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Conjugation of TO BE in Early Modern English

Discussion in 'English Only' started by virulea86+, Aug 23, 2009.

  1. virulea86+ Member


    I am looking for the real conjugation of the verb to be in Early Modern English.

    I know what are the pronouns, (I thou, ye, he, she, it, we, they) the only thing I need is how this verb is conjugated.

    I hope your answer, thanks in advance.
  2. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    I am
    Thou art (informal singular)
    He/she/it is
    We be
    Ye beest (formal singular or plural)
    They beth
  3. virulea86+ Member

    Thanks very much.
  4. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    By Early Modern English, do you mean Elizabethan English?

    As far as I know, in present tense:

    I am
    Thou art
    He/She/It is
    We are
    Ye/You are (I believe both were in use at the time - English was in a state of flux)
    They are

    As far as I know, "We be" would be the subjunctive, "Be we killed, what of it?" (If we are killed, what of it?)

    I'm pretty sure there was no "Ye beest" or "They beeth", although "thou beest" would be the informal second person subjunctive, I believe, and "he/she/it beeth" the same for third person singular.

    I only know what I've picked up from reading Shakespeare and a few other things from that period.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2009
  5. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    JamesM is right: the only difference from Present-day English was the existence of a second-person singular 'thou', with verb form 'art'.
  6. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    Are you sure that the transition from "my" conjugation in post #2 to yours happend before the time of Early Modern English and not during it? I´ve read they were used until the 16th century.

    Early modern English began in the late 15th century while Shakespeare appeared at the end of the time of Early Modern English.
  7. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    I don't think there was ever a time that "You beest / They beeth" was the present tense conjugation, Frank78. The King James Version of the Bible is in Early Modern English and doesn't contain "ye beest", "we be" or "they beeth" as present tense
  8. eafkuor Senior Member

    Italy, Italian
    I don't understand why they eliminated it, I think it would be useful to be able to distinguish between "you" singular and "you" plural!
  9. Imber Ranae Senior Member

    English - USA
    I've never seen the forms "beest" or "beth" anywhere, including in Middle English. What is your source for these?

    I know "be[e]n" was sometimes used instead of "ar[e]n" for all the plural persons, but I'm not sure that carried over into Early Modern English as "be". "Are" is far more common, at least.
  10. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    I agree with you. :)
  11. Imber Ranae Senior Member

    English - USA
    It seems excessive politeness was the culprit. The distinction would have been nice to retain, yes.
  12. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    English English
    No, I don't remember ever seeing those before.
  13. Macunaíma

    Macunaíma Senior Member

    Um ninho de mafagalfinhos
    português, Brasil
    If I remeber correctly it is "thou art" and "ye arth".

    But then I may be wrong...
  14. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    Looks like I used an unreliable source at first: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/ask/thou.art.html

    Now I´ve done a better research (hopefully :D)

    Ute Dons says that there was a plural (we/you/they) be" before the northern "are" took over. Some detailed information can be found here:

    (p. 113-115)

    David Booth quotes Ben Jonson´s grammar book from 1640 and gives two existing conjugation:

    (p. 50,51)

    For Old and Middle English:

    The plural indicative present of the verb to be had several quite unconnected forms in Old English sindon and b[char]oth in all dialects, earon, aron in Northumbrian and Mercian. In the thirteenth century, sinden occurs in the north midland Ormulum and some southern writings. In the fourteenth century, northern writings have are (monosyllabic), midland varies between aren or are and been, ben, while the southern form is beoth or buth.

    The Cambridge History of English and American Literature Vol. I)
  15. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Middle English did have various plural forms based on the 'sind' and 'be' roots, but the original poster asked about Early Modern English - all those variants were gone by then, except perhaps plain 'be'.
  16. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English (Ireland)
    Ye (along with the colloquial youse) is still used in some dialects, Hiberno-English being (the main) one. :)

    Thou be'est (or beest) did indeed exist, if memory serves me correctly, it functioned as the subjunctive form.
    Here's one example.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2009
  17. mplsray Senior Member

    Be co-existed with are as a plural indicative verb in the 16th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. From the etymology for the word be:

    Tom McArthur, in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, uses for the beginning and the end of Early Modern English the dates c. 1450 to c. 1700, which would mean that for most of Early Modern English, are was not the present plural indicative form of the verb be.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2009
  18. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    If "are" made its appearance in standard English early in the 16th century that would be around 1500. If it was in standard English then, it was one of the standard forms for most of the Early Modern English period, even though concurrent with "be" in a good portion of that time.

    I'm much more familiar with "you are" than "you be" in Shakespeare.

    For example, from Twelfth Night:, Act IV, sc. ii:

    "But tel(l) me true, are you not mad indeed, or do you but counterfeit."

