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'Thou' in Archaic Grammar

By :-) S. Kocurova

 

Contents

 

Introduction
Disclaimers
Use of the 'Thou' Pronoun
Inflecting the Present Tense in the 'Thou' Form
Examples of Present Tense Inflection
Inflecting the Simple Past in the 'Thou' Form
Knowing When to Inflect
The Subjunctive
Subjective and Objective Pronouns
Examples of Subjects and Objects in a Sentence
Reflexive Pronouns
Possessive Pronouns
Possesive Adjectives
Conclusion
References
Cheat Sheet
Grammar Tables
Practice
Practice Answers

Introduction

This piece was prompted by a prose-poem “Katrina’s Resolution” by the rather excellent fantasy writer William A. Thorn. I will start by saying that this is a very good poem which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend if you like non-rhyming poetry that really sings. Only one thing spoiled the reading for me (and probably, I must add, for very few other people). To add verisimilitude to the words of the mediaeval commander rousing her troops before battle, William revived a now extinct grammatical construction once used in archaic English, the ‘thou’ form, and used it incorrectly. This surprised me because, looking at his other work, his spelling and grammar are faultless.

But, after thinking about it for a while I came to the conclusion that it isn’t so surprising after all. The use (or rather, uses) of ‘thou’ are no longer taught in our schools. Neither is formal grammar, though if you by any chance have learnt this, feel free to skip to the Grammar Tables. (If you are grotesquely uninterested in learning anything, may I direct you to The Cheat Sheet.) Unless one spends most of one’s time reading Shakespeare, one has every excuse for being a little unsure about the correct usage of a pronoun (and associated grammatical bits) that died out over 200 years ago. (Okay, so some Romantic Poets are really heavy on the ‘thou’s. But the point is that they were trying to appear old fashioned.)

This tutorial is long for a reason. Nobody ever taught me to use 'thou', I learned it myself from what I read. Grammar rules in modern English are much looser than they were 300 or 400 years ago. I have included enough grammar rules here to allow you to overcome your unconscious use of English and view it as a foreign language. This will allow you to pick up archaic grammar in the future just by reading suitable texts.

Disclaimers

Disclaimer No. 1
I am a high school student, not any kind of English professor. I have never formally studied grammar or archaic English. I have learnt exactly two foreign languages: German to GCSE level and French to AS level. I only know this stuff because I happen to have been lumbered with the sad sort of mind that revels in this kind of detail. Thus, if I make a mistake that you happen to know better about, e-mail me (contact info should be somewhere on the page): I will bow thrice in your direction and promptly change it.

Disclaimer No. 2
Also, please note that when I use the term ‘archaic English’ I am using it painfully loosely. English has changed much more over the years than many people think. Chaucer, for instance, wrote The Canterbury Tales in English, but an English that is almost incomprehensible to you or I today. The correct use of ‘thou’ will not mean you are writing in the correct English for your chosen period. However, it will give a historical flavour to a piece, allow you to draw attention to subtle social differences and shouldn’t make real English Professors wince (too much).

Disclaimer No. 3
In fact, I have no idea exactly how I know all this. So it may well turn out that either A. I am making it all up (In which case my apologies: I always knew I had a fertile imagination but I never thought it was this good.) or B. In a past life I actually did speak this form of English. (Which is rather worrying since all my ancestors were Bohemian.)

Use of the ‘Thou’ Pronoun

 

‘Thou’ is a personal pronoun. A personal pronoun can take the place of a name or a noun in a sentence. Modern personal pronouns are ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘we’ and ‘they’. There is also ‘one’, which appears to be disappearing from general usage, despite my best efforts.

e.g. Jack-The-Giant-Killer whipped the sword from its scabbard.
Turns to: He whipped the sword from its scabbard.

Some of these pronouns are singular forms of the others. Thus ‘I’ is the singular form of ‘we’, ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’ are singular forms of ‘they’. Of all the pronouns, only ‘you’ has both a plural and singular meaning (unless one happens to be Gollum, in which case we can count ‘we’ as well, yes my precioussss…).

