Thou

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This page is for those who wish to use the original second-person singular pronoun, thou, in their Anglish. Often, in speech that tries to sound archaic, thou and its related forms are incorrectly used, so this is meant to be used as a guide.

Declension[edit]

This declension is based on how the King James Bible declines these pronouns.

Nominative Accusative Dependent genitive Independent genitive
Singular thou thee thy thine
Plural ye you your yours

Explanation:

  • Nominative - used where I would be used, e.g., Thou art right.
  • Accusative - used where me would be used, e.g., I saw thee.
  • Dependent genitive - used where my would be used, e.g., Thy knowledge is impressive.
  • Independent genitive - used where mine would be used, e.g., This book is thine.

In archaic speech, one may see thine used as a dependent genitive before vowels, e.g., thy book and thine eye. In other words, thy and thine can be found following the same distinction as a and an. The same distinction was found in my and mine, e.g., my life, mine ax.

Strictly speaking, a formally distinct reflexive pronoun is not needed, since in this case, it is clear that the subject and the object both refer to the addressee. That said, thyself later appeared and so is used where myself would be used, e.g., thou lovest thyself. The plural reflexive form is, of course, yourselves.

Ye and you are functionally distinct in the present edition of the King James Bible (the original text was not fully uniform in this distinction, but even the original text had ye as the dominant nominative form), but in Shakespeare and other contemporary writers, you was generally used, as it had overthrown ye by 1600; ye was afterwards used as an uncommon alternative to you, even in the accusative.

Conjugation[edit]

Indicative[edit]

The second-person singular has -est as its characteristic verbal suffix, i.e., the verb is inflected to agree with thou if it is the subject. For example:

  • Thou art wonderful.
  • I have money, but thou hast nothing.
  • Thou knowest everything.

The way to inflect the verb is onefold:

  • For the present tense, attach -est to the infinitive, e.g., love, lovest, call, callest.
  • For the past tense,
    • If the verb is regular, then attach -edst to the infinitive, e.g., quell, quelledst, open, openedst.
    • If the verb is irregular, and the past tense is not the same as the infinitive in form, then attach -est to the usual past tense, e.g., see, sawest, go, wentest.
    • If the verb is irregular, but the past tense is the same as the infinitive in form, then attach -edst to the infinitive, e.g., hit, hittedst, let, lettedst.

Notes:

  • If the ending -est had survived, it would be pronounced -st in most cases, even if it had stayed written as -est; the vowel was dropped in the spoken speech in Early New English. Hence, lovest and camest were generally said as one syllable. It is like how we say goes as one syllable, even though the e has been kept in the spelling.
  • The ending is, of course, pronounced -est after sibilants (e.g., kissest, teachest, washest). After verbs ending in st, the vowel likely would be kept, e.g, costest, burstest, trustest.
  • The -edst ending is pronounced separately, so lovedst, showedst, and feignedst are each two syllables long, and the e in -edst is pronounced.

There are special forms for certain verbs:

Present tense Past tense
be art wast
do dost didst
have hast hadst
can (auxiliary) canst couldst
may mayst mightst
will (auxiliary) wilt wouldst
shall shalt shouldst
must must must
ought oughtest oughtest

Notes:

  • The form mustest was used in Middle English, but became disused in Early New English.
  • Couldst, mayst, mightst, shouldst, and wouldst are sometimes found with an e in the ending (i.e., we get forms such as wouldest and couldest).
  • Wert is an alternative to wast for the past indicative; both inflections are relatively modern formations, and when thou disappeared from general use, which form ought to be used had not become fixed. See Subjunctive below for more.
  • Dost is said as dust; it (as well as doth) has the same vowel as is in does.
  • Modern editions of the King James Bible make a distinction between dost and doest (pronounced doo-ist); basically, the former is used as an auxiliary only, whereas the latter is used as a main verb, e.g., thou dost not love me, thou doest thy work well. Since our current speech makes no such distinction for the inflected form does, however, it needs not to be followed, and dost can be used for both cases.
  • For the verbs say and lay, the King James Bible uses saidst (said as sedst) and layedst (said as lay-idst) for the past tense. The past tense of pay, if the King James Bible used it, would presumably be payedst, as laid and paid are simply irregular spellings for regular past tense formations.
    • For say, the present tense is generally written as sayest and may even be pronounced so, but according to the 17th century playwright Ben Jonson, the shortened form is said as sest (it is like how says is said as sez). The more consistent spelling would be saist, which matches the old third-person singular saith (said as seth).

