The word ''thou'' is a second-person singular pronoun in English. It is now largely archaic, having been replaced in most contexts by ''you''. It is used in parts of Northern England and in Scots (). ''Thou'' is the nominative form; the oblique/objective form is ''thee'' (functioning as both accusative and dative), the possessive is ''thy'' (adjective) or ''thine'' (as an adjective before a vowel or as a pronoun) and the reflexive is ''thyself''. When ''thou'' is the grammatical subject of a finite verb in the indicative mood, the verb form typically ends in ''-(e)st'' (e.g., "thou goest"; "thou do(e)st"), but in some cases just ''-t'' (e.g., "thou art"; "thou shalt"). Originally, ''thou'' was simply the singular counterpart to the plural pronoun ''ye'', derived from an ancient Indo-European root. In Middle English, ''thou'' was sometimes abbreviated by putting a small "u" over the letter thorn: þͧ. Starting in the 1300s, ''thou'' and ''thee'' were used to express familiarity, formality, contempt, for addressing strangers, superiors, inferiors, or in situations when indicating singularity to avoid confusion was needed; concurrently, the plural forms, ''ye'' and ''you'' began to also be used for singular: typically for addressing rulers, superiors, equals, inferiors, parents, younger persons, and significant others. In the 17th century, ''thou'' fell into disuse in the standard language, often regarded as impolite, but persisted, sometimes in an altered form, in regional dialects of England and Scotland,Shorrocks, 433–438. as well as in the language of such religious groups as the Society of Friends. The use of the pronoun is also still present in poetry. Early English translations of the Bible used the familiar singular form of the second person, which mirrors common usage trends in other languages. The familiar and singular form is used when speaking to God in French (in Protestantism both in past and present, in Catholicism since the post-Vatican II reforms), German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Scottish Gaelic and many others (all of which maintain the use of an "informal" singular form of the second person in modern speech). In addition, the translators of the King James Version of the Bible attempted to maintain the distinction found in Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek between singular and plural second-person pronouns and verb forms, so they used ''thou'', ''thee'', ''thy'', and ''thine'' for singular, and ''ye'', ''you'', ''your'', and ''yours'' for plural. In standard modern English, ''thou'' continues to be used in formal religious contexts, in wedding ceremonies, in literature that seeks to reproduce archaic language, and in certain fixed phrases such as "fare thee well". For this reason, many associate the pronoun with solemnity or formality. Many dialects have compensated for the lack of a singular/plural distinction caused by the disappearance of ''thou'' and ''ye'' through the creation of new plural pronouns or pronominals, such as ''yinz'', ''yous'' and ''y'all'' or the colloquial ''you guys''. ''Ye'' remains common in some parts of Ireland, but the examples just given vary regionally and are usually restricted to colloquial speech.


Because ''thou'' has passed out of common use, its traditional forms are often confused by those imitating archaic speech.


The English personal pronouns have standardized declension according to the following table:


Verb forms used after ''thou'' generally end in ''-est'' (pronounced ) or ''-st'' in the indicative mood in both the present and the past tenses. These forms are used for both strong and weak verbs. Typical examples of the standard present and past tense forms follow. The ''e'' in the ending is optional; early English spelling had not yet been standardized. In verse, the choice about whether to use the ''e'' often depended upon considerations of meter. *to know: ''thou knowest'', thou knewest'' *to drive: ''thou drivest'', thou drovest'' *to make: ''thou makest'', thou madest'' *to love: ''thou lovest'', thou lovedst'' *to want: ''thou wantest'' Modal verbs also have ''-(e)st'' added to their forms: *can: ''thou canst'' *could: ''thou couldst'' *may: ''thou mayest'' *might: ''thou mightst'' *should: ''thou shouldst'' *would: ''thou wouldst'' *ought to: ''thou oughtest to'' A few verbs have irregular ''thou'' forms: *to be: ''thou art'' (or ''thou beest''), ''thou wast'' (or ''thou wert''; originally ''thou were'') *to have: ''thou hast'', ''thou hadst'' *to do: ''thou dost'' (or ''thou doest'' in non-auxiliary use) and ''thou didst'' *shall: ''thou shalt'' *will: ''thou wilt'' A few others are not inflected: *must: ''thou must'' In Proto-English, the second-person singular verb inflection was ''-es''. This came down unchanged from Indo-European and can be seen in quite distantly related Indo-European languages: Russian знаешь, ''znayesh'', thou knowest; Latin ''amas'', thou lovest. (This is parallel to the history of the third-person form, in Old English -eþ, Russian, знает, ''znayet'', he knoweth, Latin ''amat'' he loveth.) The from -es to modern English -est, which took place separately at around the same time in the closely related German and West Frisian languages, is understood to be caused by an assimilation of the consonant of the pronoun, which often followed the verb. This is most readily observed in German: liebes du → liebstu → liebst du (lovest thou).