    Act IV, sc. i:

    "And what can you say of me?"
    "That you are a knave, a rogue, a rascal, a sluggard, a coward, a drunkard."

    The Merchant of Venice, Act II, scene ii:

    "Pray you, sire, stand up: I am sure you are not Launcelot, my boy."
    "I cannot think you are my son."

    "You are" is very common in Shakespeare; much more common than "you be".

    "You be" seems to be used in a subjunctive way:

    "...Nay, and you be a cursing hypocrite once, you must be looked to." Much Ado About Nothing, Act V, sc. i)
    "I'll have no father, if you be not he" (As You Like it, Act V, sc. iv)

    I can't easily find an example of "you be" in Shakespeare that is not "if you be" or "and you be" ("and you be", to me, is "and (even) if you are" in modern English).
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2009
  19. mplsray Senior Member

    Yes, I made an elementary error there.

    A search for "ye be" turns up the following indicative uses of be (presumably what the OED was referring to):

    Will ye be gone?
    The Two Gentlemen of Verona: I, ii

    Scratch that, that would be the infinitive be.

    Weak masters though ye be, I have bedimm'd/ The noontide sun....
    The Tempest: V, i
  20. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Wouldn't that be subjunctive too, Ray, as in James's "an you be"/"if you be" examples?
  21. mplsray Senior Member

    I deliberately avoided the question of whether those examples of his were subjunctive (to me, for example, "I'll have no father, if you be not he," contains no subjunctive) and chose to present only an example where ye be does not appear in an if clause (there is at least one). In the example I gave, however, I don't see how it can be anything other than indicative.

    The editors of the OED clearly think be is used instead of are somewhere in Shakespeare and the King James Bible. If not in my example (and/or in some of the if clauses!), there what did the editors have in mind?
  22. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Here's an interesting mixture:

    For while they be folden together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry. - Nahum 1:10.
  23. wayland76 New Member

    English - Australian
    Just to clear up a point that someone brought up; they said that both "you" and "ye" were in use, and implied that they were interchangeable. This may seem to be so, but my understanding is that "ye" is in the nominative case, and "you" is in the accusative case.

    Nominative Accusative Genitive
    1st person singular I me my/mine
    2nd person singular thou thee thy/thine
    3rd person singular he/she/it him/her his/hers
    1st person plural we us our/ours
    2nd person plural ye you your/yours
    3rd person plural they them their/theirs

    I've simplified things a little, but not much. See link below.

  24. mplsray Senior Member

    From page 83 of Shakespeare's Grammar by Jonathan Hope:

  25. wayland76 New Member

    English - Australian
    Ah, thanks. I know the KJV much better than Shakespeare.
  26. CapnPrep Senior Member

    Since this thread has been reactivated:
    You just have to read the rest of the entry (either the version you quoted, or the 3rd edition entry that has been published in the meantime):
    1594 Shakes. Rich. III, iv. iv. 93 Where is thy Husband now? Where be thy Brothers?
    Bible 2 Kings vi. 16 They that be with vs are moe than they that be with them.

    These be not the clearest examples :p (because of the interrogative/relative context), but there also a few instances of declarative, main-clause indicative be:
    1582 Bentley Mon. Matrones ii. 65 They be never offended at anie thing.
    1583 Stubbes Anat. Abus. ii. 2 Surely they are, as all other countries and nations be.
    1669 Milton Accedence Wks. (1847) 461/1 Ego, tu, sui be of the first Declension.
    Petty Pol. Arith. v. (1691) 87 There be Three distinct Legislative Powers.

    There are also plenty of examples of been/bin/bene/…, which contradicts etb's statement in #15 above. More generally, the bewildering amount of variation documented in the OED would require much of what has been said in this thread to be reconsidered, and from the very beginning someone should have pointed out that the OP's question (What is "the real conjugation" of be in EME?) was based on some rather problematic assumptions.
  27. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    In the instances where 'be' appears, I get the impression that 'be' = 'exist' thus showing the uneasy transition towards amalgamation of the two earlier forms of the verb as in Frank78's post #14

    Cf. "We know that there be 2 verb forms." and "We know that they are robbers."
  28. LoboSolo Member

    English - US
    Something that I'll point out ... Shakespeare wrote great plays and like any good writer for the stage, he would use vernacular grammar when he thought it was appropriate. Can you imagine 600 years from now that people might look at the transcripts of our movies (or watch them) and hold them up as examples of proper English in the 20th and 21st centuries? Heaven forbid!

    In answer to the original question ... James M is correct in his answer for the most commonly used forms.

    I am
    thou art
    he is
    we are
    ye are
    they are

    Wes þu hal!

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