Conjugation with thou & ye

Casquilho

Senior Member
Portuguese - Brazil
Hi all,
may you help me with the 2nd person singular, thou? I know it is an obsolete pronoun in most places, but I wanted some clarification, for I'm trying to read Spenser and Milton.

I would like a paradigm of conjugation.
 
  • Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    Early modern English (15th and early 16th centuries) had some second-person pronouns and verb endings that disappeared over the course of the 16th century. They disappeared at different rates, and Shakespeare, for instance, sometimes used the modern verb endings with the older pronouns, or vice-versa. Here is the declension of "go" with the older pronouns and verb endings:

    I go
    thou goest
    he, she, it goeth
    we go
    you go
    they go

    For the second-person pronouns, the forms were as follows (nominative, possessive, objective)
    thou, thy/thine, thee
    you, your/yours, ye

    The endings were not always -est and -eth. For instance, the e was dropped from "to do," giving thou dost and he doth.

    Edmund Spenser was a contemporary of Shakespeare's; Milton had not been born yet when they did most of their writing, but he must have maintained the older forms for literary effect.
     

    Casquilho

    Senior Member
    Portuguese - Brazil
    I heartily thank you, Fabulist. But what happens with the verb to be? The ending is in -rt, thou art, and not in -st. Is this the single case, or are there other irregular verbs?
     
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    Starfrown

    Senior Member
    English - US
    For the second-person pronouns, the forms were as follows (nominative, possessive, objective)
    thou, thy/thine, thee
    ye, your/yours, you
    "Ye" is nominative.
    ----
    Generally:

    "thy" before consonants, "thine" before vowels. E.g. "thy feet" "thine enemy"

    The same with "my" and "mine." E.g. "my castle" "mine eyes"
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Ah. The verb "to be" had its own forms, as it still does.
    Also, will the auxiliary verb has a different form from the main verb:


    • Thou wilt not let me go
    • Do what thou willst

    The -est forms can be reduced to -st as well.


    • Thou mayest walk in the way of good men
    • Thou may'st walk in the way of good men

    And of course watch out for the subjunctive which was more prevalent earlier (including with if clauses):


    • if thou will return to me (Jeremiah 4:1)
     

    Fericire

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Brazil)
    Hey. :)

    Could you tell me how is the thou conjugation in the past/preterite? And in the future?
    Also, from what I have read, ye doesn't have a specific conjugation. For example: "That ye have a good life." Is that correct?

    Thank you in advance.
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    For the past, the -(e)st ending:
    Thou wast, thou didst, thou hadst, thou oughtest, thou shouldest, etc.
    For the future, the -lt ending:
    Thou wilt, thou shalt.
     

    morzh

    Banned
    USA
    Russian
    I think "ye" conjugates the same way as "you".
    It was used as subject, later replaced by "you", but uses the same verbs: "ye are, ye have".
     

    Fericire

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Brazil)
    By the way, how do the he/she/it verbs conjugate in the past in Middle English?
    For example: "He hath a beautiful red rose with him." What's the past of "hath" (there is almost no answer for "hadth" on Google) ?.

    I amn't really sure if I should make a new thread.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I have -> had
    thou hast -> hadst
    he/she/it - hath -> had


    we - have -> had
    ye - have -> had
    they - have -> had


    I do -> did
    thou doest*/dost** -> didst
    he/she/it - doeth*/doth** -> did


    we - do -> did
    ye - do -> did
    they - do -> did


    *in the sense of to make, to occupy yourself with something, to work at. Eze:12:9: Son of man, hath not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said unto thee, What doest thou?


    **in the sense of the interrogative and emphatic. Ro:2:21: Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Normally, the interrogative was formed by the simple verb - subject
     
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    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    Ye is still actively in use in the south and west of Ireland and it is indeed conjugated in the same manner as you is, i.e. ye are will often become "ye're", pronounced "yer".
     