In Dutch, the equivalent of "thou", ''du'', also became archaic and fell out of use and was replaced by the Dutch equivalent of "you", ''gij'' (later ''jij'' or ''u''), just as it has in English, with the place of the informal plural taken by ''jullie'' (''compare'' English ''y‘all''). In the subjunctive and imperative moods, the ending in ''-(e)st'' is dropped (although it is generally retained in ''thou wert'', the second-person singular past subjunctive of the verb ''to be''). The subjunctive forms are used when a statement is doubtful or contrary to fact; as such, they frequently occur after ''if'' and the poetic ''and''. :If thou be Johan, I tell it thee, right with a good advice ...; :Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart ... :I do wish thou wert a dog, that I might love thee something ... :And thou bring Alexander and his paramour before the Emperor, I'll be Actaeon ... :O WERT thou in the cauld blast, ... I'd shelter thee ... In modern regional English dialects that use ''thou'' or some variant, such as in Yorkshire, it often takes the third person form of the verb ''-s''. This comes from a merging of Early Modern English second person singular ending ''-st'' and third person singular ending ''-s'' into ''-s'' (the latter a northern variation of '''' (''-th'')). The present indicative form ''art'' ("''þu eart''") goes back to West Saxon Old English (see OED ''s.v. be'' IV.18) and eventually became standard, even in the south (''e.g.'' in Shakespeare and the Bible). For its influence also from the North, ''cf.'' Icelandic ''þú ert''. The preterite indicative of ''be'' is generally ''thou wast''.


''Thou'' originates from Old English , and ultimately via Grimm's law from the Proto-Indo-European *''tu'', with the expected Germanic vowel lengthening in accented monosyllabic words with an open syllable. ''Thou'' is therefore cognate with Icelandic and Old Norse , German and Continental Scandinavian , Latin and all major Romance languages, Irish, Kurdish, Lithuanian and Latvian or , Greek (), Slavic ты / ''ty'' or ти / ''ti'', Armenian (/), Hindi तू (), Bengali: তুই (''tui''), Persian () and Sanskrit त्वम् (). A cognate form of this pronoun exists in almost every other Indo-European language.


Old and Middle English

In Old English, ''thou'' was governed by a simple rule: ''thou'' addressed one person, and ''ye'' more than one. Beginning in the 1300s ''thou'' was gradually replaced by the plural ''ye'' as the form of address for a superior person and later for an equal. For a long time, however, ''thou'' remained the most common form for addressing an inferior person. The practice of matching singular and plural forms with informal and formal connotations is called the T–V distinction and in English is largely due to the influence of French. This began with the practice of addressing kings and other aristocrats in the plural. Eventually, this was generalized, as in French, to address any social superior or stranger with a plural pronoun, which was felt to be more polite. In French, ''tu'' was eventually considered either intimate or condescending (and to a stranger, potentially insulting), while the plural form ''vous'' was reserved and formal.

General decline in Early Modern English

Fairly suddenly in the 17th century, ''thou'' began to decline in the standard language (that is, particularly in and around London), often regarded as impolite or ambiguous in terms of politeness. It persisted, sometimes in an altered form, particularly in regional dialects of England and Scotland farther from London, as well as in the language of such religious groups as the Society of Friends. Reasons commonly maintained by modern linguists as to the decline of ''thou'' in the 17th century include the increasing identification of ''you'' with "polite society" and the uncertainty of using ''thou'' for inferiors versus ''you'' for superiors (with ''you'' being the safer default) amidst the rise of a new middle class. In the 18th century, Samuel Johnson, in ''A Grammar of the English Tongue'', wrote: "in the language of ceremony ... the second person plural is used for the second person singular", implying that ''thou'' was still in everyday familiar use for the second-person singular, while ''you'' could be used for the same grammatical person, but only for formal contexts. However, Samuel Johnson himself was born and raised not in the south of England, but in the West Midlands (specifically, Lichfield, Staffordshire), where the usage of ''thou'' persists until the present day (see below), so it is not surprising that he would consider it entirely ordinary and describe it as such. By contrast, for most speakers of southern British English, ''thou'' had already fallen out of everyday use, even in familiar speech, by sometime around 1650. ''Thou'' persisted in a number of religious, literary and regional contexts, and those pockets of continued use of the pronoun tended to undermine the obsolescence of the T–V distinction. One notable consequence of the decline in use of the second person singular pronouns ''thou'', ''thy'', and ''thee'' is the obfuscation of certain sociocultural elements of Early Modern English texts, such as many character interactions in Shakespeare's plays, which were mostly written from 1589 to 1613. Although Shakespeare is far from consistent in his writings, his characters primarily tend to use ''thou'' (rather than ''you'') when addressing another who is a social subordinate, a close friend, or a hated wrongdoer.


