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 many dialects, the pronoun had been reduced to a single i, having lost its consonant sound. The reduced form was then later lengthened, 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 Originally, in Old English, mec, þec, hine, incit, uncit, ūsic, and ēowic were accusatives, and mē, þē, him, inc, unc, ūs, and ēow were datives. In short, mec and mē corresponded to German mich and mir, respectively. Over time, however, for the first and second persons, the dative pronouns began to be used as accusatives, and so in the West Saxon dialect, the original accusative pronouns for the first and second persons were seldom found, but were commoner in other dialects. In the end, those accusative forms had died out by the start of the Middle English period; hine lasted a bit longer, but it soon died out. We can see that in the merger of the accusative and the dative, it was the dative form that was favored; only in the neuter gender was the accusative (hit, which later became it) favored over the dative (him).
3 Mine and thine were the original forms, but in Middle English, they lost their last n, and 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 Modern 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.
4 Strictly speaking, the compound reflexive forms are utterly needless 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. 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. Therefore, the simple accusative forms are listed in the column of reflexive pronouns for the first and second persons.
5 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.
6 Hoo is a dialectal variant of the feminine pronoun, which was hēo in Old English and developed into he in some Middle English dialects. The standard pronoun, she, appears to be a variant that became widespread in Middle English likely because the masculine and the feminine came to have the same nominative form in some dialects. Thus, a need was felt that the nominative for the masculine and that for the feminine be differentiated formally. As for the origin of she, see the section on the etymology of she.
7 The old genitive for the neuter was his, and 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.
8 In the Middle English period, the native third-person plural pronouns came to sound like those for the masculine and feminine singular in many instances. A borrowing from Old Norse, they was first adopted in areas showing great Scandinavian influence, and it gradually spread to other dialects. Chaucer used they as the nominative, but he kept the native forms for the accusative and the genitive. By the Early Modern English period, the Norse set had displaced the native set wholly. The nominative (OE hīe) would be hy; the accusative (OE heom) hem, and the genitive (OE heora) here. The only living remnant of the native set is 'em, an unstressed form of hem, but this is often thought by modern speakers to be a contraction of them instead.
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) 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 and somewhat simpler 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:].
Though these changes proposed in these theories are phonetically possible, the 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), and 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.
If we wish to use the direct reflexes of the OE words, then we get:
- He, from OE hēo. The obvious problem with this is that it would clash with the masculine he. The masculine had distinct enough case forms (i.e., him and his), whence it underwent few changes in its declension, but the case forms of the feminine are much less distinct since they historically were similar to those of the plural, which is probably why there was much more variation for the feminine.
- Se, from OE sēo. That a personal pronoun came from a demonstrative is not unusual in many speeches, but it should be noted that there is little evidence that OE sēo could be used as a personal pronoun.
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)||heren|
|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|
|we / wit||are / be / sind||were||be / sie||were|
|thou||art / bist||wast||be / sie||wert|
|ye / yit||are / be / sind||were||be / sie||were|
|he / she / it||is / bith||was||be / sie||were|
|they / hy||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, thoughbist and bith reappear as the standard spelling in early New English. 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 forms has lessened over time, and so most constructions that historically take the subjunctive are commonly found with the indicative forms 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.”