    Fericire

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Brazil)
    Ye is still actively in use in the south and west of Ireland and it is indeed conjugated in the same manner as you is, i.e. ye are will often become "ye're", pronounced "yer".
    Hm, this is interesting.
    So people in south/west Ireland use Ye for plural and You for singular? or they use ye just in certain locutions?
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    Hm, this is interesting.
    So people in south/west Ireland use Ye for plural and You for singular? or they use ye just in certain locutions?
    Ye for plural, and you for singular, yes. Not all do of course, but a great many, probably a majority employ the distinction. My family (on my father's side) are from the west of Ireland and use "ye" (for the plural) as standard.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Ye is still actively in use in the south and west of Ireland and it is indeed conjugated in the same manner as you is, i.e. ye are will often become "ye're", pronounced "yer".
    I'm not entirely convinced about this.
    It is my impression that this phenomenon is related to pronunciation, not to use of the archaic "ye".
    Thus "yer man" is a local pronunciation of "your man".
    And "Are ye right there Michael, are ye right", is a particular pronunciation of "you", not the archaic "ye".
    And "Ye're talking nonsense, so ye are," is rightfully "You are talking nonsense, so you are."

    I mean that no one would write these forms using "ye" unless they wished to present the pronunciation.
    Outside quotations, they would write "you".
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    I'm not entirely convinced about this.
    It is my impression that this phenomenon is related to pronunciation, not to use of the archaic "ye".
    Thus "yer man" is a local pronunciation of "your man".
    And "Are ye right there Michael, are ye right", is a particular pronunciation of "you", not the archaic "ye".
    And "Ye're talking nonsense, so ye are," is rightfully "You are talking nonsense, so you are."

    I mean that no one would write these forms using "ye" unless they wished to present the pronunciation.
    Outside quotations, they would write "you".
    In the instances you cite there, I certainly agree, which can lead to a measure of confusion slipping in. However the use of ye as the plural form is definitely alive and well, my father, who is around the same age as yourself, uses it as such, though my mother, originally from right beside the border, markedly does not.

    I once asked about it, and whether it was along the lines of what you're laying out above, and he responded rather incredulously "you are is the singular, ye are is the plural, there's nothing to it". :)

    In Dublin, however, you would not hear such usage (outside of the generic youse/yiz), it seems to be confined to the west and south in my experience.
     

    Starfrown

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I don't think anyone has explicitly pointed out that originally "thou/thee" was singular and "ye/you" was plural. The use of "ye/you" as a singular was respectful; in other words, English once had a T-V distinction--google it :).
     

    LoboSolo

    Member
    English - US
    I don't think anyone has explicitly pointed out that originally "thou/thee" was singular and "ye/you" was plural. The use of "ye/you" as a singular was respectful; in other words, English once had a T-V distinction--google it :).
    The use of "ye" as a polite singular was an artificial attempt to mimic the T-V distinction of French. It never truly caught on and led to a lot of confusion. This, in turn, eventually to "you" becoming the one and only (singular and plural, nomin. and obj.). See the KJV of the Bible, it pretty much sticks to thou as singular and ye as plural.

    If you're writing a period piece of fiction, then pay close heed to the which years it is set in. The conjugations and the sometimes noting of ye as a polite singular were in a state of flux. In Chaucer's time, the plural took an -e, -en, or -on ending. Thus, they wende, sleepen, or goon. If you're writing a fantasy or futuristic piece, then you can pick and choose ... but stay consistent!

    But please don't screw up by saying something like "we wouldst"! That's wrong any way you look at it!
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    The use of "ye" as a polite singular was an artificial attempt to mimic the T-V distinction of French. It never truly caught on and led to a lot of confusion.:confused:
    I hope you're not still confused after all this time, Loob, but I only now came across this old thread.

    The T-V distinction is common to French (tu/vous), Italian (tu/voi) and other Romance languages. In those languages, it can correspond either to singular/plural, or to familiar/polite, or both. In English it began as a singular/plural marker but by about 1600 it had changed its force. I find this when directing Shakespeare's plays in French. Our translators usually try to keep to Shakespeare's usage, translating thou as tu and you as vous, but this confuses the actors no end because it isn't the same as French usage.

    By the time he wrote King Lear (circa 1605) Will was using the switch between thou and you as an indicator of emotion. For example, in act I scene i, Lear addresses his two elder daughters as thou. and they reply with you. (This unequal usage reflects intimate vs. respectful relations, and can still be seem in some upper-class families in continental Europe.) Lear begins by addressing his third daughter Cordelia in the same way as thou, but when she says "I love your majesty According to my bond; no more nor less" he responds with "How, how Cordelia! Mend your speech a little...".

    The courtier Kent then gets angry with the king, and calls him thou, and Lear replies in kind, but still speaks to the foreign princes as you.