‘Thou’ is a little different as a pronoun because it incorporates information about social status as well as number. It is the familiar singular form of ‘you’, similar to French ‘tu’ or German ‘du’. If you lived in mediaeval times you would use the ‘thou’ form when talking to a loved one or social inferior (funny, that). In those days, your lord, nodding acquaintance or some guy you met on the street would be ‘you’. Your wife, your kid and a single servant would be ‘thou’. However, a harem of wives (if you were a Chinese emperor), a gaggle of kids and an…ummm…bevy…of servants would be ‘you’, because there was more than one of them. (Well, okay, they’d actually have been ‘ye’, but that is a little too complicated for the purpose of this article.)

There is historical evidence that people weren’t as snotty about the ‘thou’/’you’ divide as the French and Germans are today. The French even have special verbs for the different modes of address; one can ‘tutoyer’ or ‘vousvoyer’ somebody. In German, one asks ‘Kann Man ‘Du’ sagen?’ In Shakespeare, however, ‘thou’ and ‘you’ might be used interchangeably by a master talking to his servant. However I believe that for that servant to call his master ‘thou’ back would be frowned upon at the very least and possibly considered an outright provocation.

 

Inflecting the Present Tense in the 'Thou' Form

 

Personal pronouns are normally coupled with a verb. To use the pronoun correctly, one must know the correct verb ending to add onto the infinitive (the ‘to’ form) of the verb and thus ‘inflect’ it so it is obvious that the verb goes with the pronoun.

To inflect the verb, one must also know the tense of the verb (the form of the verb which shows if the action is happening in the past, present or future). Here I will teach you to inflect the present tense (when something is happening now) of the ‘thou’ form of a verb. English verb endings (in any tense) are notoriously irregular and not all that noticeable anyway. The only rule I can think of right now is that in the present tense one adds an ‘s’ to the end of the ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’ forms. (For those interested, these are third person pronouns. ‘I’ is first, ‘you’ is second and the rest are made by adding ‘plural’. Thus ‘we’ is ‘first person plural’.)

However, I will demonstrate this now for the sake of practice.

Chosen infinitive: to shoot
Conjugated (all the present tense inflections) form:
I shoot
You shoot
He, she or it shoots
We shoot
They all shoot

The verb ending for ‘thou’ is ‘st’. Thus, the form of shoot inflected for ‘thou’ would be ‘shootst’. But try saying this. I think ‘tst’ crops up in German, so if you speak that language better than I (which is not hard) you should have no problems. However, for the rest of us, an extra ‘e’ should be enough to stop us tying our tongues in knots. So, ‘thou shootest’. I don’t know why thou shootest because firearms haven’t been invented yet, but I just went to all that trouble typing up the example, so shoot thou wilt.

More observant readers may have noticed something amiss in the preceding paragraph. “Shouldn’t it be ‘wilst’?”, I hear you cry. Ummm, no (I’m rather scared of anybody who is able to cry quotation marks). Well at least I don’t think so (remember, I never studied this formally). As I said before, English verbs are notoriously irregular. In fact, there are certain verbs that are notoriously irregular in any language. First amongst them are ‘to have’ and ‘to be’. ‘To have’ is inflected as ‘thou hast’ (as opposed to ‘havest’), ‘to be’ changes to ‘thou art’ (‘Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?’). As we’ve already seen, ‘will’ becomes ‘thou wilt’ (‘Oh, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?’). ‘Shall’, and most verbs ending in double ‘l’, follows its pattern, becoming ‘shalt’.

To inflect most other English verbs, the best method is to write down what the verb should be, then try to say it aloud and add an ‘e’ or double letters as necessary. Don’t worry if you hesitate between two inflections: historically, people weren’t too picky about spelling and chances are both forms will have been in use.

Some Examples of Present Tense Inflection

‘To do’ becomes ‘thou dost’. The English are rather lucky here since in most languages ‘to do’ is part of the ‘notoriously irregular’ group. The majority of verbs ending in a vowel should be relatively easy to inflect.

Except for ‘To go’: since it sounds a bit strange as ‘thou gost’, I think we need another ‘e’ to make it ‘thou goest’.

‘To eat’ is one of those unpronounceable ones ending in ‘t’, so another extra ‘e’ is called for to make ‘thou eatest’. Many infinitives ending in a consonant will need this.

But it is just possible to get ones tongue around the inflected form of ‘did’ (‘to have done’): ‘thou didst’.