Use as a verb

Many European languages contain verbs meaning "to address with the informal pronoun", such as German ''duzen'', the Norwegian noun ''dus'' refers to the practice of using this familiar form of address instead of the De/Dem/Deres formal forms in common use, French ''tutoyer'', Spanish ''tutear'', Swedish ''dua'', Dutch ''jijen en jouen'', Ukrainian ''тикати (tykaty)'', Russian ''тыкать (tykat')'', Polish ''tykać'', Romanian ''tutui'', Hungarian ''tegezni'', Finnish ''sinutella'', etc. Although uncommon in English, the usage did appear, such as at the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603, when Sir Edward Coke, prosecuting for the Crown, reportedly sought to insult Raleigh by saying, :''I thou thee, thou traitor!'' ::In modern English: ''I "thou" you, you traitor!'' here using ''thou'' as a verb meaning ''to call (someone) "thou" or "thee"''. Although the practice never took root in Standard English, it occurs in dialectal speech in the north of England. A formerly common refrain in Yorkshire dialect for admonishing children who misused the familiar form was: :''Don't thee tha them as thas thee!'' ::In modern English: ''Don't you "tha" those who "tha" you!'' ::In other words: ''Don't use the familiar form "tha" towards those who refer to you as "tha".'' ("tha" being the local dialectal variant of "thou") And similar in Lancashire dialect: :''Don't thee me, thee; I's you to thee!'' ::In standard English: ''Don't "thee" me, you! I'm "you" to you!'' See further the Wiktionary page on ''thou'' as a verb.

Religious uses

As William Tyndale translated the Bible into English in the early 16th century, he preserved the singular and plural distinctions that he found in his Hebrew and Greek originals. He used ''thou'' for the singular and ''ye'' for the plural regardless of the relative status of the speaker and the addressee. Tyndale's usage was standard for the period and mirrored that found in the earlier Wycliffe's Bible and the later King James Bible. But as the use of ''thou'' in non-dialect English began to decline in the 18th century, its meaning nonetheless remained familiar from the widespread use of the latter translation. The 1662 ''Book of Common Prayer'', which is still the authorized form of worship in the Church of England, also uses the word ''thou'' to refer to the singular second person. Quakers formerly used ''thee'' as an ordinary pronoun; the stereotype has them saying ''thee'' for both nominative and accusative cases. This was started at the beginning of the Quaker movement by George Fox, who called it "plain speaking", as an attempt to preserve the egalitarian familiarity associated with the pronoun. Most Quakers have abandoned this usage. At its beginning, the Quaker movement was particularly strong in the northwestern areas of England and particularly in the north Midlands area. The preservation of ''thee'' in Quaker speech may relate to this history. Modern Quakers who choose to use this manner of "plain speaking" often use the "thee" form without any corresponding change in verb form, for example, ''is thee'' or ''was thee''. In Latter-day Saint prayer tradition, the terms "thee" and "thou" are always and exclusively used to address God, as a mark of respect. In many of the Quranic translations, particularly those compiled by the Ahmadiyya, the terms ''thou'' and ''thee'' are used. One particular example is The Holy Quran - Arabic Text and English translation, translated by Maulvi Sher Ali. In the English translations of the scripture of the Baháʼí Faith, the terms ''thou'' and ''thee'' are also used. Shoghi Effendi, the head of the religion in the first half of the 20th century, adopted a style that was somewhat removed from everyday discourse when translating the texts from their original Arabic or Persian to capture some of the poetic and metaphorical nature of the text in the original languages and to convey the idea that the text was to be considered holy. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which first appeared in 1946, retained the pronoun ''thou'' exclusively to address God, using ''you'' in other places. This was done to preserve the tone, at once intimate and reverent, that would be familiar to those who knew the King James Version and read the Psalms and similar text in devotional use. The New American Standard Bible (1971) made the same decision, but the revision of 1995 (New American Standard Bible, Updated edition) reversed it. Similarly, the 1989 Revised English Bible dropped all forms of ''thou'' that had appeared in the earlier New English Bible (1970). The New Revised Standard Version (1989) omits ''thou'' entirely and claims that it is incongruous and contrary to the original intent of the use of ''thou'' in Bible translation to adopt a distinctive pronoun to address the Deity. When referring to God, "thou" is often capitalized for clarity and reverence.