    Another fifty years after that play, and most people in Britain were using you in most circumstances; the big exception was the Quakers who stood out by using an egalitarian thou to everyone, like Russian communists calling everyone comrade.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    You will see that Keith has already given a comprehensive explanation at #26 (i.e. the post above yours :))
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Erm ... I'm sorry, I don't see how Keith's post is an explanation of the comment
    The use of "ye" as a polite singular was an artificial attempt to mimic the T-V distinction of French.
    :confused:
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Poster Starfrown at #23 suggests that “English once had a T-V distinction” and makes the claim that “The use of "ye/you" as a singular was respectful;”

    Lobo Solo at #24 makes the point that “The use of "ye" as a polite singular was an artificial attempt to mimic the T-V distinction of French. It never truly caught on and led to a lot of confusion.”
    I have been unable to find any evidence online that the use of ye/you as a polite singular "led to a lot of confusion." I think the best evidence that ye/you as a polite singular was once was well established is the sometimes violent treatment once given Quakers who used thou as part of their plain speech. Nowadays, non-Quakers may find the Quaker use of second-person pronouns to be curious, but they are not offended by it. But when Quakers first adopted plain speech, some were beaten for using thou because people were still aware of the former T-V distinction and were offended when they were addressed as thou. See pages 50 and 51 of Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism and Silence among Seventeenth-Century Quakers by Richard Bauman:

    Some years later, looking back on that early period, [George] Fox recalled that Friends were "in danger many times of our lives, and often beaten, for using those words to some proud men, who would say, 'Thou'st "thou" me, thou ill-bred clown,' as though their breeding lay in saying 'you' to a singular"....
    Furthermore, the Oxford English Dictionary has this to say on the matter, under its entry for you:

    After the Conquest, use of historically plural forms with singular reference, for reasons of showing respect, deference, or formality, is found from the 13th cent. onwards. . . n Britain, usage in Latin and French was a key influence. Such usage appears at first to have been particularly characteristic of courtly or upper-class speech, and to have spread gradually through other social strata. In late Middle English and in the 16th cent. a common pattern was that forms in th-were used towards social inferiors or children, or to others to mark either intimacy or contempt, but forms in y-were used in most other functions.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Erm ... I'm sorry, I don't see how Keith's post is an explanation of the comment [that] The use of "ye" as a polite singular was an artificial attempt to mimic the T-V distinction of French.
    I'm not absolutely certain, but what I think happened was this:

    After 1066, Norman scribes in Britain tried to record the largely Saxon world about them. Those elements that they didn't understand (e.g. the two runic letters for 'th'), they often largely ignored, or recast into forms that were more familiar to them. Bear in mind that the offical court language of Britain was French until well into the 15th century.

    So for quite a while, thou/thee and you/ye bore two meanings, singular or plural, familiar or polite. This continued into the 17th century, and was clearest when talking to a single person but in an undecided register, such as when Lear was uncertain whether Cordelia was friend or foe. In the French system, he would have used tu as familar, singular and inferior. But by that time you was becoming increasingly the do-it-all option, so he uses you. But the equivalent in French, vous, is plural and polite, so the English and French systems go out of gear with each other.

    If I've got that wrapped, I apologise. I'm not really a linguist.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Could thou be interpreted not as 'familiar' but more specifically positive as 'intimate'? If you want to signal that this is no longer an intimate situation or you're losing sympathy with the person you're talking to, you could signal that by switching to you. That is how I understand Lear.

    This survived not only in Quaker speech but also in rural Britain till the 20th century. Thus Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper in Lady Chatterley (1928), makes the pronoun switch to signal a change in attitude.

    Thus, Chapter 12, when Constance comes to Mellors:
    'Have you left your underthings off?' he asked her.
    Your underthings, not thy underthings. Then after making love:
    'It isna horrid,' he said, 'even if tha thinks it is. An' tha canna ma'e it horrid. Dunna fret thysen about lovin' me....'
     

    bennymix

    Senior Member
    Quaker practices, here, were discussed in this old thread, and a link was also given.

    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1102048

    http://www.quaker.org/thee-thou.html

    ==

    Missing from Keith's account in #26 and mplsray's account in post #30 is that, while thee and thou were used in the earliest years, by Quakers, for egalitarian reasons, in the last century or two, 'thou' gradually disappeared and 'thee' became both nominative and objective. It's still occasionaly used by conservatives or among intimates.
     
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