Archaic grammar

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There are some Anglishers who wish to bring back old ways of speech not only in vocabulary but also in grammar. For instance, an Anglisher may try to bring back thou, the original second-person singular. This page is meant to delve into these archaic constructions for those who wish to bring them back or simply want to see what older speech is like. Note that this talks only about constructions often used to impart an archaic style; a comprehensive overlook of archaic speech is out of this page's scope.

Second-person[edit]

The best known archaism is thou because of its use in Shakespeare and the King James Bible. It was overthrown by you in the 17th century, and since then, in standard speech there is no formal distinction in number for the second person. Some modern dialects still use thou (albeit in slightly different forms).

Another pronoun that may be seen is ye, which acts as the plural nominative. Ye is properly plural, but came to be used as a formal singular in Middle English because of French influence; this is called the T-V distinction. In Old English, however, thou and ye were used only on the basis of number.

  • Thou art a man.
  • Ye are men.

See here for more on the use of thou and ye.

Conjugation[edit]

The old conjugation mostly matches modern conjugation.

Old conjugation of regular verbs (e.g., cook)
Person / Number Present tense Past tense
1st. sing. (none) -ed
2nd. sing. -est -edst
3rd. sing. -s / -eth -ed
Plural (none) -ed
Old conjugation of irregular verbs (e.g., sing)
Person / Number Present tense Past tense
1st. sing. (none) (none)
2nd. sing. -est -est
3rd. sing. -s / -eth (none)
Plural (none) (none)

The suffix -eth is often misused in imitations of archaic speech; in truth, it marks the third-person singular present and works exactly as -s does.

  • He hath a book.
  • She speaketh the truth.
  • It maketh no sense.

Note the special forms: doth (does, pronounced duth), hath (has), saith (says, pronounced seth).

Also, in terms of pronunciation, if -eth had survived, it likely would be pronounced as -th, even if it had stayed written as -eth; the vowel had often been dropped in the spoken speech in Early New English (though the full ending was often kept, especially for metrical purposes). Hence, goeth and loveth would both be pronounced as one syllable. Of course, verbs ending in sibilants keep the full ending, e.g., kisseth, teacheth. Verbs that end with a voiceless dental fricative would likely also keep the full ending, e.g., frotheth.

Interrogatives[edit]

The old way of forming interrogatives is simple: all one needed to do was put the verb before the subject of the sentence. This is still the way of forming interrogatives in Dutch and German.

  • Does he know the answer? > Knows (knoweth) he the answer?
  • Where do you live? > Where livest thou?
  • Does he have any money? > Has he any money? (still used)

Note that for questions with more than one verb, there is no need to repeat the subject.

  • Do you go out to sea and find any treasure? > Goest thou out to sea and findest any treasure?

For phrasal verbs, only the main verb is switched.

  • Do you give up? > Givest thou up?

Note that even in Early New English did do begin to be used for questions, so dost thou know and knowest thou were both correct.

Negatives[edit]

Negatives are slightly trickier to deal with, since the way of forming negatives has changed a lot since Old English. In archaic speech, one forms a negative by putting not after the main verb.

  • I do not know. > I know not.
  • He did not come. > He came not.
  • Do not fear. > Fear not. (still used)

This order is preserved only with auxiliary verbs and be, e.g., I have not read the book, she is not a witch.

As for where not is placed in a sentence with a direct object, it appears that in Early New English, it was possible to put it before or after the object.

  • I do not love him. > I love him not.
  • Do not forget me. > Forget me not.
  • But: I do not have the book. > I have not the book. (still used)

It seems that if the object is a pronoun, then not is placed after the object, but if the object is a noun, then it is placed before it. However, this is by no means an absolute rule.

With prepositional phrases and certain adverbial phrases, not is generally put before.

  • I do not live in London. > I live not in London.
  • I did not see him often. > I saw him not often.

If a noun clause acts as an object, not is put before the clause, since putting it afterwards would otherwise convey the wrong idea.

  • The king thought not that he was in any danger.
  • I know not when we leave.

With infinitives, gerunds, and participles (all of which are non-finite verbs), not is generally put before.

  • It is foolish not to think about one's options.
  • Not working on the project is a bad idea.
  • Not thinking about the consequences of his choice, the knight rushed forth.
  • Not thought highly of by his neighbors, the man grew bitter.

Note that even in Early New English did do begin to be used for negation, so he did not know and he knew not were both correct.

Adverbs of location[edit]

Here, there, and where make an obvious set of adverbs referring to location. There were two other sets in older speech, however:

Adverbs
Place Goal Source
here hither hence
there thither thence
where whither whence

In today's English, we usually say come here and where shall I go?, but older speech has come hither and whither shall I go? instead. More examples:

  • The ship sailed hither last month.
  • Let me take you thither.
  • Whither did the foe disappear?

Likewise, we usually say he came from there and where had he come from?, but older speech has he came thence and whence had he come? instead. More examples:

  • He departed hence a month ago.
  • The bird flew thence as soon as it was startled.
  • Whence comest thou?

Note that the ence set is also used figuratively for time or logical conclusion, and these uses are still found in modern speech.

  • We leave a week hence.
  • The detective caught the murderer and thence brought peace to the town.
  • The king lost the gem, whence (as a result of which) he asked the knight to go find it.

In older speech, the ence set is often redundantly used with from (i.e., from hence, from thence, from whence). Though it is not incorrect, it may be stylistically better to omit it and let the adverb alone convey the meaning.

Moreover, whither and whence can be used as relative adverbs.

  • I intended to find the place whither the thief had fled.
  • The facility whence the minerals have been transported is currently being inspected.

My/mine[edit]

My and mine are separated in function in modern speech; that is, my is used before nouns, and mine is always used independently. Formerly, however, mine could also be used dependently before vowels. The same use also applied to thine.

  • My eyes > mine eyes
  • Thy own life > thine own life

This distinction is neatly followed in the King James Bible, but in Shakespeare, instances of my and thy used before vowels can be found, which shows that the distinction had already begun to break down. Hence, one can simply use my and mine (and by extension thy and thine) as one does in modern speech.

Yon[edit]

Yon (generally interchangeable with yonder) is used as a demonstrative to refer to something in the distance, i.e., it means over there.

  • Look at yon tower. (the tower over there)
  • What strange beast is yon? (that over there)
  • There is a man standing yonder. (standing over there)

These two words are related to beyond.