Literary uses


Like his contemporaries William Shakespeare uses ''thou'' both in the intimate, French-style sense, and also to emphasize differences of rank, but he is by no means consistent in using the word, and friends and lovers sometimes call each other ''ye'' or ''you'' as often as they call each other ''thou'', sometimes in ways that can be analysed for meaning, but often apparently at random. For example, in the following passage from ''Henry IV'', Shakespeare has Falstaff use both forms with Henry. Initially using "you" in confusion on waking he then switches to a comfortable and intimate "thou". :Prince: Thou art so fat-witted with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldest truly know. What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? ... :Falstaff: Indeed, you come near me now, Hal ... And, I prithee, sweet wag, when thou art a king, as God save thy GraceMajesty, I should say; for grace thou wilt have none – While in ''Hamlet'', Shakespeare uses discordant second person pronouns to express Hamlet's antagonism towards his mother. :Queen Gertrude: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.. :Hamlet: Mother, you have my father much offended.

More recent uses

Except where everyday use survives in some regions of England, the air of informal familiarity once suggested by the use of ''thou'' has disappeared; it is used often for the opposite effect with solemn ritual occasions, in readings from the ''King James Bible'', in Shakespeare and in formal literary compositions that intentionally seek to echo these older styles. Since becoming obsolete in most dialects of spoken English, it has nevertheless been used by more recent writers to address exalted beings such as God, a skylark, Achilles, and even ''The Mighty Thor''. In ''The Empire Strikes Back'', Darth Vader addresses the Emperor with the words: "What is thy bidding, my master?" In Leonard Cohen's song "Bird on the Wire", he promises his beloved that he will reform, saying "I will make it all up to thee." In Diana Ross's song, "Upside Down", (written by Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards) there is the lyric "Respectfully I say to thee I'm aware that you're cheatin'." . The converse—the use of the second person singular ending ''-est'' for the third person—also occurs ("So sayest Thor!"―spoken by Thor). This usage often shows up in modern parody and pastiche in an attempt to make speech appear either archaic or formal. The forms ''thou'' and ''thee'' are often transposed.

Current usage

''You'' is now the standard English second-person pronoun and encompasses both the singular and plural senses. In some dialects, however, ''thou'' has persisted, and in others thou is retained for poetic and/or literary use. Further, in others the vacuum created by the loss of a distinction has led to the creation of new forms of the second-person plural, such as ''y'all'' in the Southern United States or ''yous'' by some Australians. The forms vary across the English-speaking world and between literature and the spoken language. It also survives as a fossil word in the commonly-used phrase "holier-than-thou".

