun ‘you’ drove out nearly all uses of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’; and these terms survived mostly in poetry and religion. The plural ‘you’ was then reinvented in some dialects as ‘y’all,’ ‘youse guys,’ ‘yunz,’ etc.

Several groups of people continue to use these pronouns today as part of their daily speech (although with different grammar), such as those in Yorkshire, Cumbria, East Midlands, and some rural areas of Western England.

Some examples to express the importance of “thou, thee, thy and thine” (from the Bible)

  • John 14:9, “Have I been so long time with YOU, and yet hast THOU not known me?”
    • ‘You’ refers to the crowd, but ‘thou’ specifically addresses only one man, Philip.
  • 1 Corinthians 8:9-12, “…this liberty of YOURS….If any man see THEE which hast knowledge… through THY knowledge…but when YE sin.”
    • The plural forms ‘yours’ and ‘ye’ refer to the liberty and sin of all believers in Christ as a whole, but the singular forms ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ refer only to those individual believers that find themselves in this particular circumstance.

This marks the end of this post on archaic personal pronouns. Should you have any question, feel free to drop a comment below or mention us on twitter.


Compiled and written by @daedonghae at @EnglishTips4U on Tuesday; November 13, 2012


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