Archaic grammar

From The Anglish Wiki


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.


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 has been 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 the T-V distinction, which was introduced through French influence. 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.


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)

In other words, there are at most seven distinct parts for a normal verb (e.g., drive, walk):

  1. Infinitive - drive, walk
  2. Second-person singular present - drivest, walkest
  3. Third-person singular present - drives / driveth, walks / walketh
  4. Past - drove, walked
  5. Second-person singular past - drovest, walkedst
  6. Present participle - driving, walking
  7. Past participle - driven, walked

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 /dʌθ/), hath (has), saith (says, pronounced /sɛθ/).

Also, in terms of pronunciation, in Early New English, -eth usually does not undergo shortening, e.g., runneth is usually used instead of runth. The only exceptions are doth, hath, and saith. Of course, verbs ending in sibilants must have the ending pronounced separately, e.g., kisseth, teacheth.

The forms above are for the indicative mood only. For the imperative mood, the infinitive form is used as it is now.

  1. Follow me, sir.
  2. Leave this place at once, gentlemen.

The subjunctive mood is more complicated (see here for a more detailed explanation).


The old way of forming interrogatives is simple: one simply needs to 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 even in Early New English did do begin to be used for questions, so dost thou know and knowest thou were both correct.


Negatives are slightly trickier to deal with, since the way to form 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)

The general rule seems to be 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.

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

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

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 whence 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 whence set is often redundantly used with from (i.e., from hence, from thence, from whence).

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

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


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 (with the variants yond and yonder) is used as a demonstrative to refer to something visible and remote from both the speaker and the hearer, 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 words are related to beyond.


Older forms of English use contractions that now come off as poetic or literary:

  • It is > 'tis
  • It was > 'twas
  • It will > 'twill
  • It would > 'twould
  • Over > o'er
  • Even (adverb) > e'en


To form the perfect tenses (that is, tenses with the perfect aspect), English now uses have for all verbs. Formerly, however, one could use be with intransitive verbs, mainly verbs of motion and change of state.

  • I have come. > I am come.
  • What hast thou become? > What art thou become?
  • He had gone to the castle. > He was gone to the castle.
  • Caesar has returned. > Caesar is returned.