Imperative[edit]

The imperative mood is used for commands.

  • Eat this cake!
  • Get the saw!

For both singular and plural, no ending is attached to the verb. In older English, if the subject is ever expressed, it is put after the verb.

  • Go thou to the church!
  • Leave ye this place!

The placement of the subject before the imperative can be found in Old English, but this construction became progressively rare in Middle English and was wholly absent in Early New English. It only began to be used again in the eighteenth century. Hence, to put the above sentences in a more modern order:

  • Thou go to the church!
  • Ye leave this place!

Subjunctive[edit]

The subjunctive mood is the trickiest mood, as it has lost most of its formal distinctiveness over time, and even in Shakespeare's time, in which the subjunctive enjoyed greater use than it does now, the subjunctive mood's forms already showed signs of being replaced by the indicative mood's. See here for more information about the subjunctive.

Generally, for the present subjunctive, no ending is added for both the singular and the plural.

  • It is important that thou finish thy work.
  • Judge not, lest ye be judged.

For the modal verbs (e.g., can, may), however, the regular inflection is used.

  • Thy father's moral parts / Mayst thou inherit too! (Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well)

For the verb be, beest was occasionally used as a special subjunctive form, but it was generally not used.

  • If thou beest a man, show thyself in thy likeness. (Shakespeare, The Tempest)
  • But: If thou be merciful, / Open the tomb, lay me with Juliet. (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

For the past subjunctive, originally, no ending was added, but by Shakespeare's time, the past subjunctive forms had become the same as the past indicative ones.

  • If thou hadst not been born the worst of men, / Thou hadst been a knave and flatterer. (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

For the verb be, there is a special subjunctive form wert.

  • If thou wert wise, I would think highly of thee.

However, wert is sometimes found in the indicative instead of wast. In Shakespeare, wert is occasionally used in the indicative, but was oftener in the subjunctive, whereas wast is always indicative. The King James Bible cleanly separates wast and wert by having the former be indicative, and the latter be subjunctive only.

  • Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. (Ezekiel 28:15).
  • I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. (Revelation 3:15)

In short, the forms to use are:

Inflections for be.

Singular Plural
Present indicative art are
Past indicative wast were
Present subjunctive be be
Past subjunctive wert were
Imperative be be

Inflections for call.

Singular Plural
Present indicative callest call
Past indicative calledst called
Present subjunctive call call
Past subjunctive calledst called
Imperative call call

Inflections for sink.

Singular Plural
Present indicative sinkest sink
Past indicative sankest sank
Present subjunctive sink sink
Past subjunctive sankest sank
Imperative sink sink

Inflections for may.

Singular Plural
Present indicative mayst may
Past indicative mightst might
Present subjunctive mayst may
Past subjunctive mightst might

Miscellaneous[edit]

T-V distinction[edit]

In Middle English and Early New English, the second-person pronouns often followed the T-V distinction, i.e., the plural was used as a "formal" singular, whereas the original singular was kept as an "informal" singular. For example, a servant would address his lord by ye (later you), but his lord in return would use thou in return. This description is simplistic, however; for example, two noblemen speaking to each other may use the plural forms for politeness' sake.

This distinction was not in Old English and started only in Middle English from French influence. The T-V distinction was still in Shakespeare's time, but the King James Bible does not follow this distinction at all, consistently using thou for the singular and ye for the plural.

Since the T-V distinction was due to French influence, its use is not recommended at all.

Contractions[edit]

The following contractions can be used alongside thou:

  • Thou'rt - thou art
  • Thou'st - thou hast
  • Thou'lt - thou wilt, thou shalt
  • Thou'dst - thou hadst, thou wouldst

Vocative[edit]

In vocatives, on the few occasions when the vocative noun is modified by a relative clause, it is treated as second person.

  • Our Father, which art in heaven, / Hallowed be thy name. (Matthew 6:9)

Moreover, the vocative uses the pronoun's nominative form.

  • Thou liest, thou jesting monkey, thou. (Shakespeare, The Tempest)