These are pronouns one could use in Anglish. Many of these pronouns died off at sundry times in English's history, but here they are put forth as if they had never died.
Mind that some of these spellings are modernised and not necessarily attested. Others are attested but were arbitrarily picked instead of alternative spellings.
1 Ich is what the pronoun (OE ic) would have regularly become, but in Middle English, the pronoun was often reduced to a single i, at first before consonants but later before vowels as well. The reduced form was later restressed and thus lengthened sometime before the Great Vowel Shift, whence the standard pronoun I. Ich was present in some dialects in Shakespeare's time, however; in King Lear, a character trying to sound rustic says chill, a contraction of ich will. It seems that ich is now obsolete, as the last recorded instance of its use was made in the middle of the 20th century.
2 Mine and thine were the original forms, but in Middle English, they lost their last n, so my and thy came to be, whence rose the modern distinction between the two sets: my and thy are used dependently (i.e., they act as modifiers), and mine and thine independently. In Early New English, mine and thine were also used dependently, however, when foregoing words beginning with vowel sounds, e.g., mine eyes, thine ax; in short, it was the same distinction between a and an, but this distinction for my and thy had fallen apart by the 18th century.
3 Strictly speaking, there is no need for distinct reflexive forms for the first and second persons, since it is clear in those cases that the subject and the object are the same. For example, I saw me is as clear as I saw myself. The reflexive forms are simply a later development. It is only in the third person that the reflexives are truly needed, since the object may refer to either what the subject refers to or another, e.g., he saw him may not necessarily be the same as he saw himself.
4 See the Etymology of she section below.
5 The old genitive for the neuter was his, so the masculine and the neuter had the same genitive forms; likewise, in Dutch and German, the same form for the possessive adjective and the genitive is used for the masculine and the neuter. An example of neuter his is if the salt have lost his savour from a line in the King James Bible. Its was formed in the Early Modern English period as a form distinct from his, and it was quickly accepted into the speech.
6 Like the other Germanic tongues in their early stages, Old English had a set of dual pronouns for the first and second persons. There were no special grammatical forms for the dual in verbs, however; the plural forms were used instead. In theory, since there was a dual, the plural pronouns would have been used only in reference to three or more. However, the dual was not always used, and whenever it was used, it was to show that only two people were referred to. The dual pronouns later died out sometime in the early 14th century.
7 See the Third-person plural section below.
Accusative and dative
In Old English, which had an accusative-dative distinction, the personal pronouns might have special forms in the accusative:
|3rd singular masculine||hine||him|
|3rd singular feminine||hīe||hire|
|3rd singular neuter||hit||him|
How would these have developed? Perhaps they would be something like this under normal sound changes:
|3rd singular masculine||hin|
|3rd singular feminine||hy|
|3rd singular neuter||it|
However, it is extremely unlikely that all these forms would have survived, even if the accusative-dative distinction had been kept. The dual ones would have died out as part of the fall of the dual number, and the plural forms for the first and second persons would have likely been lost as well. Not even German and Icelandic, which still keep an accusative-dative distinction, distinguish the two cases in the plural except in the third person, and so any accusative-dative distinction would likely be kept only in the singular and the third-person plural. In short, if there were still an accusative-dative distinction, the forms that might now be used are (along with their German equivalents):
|English acc.||English dat.||German acc.||German dat.|
|3rd singular masculine||hin||him||ihn||ihm|
|3rd singular feminine||hy||her||sie||ihr|
|3rd singular neuter||it||him||es||ihm|
In the end, we can see that only one of these accusative forms has survived: it, which was favored over the dative him probably to avoid confusion with the masculine him. In all the other parts of the paradigm, it was the dative form that was extended to the accusative. In the West Saxon dialect of Old English, this process was already complete for the first and second persons; the distinct accusative forms are found only in poetry and a few Anglian texts. Old English still preserved the accusative-dative distinction in the third person, but this fell apart in Middle English.
Etymology of she
She cannot be directly traced to any OE word, as OE used hēo. A few different theories for the source of she have been proposed:
- One common theory is that OE hēo later underwent a rare phonetic change that is also seen in Shetland (from Old Norse Hjaltland), shoop (a northern dialectal word for (rose)hip from OE hēope), and Shug (a Scottish pet form of Hugh). In other words, [he:o] changed to [heo:] and then [hjo:]. The cluster would then change from [hj] to [ç], which would then be reinterpreted as /ʃ/ and thus yield [ʃo:].
- A similar theory says that she is gotten from the OE feminine demonstrative sēo instead. In other words, [se:o] changed to [seo:] and then [sjo:], which would then turn to [ʃo:]. One problem with this theory is that there is not a lot of evidence clearly showing sēo being used as a personal pronoun, though such a development would have been possible; for example, in Old Norse, the forms for the neuter pronouns (singular þat and plural þau) come from those of the neuter demonstrative.