‘To run’ is a bit overly Germanic as ‘thou runst’, so I would add an ‘e’ and double letters to make it ‘thou runnest’.

However, ‘to pull’ is causing me problems. ‘Thou pullst’? ‘Thou pullest’? Whichever, thou 'must' (hah, we already have an ‘st’ here!) decide…

I have seen problems such as ‘pullst’/’pullest’ or ‘knowst’/’knowest’ resolved by contracting the longer form. Thus ‘pullest’ contracts to ‘pull’st’ and ‘knowest’ contracts to ‘know’st’. The apostrophe is to indicate that there was an extra vowel there but the writer has decided it is unnecessary. Another way to resolve a problem if you are unsure is to say the longest form of your word over and over again and write down what you get. For instance, ‘thou darest’ said many times over, for me eventually becomes ‘thou durst’, which, funnily enough, is what it was.

Inflecting the Simple Past in the ‘Thou’ Form

 

The simple past tense is used in English to indicate something that happened in the past and has stopped happening now.

e.g. ‘I ran away when I saw the dragon.’
‘We made a bridle for Pegasus.’
‘They all walked slowly into the throne room.’
‘He shouted out.’

Here, ‘ran’, ‘flew’, ‘walked’ and ‘shouted’ are past forms of the verb.

To create a regular past form, ‘ed’ is added to the infinitive form of the verb.

e.g. ‘To walk’ turns to ‘walked’
‘To shout’ turns to ‘shouted’
‘To kiss’ turns to ‘kissed’

Irregular past forms (‘ran, ‘flew’, ‘ate’, ‘hit’, etc.) must be learnt.

Modern past forms do not change.

e.g. I walked
You walked
He, she or it walked
We walked
They all walked

Except for the verb ‘to be’

e.g. I was
You were
He, she or it was
We were
They all were

However, archaic past forms do change according to the pronoun. To use ‘thou’ with regular past forms, you need to add an ‘st’ onto the modern past form.

e.g. ‘You walked’ turns to ‘Thou walkedst’

This is ugly but correct. The technique of saying it over and over again then writing it down works here too. For example ‘kissed’ turns to either ‘kissedst’ or ‘kist.’

To use ‘thou’ with irregular forms, add an ‘st’ or an ‘est’ according to pronunciation.

e.g. ‘You made’ turns to ‘thou madest’

As always, ‘to be’ is irregular. The past form inflected for ‘thou’ is ‘wert’.

Some past forms (‘thou flewst’, ‘thou hittest’) will never sound right to the modern ear (even if they are right). If one comes across a past form just doesn’t work the best solution is to change the tense of the sentence and recast it one of two tenses:

A. The present perfect.

This is formed from the auxiliary ‘to have’ inflected according to the pronoun plus the ‘past participle’ of the verb.

e.g. I have run
You have made
They have walked
He has shouted

In the ‘thou’ form these become:

Thou hast run
Thou hast made
Thou hast walked
Thou hast shouted

It is best used if the event one is talking about has just occurred or occurred regularly (and may still be occurring).

e.g. Thou hast fought well today, my son.
Ah, I see that thou hast fallen victim to an orc.
or And thou hast often seen flying pink giraffes in these parts?
For many years thou hast helped me in my times of need.

B. The compound past.

This is formed from the auxiliary ‘to do’ inflected according to the pronoun plus the infinitive form of the verb.

e.g. I did run
You did make
They did walk
He did shout

In the ‘thou’ form these become:

Thou didst run
Thou didst make
Thou didst walk
Thou didst shout

It is best used if the event one is talking about occurred some time ago and has stopped occurring (even if it occurred regularly).

e.g. Thou didst fight well when thou wert young.
Thou didst fall victim to an orc, which is why thou art now contacting me through a medium.
Thou didst often see pink flying giraffes when thou hadst been drinking. (Implication being that he has either now sobered up or graduated to a different hallucination.)
For many years thou didst help me in my times of need, but thou seemst to have ceased of late.

Knowing When to Inflect

I have one very important thing to point out here: the ‘st’ verb ending is only used with ‘thou’. Trying to give a mediaeval feel to ones language by ending all verbs with ‘st’, although a common phenomenon, is ungrammatical. And another, only slightly less important, thing: not everything that looks like a verb actually needs inflecting in this way. English tenses are composed of auxiliaries, participles and sundry other bits, not all of which change according to the pronoun.