Persistence of second-person singular

In traditional dialects, ''thou'' is used in the counties of Cumberland, Westmorland, Durham, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and some western parts of Nottinghamshire. Such dialects normally also preserve distinct verb forms for the singular second person, for example ''thee coost'' (standard English: ''you could'', archaic: ''thou couldst'') in northern Staffordshire. The word ''thee'' is used in the East Shropshire dialect which is now largely confined to the Dawley area of Telford and referred to as the Dawley dialect. Throughout rural Yorkshire, the old distinction between nominative and objective is preserved. The possessive is often written as ''thy'' in local dialect writings, but is pronounced as an unstressed ''tha'', and the possessive form of ''tha'' has in modern usage almost exclusively followed other English dialects in becoming ''yours'' or the local word ''your'n'' (from ''your one''): The apparent incongruity between the archaic nominative, objective and genitive forms of this pronoun on the one hand and the modern possessive form on the other may be a signal that the linguistic drift of Yorkshire dialect is causing ''tha'' to fall into disuse; however, a measure of local pride in the dialect may be counteracting this. Some other variants are specific to certain areas. In Sheffield, the pronunciation of the word was somewhere in between a /d/ and a /th/ sound, with the tongue at the bottom of the mouth; this led to the nickname of the "dee-dahs" for people from Sheffield. In Lancashire and West Yorkshire, ''ta'' was used as an unstressed shortening of ''thou'', which can be found in the song "On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at". These variants are no longer in use. In rural North Lancashire between Lancaster and the North Yorkshire border ''tha'' is preserved in colloquial phrases such as "What would ''tha'' like for ''thi'' tea?" (What would you like for your dinner), and appen ''tha'' waint" ("perhaps you won't"''happen'' being the dialect word for ''perhaps'') and ''tha knows'' (you know). This usage in Lancashire is becoming rare, except for elderly and rural speakers. The use of the word "thee" in the song "I Predict a Riot" by Leeds band Kaiser Chiefs ("Watching the people get lairy / is not very pretty, I tell thee") caused some comment by people who were unaware that the word is still in use in the Yorkshire dialect. The word "thee" is also used in the song Upside Down "Respectfully, I say to thee / I'm aware that you're cheating". The use of the phrase ''tha knows'' has been widely used in various songs by Arctic Monkeys, a popular band from High Green, a suburb of Sheffield. Alex Turner, the band's lead singer, has also often replaced words with "tha knows" during live versions of the songs. The use persists somewhat in the West Country dialects, albeit somewhat affected. Some of the Wurzels songs include "Drink Up Thy Zider" and "Sniff Up Thy Snuff". ''Thoo'' has also been used in the Orcadian Scots dialect in place of the singular informal ''thou''. In Shetland dialect, the other form of Insular Scots, ''du'' and ''dee'' are used. The word "thou" has been reported in the North Northern Scots Cromarty dialect as being in common use in the first half of the 20th century and by the time of its extinction only in occasional use. The Cromarty Fisherfolk Dialect
Am Baile, page 5

Use in cinema

The word ''thou'' can occasionally be heard in films recorded in certain English dialect. In Ken Loach's films ''Kes'', ''The Price of Coal'' and ''Looks and Smiles'', the word is used frequently in the dialogue. It is used occasionally, but much less frequently, in the 1963 film ''This Sporting Life''. In the 2018 film ''Peterloo'', the word is used by many of the working-class characters in Lancashire, including Samuel Bamford.

Use in video games

All forms of ''thou'' appear in in-game dialogues of the ''Souls'' video game series. The games are set in late medieval dark fantasy worlds. An earlier example is the original ''Dragon Quest'' for the Nintendo Entertainment System. ''Thou'' is also used in the ''Persona'' series regularly in the phrase, "I am thou, thou art I"—a localization of the original Japanese use of the archaic second-person pronoun ''nanji'' (and ''ware'' in the first person). Many forms of thou appeared throughout the "Godmaster" expansion DLC of ''Hollow Knight''.

See also

*T–V distinction



*Baugh, Albert C. and Thomas Cable. ''A History of the English Language'', 5th ed. *Burrow, J. A., Turville-Petre, Thorlac. ''A Book of Middle English''. *Daniel, David. ''The Bible in English: Its History and Influence''. . * *Smith, Jeremy. ''A Historical Study of English: Form, Function, and Change''. *"Thou, ''pers. pron., 2nd sing.''" Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989)
''Oxford English Dictionary''
*Trudgill, Peter. (1999) Blackwell Publishing. ''Dialects of England''.

Further reading

*Brown, Roger and Gilman, Albert
''The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity''
1960, reprinted in: ''Sociolinguistics: the Essential Readings'', Wiley-Blackwell, 2003, *Byrne, St. Geraldine. ''Shakespeare's use of the pronoun of address: its significance in characterization and motivation'', Catholic University of America, 1936 (reprinted Haskell House, 1970) . *Quirk, Raymond. ''Shakespeare and the English Language'', in Kenneth Muir and Sam Schoenbaum, eds, A New Companion to Shakespeare Studies*, 1971, Cambridge UP *Wales, Katie. ''Personal Pronouns in Present-Day English''. *Walker, Terry. ''Thou and you in early modern English dialogues: trials, depositions, and drama comedy'', John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2007,

External links

by Samuel Johnson – includes description of 18th century use
Contemporary use of ''thou'' in Yorkshire''Thou''
The Maven's Word of the Day

(archived forum discussion)

by Seamus Cooney {{Middle English personal pronouns Category:Archaic English words and phrases Category:English grammar Category:King James Only movement Category:Middle English personal pronouns Category:Personal pronouns Category:Etiquette Category:English words