Though these changes proposed in these theories are phonetically possible, the main problem is that they would yield forms such as sho (which is attested in the northern dialects in Middle English and has apparently survived in some parts of Yorkshire as shoo) instead of she (first attested in the East Midlands dialects), so the vowel in she needs further explanation. Some have proposed that the change in vowel was due to analogy with he or that the vowel is from application of the above sound change to the rare OE variants hīe and sīe.
Note that the sound change from /hj/ to /ʃ/ is noticeably only found in the North (in which heavy Norse influence took place); no such change is present in the South. Hence, it is sometimes said that this sound change was brought about by Norse speakers. In other words, according to this theory, she was ultimately the result of a Norse pronunciation of hēo.
Why did the original feminine pronoun not stay in use in many Middle English dialects? One reason might be that it had become homophonous with the masculine he, and so speakers might have adopted a distinct form as a way to distinguish between the masculine and the feminine.
If we wish to use a form clearly gotten from the native pronoun, but exclude he, then we get:
- Hoo, from OE hēo with shift of stress in the diphthong. This is still used in a few dialects and would be formally identical to who in standard speech.
- Hy, from OE variants beginning with hī-. Of course, this would make it identical to the native plural nominative hy, so it would rhyme with fly.
- Ha, from an ME variant. The variant appears to have arisen as an unstressed variant of he (whether masculine or feminine), and it was mainly used in the West Midlands dialect. If the feminine ha had come to be used in modern standard English, one possible pronounciation of the newly restressed form would be /hɑ/ from restressing; a similar development has occurred with I (gotten from a restressed variant of ME i) and you (gotten from a restressed variant of an Early New English weak form).
The third-person plural pronouns come from Norse, as the pronouns used in Old English all began with h. The OE forms were:
- Hī - nominative and accusative.
- Him - dative.
- Heora - genitive.
In many Middle English dialects, the nominative was he (from the variant hēo), which was liable to be confused with the masculine or feminine he. It is not too surprising that it was they (first appearing in the northern dialects, which had undergone great Norse influence) that first spread to other dialects to lessen confusion; in Chaucer's works, the nominative was they, but the accusative and the genitive kept their native forms.
In Middle English, the dative hem (from the OE variant heom) was extended to the accusative, and so the accusative was now hem, which survived to some point in Early New English and lives on as 'em, an unstressed variant treated as a shortened form of them. Eventually, however, them (a variant form of ME theim) fully replaced hem.
As for the genitive, the OE variant heora yielded ME here, which was often confused with the feminine genitive hire, and in the end, the plural genitive would have become here or (through the unstressed variant) her. The genitive was replaced by their at some point in Middle English.
If one does not wish to use the Norse forms, then what forms could one use?
- For the nominative, we can simply use hy, the expected reflex from OE hī.
- For the accusative, we can use hem.
For the genitive, however, while one could use her, if one wishes to use another form to avoid confusion with the feminine her, then there are variants that one could use:
- Here from the stressed variant of ME here.
- Hare from ME hare and OE heara. The ME variant was mainly used in the West Midlands and Kentish dialects. It would now be pronounced (if one generalized the stressed variant) /hɛr/ or (if one generalized the unstressed variant) /hɑr/.
- Hore from ME hore. The ME variant was mainly early or limited to the West Midlands.
In Middle English, there was a set of genitive forms made by analogy of mine and thine. These forms are as etymologically good as the -s forms, but nonetheless, the latter set became the standard in the end, and the -n set is now found only in some regional dialects.
|3rd singular masculine||hisn|
|3rd singular feminine||hern|
|3rd singular neuter||its|
|3rd plural (native English)||hern|
|3rd plural (borrowed Norse)||theirn|
Of course, because the dual number became obsolete very early on in Middle English, unkern and inkern (neither of which is attested in Middle English) are simply what the dual pronouns' -n forms would have become. The -n form for the native third-person plural form is attested, but since the native form became obsolete, unsurprisingly, the -n form is also no longer used.
Note that the neuter genitive is still its; not only did its begin to appear in the Early Modern English period, but the absolute use of the neuter genitive is also uncommon, so no such form as itsn has ever appeared and blossomed.
In Old English, there was also the adjective sīn, which, interestingly, was the only English remnant of the Germanic reflexive and acted as a reflexive possessive. What exactly is a reflexive possessive? Look at the following sentence:
- Bob speaks with John and goes to his house.
Whose house does Bob go to? If it is John's, then his refers to John and is thus not reflexive; inversely, if it is Bob's, then his refers back to Bob and is thus reflexive. In other words, a reflexive possessive refers to the subject of the clause that it is found in. This distinction is found in the North Germanic tongues as well as a few other tongues like Latin. If sīn had survived, it would have become sy and sine, which respectively would be used as my and mine are.
- Bob speaks with John and goes to his house. (John's house)
- Bob speaks with John and goes to sy house. (Bob's house)
- Harry and Tom lost their books, but Harry found his the next day. (Tom's book)
- Harry and Tom lost their books, but Harry found sine the next day. (Harry's book)
In Old English, the reflexive possessive was an adjective and thus was inflected. It was used for the third person, regardless of the subject's gender or number, and it is cognate to German sein (now the masculine and neuter possessive adjective and genitive). But sīn was already uncommon, found mainly in non-West Saxon dialects, and it did not live up to Middle English, so it is wholly optional to use sy/sine.