Look at the present perfect tense (don’t worry, I don’t understand it either) of ‘to eat’:

Infinitive: ‘to eat’

I have eaten
You have eaten
He, she or it has eaten
We have eaten
They all have eaten

Notice that the ‘eaten’ part (the past participle, for those interested) does not change. However, ‘to have’ (the auxiliary) is inflected according to the pronoun. Whenever you put a sentence in anything other than the present tense into the ‘thou’ form, you need to be very sure which parts change and which parts don’t. Please don’t go round madly inflecting everything: you will only create grammatical nonsense.

e.g. ‘What have you done?’
is not: ‘What hast thou dost?’
but turns to ‘What hast thou done?’

The first rule for working out which parts need to change is that the verb directly following the pronoun is the only one in need of inflection. If you are still unsure try writing the sentence out for all the pronouns and see which parts need changing.

e.g. ‘What have I done?’
‘What have you done?’
‘What has he, she or it done?’ (That sounds vaguely insulting…)
‘What have we done?’
‘What have they all done?’

So we can see that we only need to inflect the ‘have’ part of the verb.

I can foresee some problems here. For instance, ‘will’, as in ‘I will do something’, doesn’t change for any of the modern pronouns (write it out for yourself, I can’t be bothered) but changes to ‘wilt’ in the ‘thou’ form. So, this, like most things in English, isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you find a sentence that doesn’t seem to work, try inflecting different parts until it does. If it sounds right it will probably be right.

The Subjunctive

Here I must make an aside to mention a fairly modern piece of English grammar that seems to be becoming obsolete. I refer to the subjunctive mood. If anybody reading has parents or grandparents that were born in the 1930’s then I suggest they make a point of listening to them carefully (As if you didn’t :-): they may well still use it. If anybody reading this was born in the 1930’s themselves then they can skip this bit because they know all about it already.

The subjunctive is not a tense, the subjunctive is a mood, a whole extra set of tenses. The subjunctive mood is used in many languages to indicate an element of uncertainty. In English, its use seems to be confined to sentences which suggest a need. Other sentences are in the ‘indicative’. A good indicator that you need the subjunctive in a sentence is the presence of ‘that’ in the sentence coupled with expressions of ‘wanting’ or ‘wishing’.

e.g. I wish that you ran faster.
I would be happier if he were here. (Yes, sorry, that is correct.)

You will notice that ‘you ran faster’ and ‘he were here’ aren’t correct as present tense indicative inflections. This is because they are in the subjunctive.

If you don’t know the subjunctive I can’t teach it to you myself since I use it completely without thinking. However, if you do know it or use it unconsciously, this is a warning for you: in the ‘thou’ form the verb is mostly inflected as if it were present tense indicative, except for ‘to be’, which becomes ‘wert’ (since it is ‘were’ in modern language).

e.g. I would be happier if he were here.
Is not: I would be happier if thou art here.
But: I would be happier if thou wert here.

Subjective and Objective Pronouns

Hey! Wait, stop, where art thou going? What, thou sayest that we have finished? Thou knowest everything that thou needst to know? My gravest apologies, sir, but thou dost not (notice no contraction: dostn’t is a little hard to pronounce), not by a long way.

What I have been writing about so far are so-called subjective pronouns. These are pronouns used when the person you are calling ‘thou’ is the one doing something in the sentence. So, ‘thou’ is correct to use when saying ‘thou shootest’. But what if you are threatening to shoot them? ‘I will shoot thou’ doesn’t sound quite right. When the person you are calling ‘thou’ is having something done to them, a different kind of pronoun, the objective pronoun, is necessary. Modern English objective pronouns are ‘me, you, him, her, it, us, them’. The objective pronoun for ‘thou’ is ‘thee’. So, ‘If thou dost not go, I will shoot thee.’ Sounds better, doesn’t it?

There are two ways of determining if you need to put ‘thee’ in a sentence. One is to use you knowledge of modern English grammar. Unfortunately, the closest equivalent to ‘thou’, ‘you’, does not change in the objective. However, if you recast the whole sentence in the ‘he’ or ‘she’ form and look to find where you put ‘him’ or ‘her’, you should be able to get it right.

e.g. If you don’t stop teasing my dragon I’m sure it will bite you.
In the he form: If he doesn’t stop teasing my dragon I’m sure it will bite him.
In the thou form: If thou dost not stop teasing my dragon I’m sure it will bite thee.

Easy, see?

The other way is quicker, if more difficult, but becomes second nature over time. Basically one just has to work out which parts of the sentence are subjects and which parts of the sentence are the objects.

Examples of Subjects and Objects in a Sentence

In these sentences, subjects will be underlined, objects will be italic.

If there is only one thing in the sentence, then that thing is probably the subject.

e.g. Estella was kissing.
The decapitated head bounced.

If there is more than one thing in the sentence but they are not interacting, then they are all subjects. If they are interacting, but they are all playing equal parts in the interaction, they are still all subjects.

e.g. Estella and the knight were kissing. (Yes, they are definitely interacting. But who started it? We don’t know. So both are subjects.)
The decapitated head bounced while the helmet rolled away.

If there are several things in the sentence that are interacting, those that initiated the interaction are the subjects and those that are being interacted with are the objects.

e.g. The knight was kissing Estella. (Ah, so now we know. He’s the subject.)
The decapitated head bounced into the helmet.

You can also have more than one object.

e.g. The knight was kissing Estella and her maid. (heyhey!)
The decapitated head bounced into the helmet and landed beside my feet.

Or more than one subject and more than one object.

e.g. The knight and his squire were kissing Estella and her maid.
The decapitated head and the eyeball bounced into the helmet and landed beside my feet.

I must admit here that I haven’t been completely honest with you. In fact I have indulged in a few ‘lies-to-children’. (Read the ‘The Science of Discworld’ for an explanation of this.) There are actually two types of objective pronouns. The direct is when the action is affecting something directly: ‘I kicked him.’, ‘She pulled his hair.’ . The indirect is when a preposition (‘at’,’to’,’for’,’by’, etc.) intervenes: ‘He threw a punch at me.’ ‘She gave the sword to him.’ Luckily, in English they are both covered by the same word. The only problem I can think of right now is sentences with an indirect object where the subject isn’t clear, such as ‘The decapitated head that once belonged to you.’ In these cases the rule to remember is that any pronoun preceded by a preposition is still an objective pronoun, albeit an indirect one, and needs to have the objective pronoun form.

e.g. ‘The decapitated head that once belonged to you.’
Turns to ‘The decapitated head that once belonged to thee.’

Another consideration here are the ‘stressed’ pronouns (if anybody knows the correct term I will be very grateful). When one wants to emphasize somebody’s identity (for instance, when expressing surprise or alarm) and they are not the subject of the sentence, one must use a stressed form of the personal pronoun identical to the objective pronoun.

e.g. ‘It was him!’
‘The state? It’s me.’ (Translated from Louis XIV ‘L’état, c’est moi.’)
‘It is them I fear.’
Or simply, ‘Her!’

So in these cases, ‘thee’ is used instead of ‘thou’.

e.g. ‘It was thee!’
‘It is thee I fear.’
Or, simply, ‘Thee!’

Reflexive Pronouns

You’re probably getting bored by now. You’re probably wondering what possessed you to waste ten minutes of your time on an obsolete piece of grammar. However, I will point out to you that by clicking on the link and willing choosing to read the article of such a notoriously verbose writer, you really did it to yourself.

That last phrase, in a nutshell, is what reflexive pronouns are all about. Actions which (and I have cast and recast this phrase in order to avoid using a reflexive pronoun) are self-directed are indicated by a reflexive pronoun placed after the verb and the subjectivepronoun. Modern English reflexive pronouns are ‘myself’, ‘yourself’, ‘himself’, ‘herself’, ‘itself’, ‘ourselves’ and ‘themselves’. Literally, they say that you did the action to ‘the self that belongs to you’.

In stricter languages such as French and German, any self-directed action must be indicated by a reflexive verb plus a reflexive pronoun (e.g. I wash myself. French: ‘Je me lave.’ German: ‘Ich wasche mich.’). However English verbs only use a reflexive pronoun when there is some possibility of confusion or the verb is ‘transitive’ and must be followed by an object. So we can say, ‘I washed’ and the meaning would be clear. But say you are taking a bath with the baby. In that case, it would be clearer to say ‘I washed myself (and then I washed the baby).’ In a similar vein, ‘I am sautéing’ (‘to sauté’=to fry quickly in a little fat) is incorrect since ‘to sauté’ is transitive. Notice how illogical English is; I couldn’t think of any English verbs that were always transitive so I had to use one we nicked from the French.