To convey indefiniteness, we have sundry options, e.g., we, you, one. In Old English, however, one generally used man (akin to German man), e.g., Wudewanhad is, þæt man wunige on clænnysse for godes lufon (widowhood is that one lives in purity for God's love). This was used more broadly in Old English; for example, for hine man sceal lǣdan tō þām lǣċe, a literal translation may be one ought to take him to the doctor, but a more idiomatic translation in this case uses the passive, i.e., he ought to be taken to the doctor. In Middle English, man slowly fell into disuse, though the exact cause is unclear.
The use of one as an indefinite pronoun began in Middle English and became much frequent afterwards. It is sometimes said to be from influence of unrelated French on, but it is possible that it simply stemmed from other pronominal uses of one.
Verb conjugation has much changed since the Old English period. For instance, the plural ending -en is now obsolete, and the first-person singular has no ending at all. The conjugation for be is particularly special, as there are many disused forms:
|Present indicative||Past indicative||Present subjunctive||Past subjunctive|
|I||am / be||was||be / sie||were|
|thou||art / bist||wast||be / sie||wert|
|he / she / it||is / bith||was||be / sie||were|
|plural||are / be / sind||were||be / sie||were|
One can see that there is a variety of forms for the present indicative and subjunctive, as the conjugation for be is historically made up of those of two Old English verbs: wesan and bēon.
The forms from wesan are:
- Am, art, is, and are. Are (Old English earon) was not used in the West Saxon dialect (which used sind and its variants instead), but was present in the Anglian dialects. Are began to be used more in Middle English and eventually drove out be in the standard speech.
- Sind, which died out very early on in the Middle English period. If it had survived, it would likely be pronounced as /sɪnd/; words of low stress would not have undergone lengthening brought upon by the nd cluster (as seen in under).
- Sie (si in Middle English) was the singular present subjunctive and died out very early on in the Middle English period. Sie would likely now be pronounced as /saɪ/.
The forms from bēon are:
- The infinitive and the present subjunctive be, the present participle being, and the past participle been.
- The present indicative forms be, bist, and bith. In Old English, the last two were bist and biþ; the Middle English forms beest and beeth were later formed by analogy with other be forms, though bist and bith later reappear as dialectal variants. All present indicative forms are now archaic or dialectal, and in the standard speech, the plural present indicative be is found only in the phrase the powers that be.
Both wesan and bēon shared the same past tense forms, and from those verbs come was and were. Wast and wert for the second-person singular are innovative forms that first appeared in the latter half of the Middle English period. The original form was were (both indicative and subjunctive). The past indicative is commonly wast, but wert is sometimes used therefor. In Shakespeare, wast is consistently indicative, and wert is sometimes used in the indicative, but is mainly subjunctive. In the King James Bible, the distinction is tidy, wast being indicative, wert being subjunctive only.
Note that use of the subjunctive has lessened over time, so most constructions that historically take the subjunctive are commonly found with the indicative or made with other verbal constructions instead (see here for more information about the subjunctive).
Theoretical Third Person Pronouns
The following table shows a theoretical development of the native, southern Old English 3rd-person plural pronouns, based on the pronouns Chaucer wrote with in his Middle English writings.
|Nominative||Accusative||Dative||Pos. Adjective||Pos. Pronoun||Reflexive|
|3rd Sin. Masc.||hē||hine||him||his||his||hine, him|
|3rd Sin. Fem.||hēo||hīe||hire||hire||hire||hīe, hire|
|3rd Plural||hīe||hīe||him||heora||heora||hīe, him|
|Middle English (Chaucer)|
|3rd Sin. Masc.||he||hym||hym||his||his||hymself|
|3rd Sin. Fem.||she(e)1||hir(e)||hir(e)||hir(e)||hir(e)s2||hir(e)self3,4|
|3rd Plural||†they||hem||hem||hir(e)||hirs5||hem(self)6, 7|
|3rd Sin. Masc.||he||him||him||his||his||himself|
|3rd Sin. Fem.||she||her||her||her||hers||herself|
† Chaucer almost always bore they for the Nom 3rd Plural; he never bore “she” as the Nom 3rd Plural.
Line 159: “Nas nevere swich another as is shee. / There was never such another as is she.”
Line227: “I moot been hires; I may noon oother chese. / I must be hers; I can choose no other.”
Line 3543: “That she hadde had a ship hirself allone. / That she had had a ship for herself alone.”
Line 384: “Up riseth fresshe Canacee hireselve, / Up rises fresh Canacee herself”
“Or hirs that swymmen in possessioun. / Or theirs who swim in possessions.”
"Line 56: Hem semed han geten hem protecciouns / They seemed to have gotten themselves protections"
"Line 985: And thanne at erst amonges hem they seye / And then for the first time amongst themselves they say"