So, are you sautéing yourself or the carrots? One must be precise about these things, you know…

The reflexive pronoun for the ‘thou’ form is ‘thyself’. (The self that belongs to thee-more on this in the next two sections.) It is relatively easy to recast from the ‘you’ form, since ‘you’ changes to ‘yourself’ in the reflexive.

e.g. ‘Are you sautéing yourself or the carrots?’
Turns to: ‘Art thou sautéing thyself or the carrots?’
You washed yourself before you washed the baby.’
Turns to: ‘Thou washed thyself before thou washed the baby.’

Possessive Pronouns

As we have already seen, the pronoun is a cunning and versatile beast. And not only can it inform you just who is doing what and to whom, it can also be used to indicate ‘belonging’. For this we need the (you guessed it) possessive pronoun. Possessive pronouns are used in an English sentence to replace a noun (and attached adjectives, more on that later) that belongs to somebody. Modern English possessive personal pronouns are ‘mine’, ‘yours’, ‘his’, ‘hers’, ‘its’ (notice no apostrophe), ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’.

The pro of the possessive pronoun is it allows you to claim, rather forcefully, something as yours. The…ummm…con of the possessive pronoun is that it gives no clue as to the identity of the belonging. Thus, when one points at something and shouts “Mine!” the thing one is pointing at could be a gigaton nuclear weapon, ones significant other or a very small piece of belly button fluff.

e.g. Hey, don’t drive away in that, that’s our carriage!
Turns to: Hey, don’t drive away in that, that’s ours!
Instead of finding his hedge cutter he hopped over the fence and used my new one.
Turns to: Instead of finding his, he hopped over the fence and used mine.

The possessive pronoun for the ‘thou’ form is ‘thine’. Luckily the possessive pronoun for the ‘you’ form is easily recognizable, so all one needs to do is a direct substitution.

e.g. Oh, I am so sorry, I didn’t realize it was yours.
Turns to: Oh, I am so sorry, I didn’t realize it was thine.
Do you really believe that hedge cutter is yours?
Turns to: Do you really believe that hedge cutter is thine?

(Try this one on your neighbor next time and add some Shakespearian insults. You probably won’t get your hedge cutter back, since they’ll be too busy running away, but it should be highly satisfying.)

Possessive Adjectives

Okay. Lets say we have something in a sentence that we want to indicate is ours. We’ve just said that a possessive pronoun replaces a noun that belongs to somebody. We could therefore, just bung a possessive pronoun in the sentence. But this would obliterate the identity of the noun. What we really want to do is describe the noun as belonging to us. In this way, we can preserve ‘what the noun is’ whilst adding information about ‘who it belongs to’.

Grammatically (as you hopefully learnt in primary school) a word that describes a noun is an adjective. Thus, a word that describes ‘who a noun belongs to’ is a ‘possessive adjective’. Modern English possessive adjectives are ‘my’, ‘your’, ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘its’, ‘our’ and ‘their’.

The interesting thing about possessive adjectives is that, unlike normal adjectives, it replaces the article (‘a’, ‘an’ or ‘the’) of the noun it belongs to.

If you see a dragon (‘Hey, that’s a dragon!’) and you want to inform everybody that it is green, you don’t erase the article of the sentence (‘Hey, that’s green dragon!’). Instead you add the adjective after the article (‘Hey, that’s a green dragon!’).

However, if you see a dragon (‘Hey, that’s a dragon!’) and you want to inform everybody that it belongs to you, you don’t keep the article of the sentence (‘Hey, that’s a my dragon!’). Instead, you replace the article with a possessive adjective (‘Hey, that’s my dragon!).

The possessive adjective for ‘thou’ is ‘thy’ or ‘thine’.

There are two forms of the possessive adjective for the same reason that there are two forms of the indefinite article (‘a’), ‘a’ or ‘an’.

When ‘a’ is used in front of a noun starting with a vowel (‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’ or ‘u’) it becomes ‘an’ because it is difficult to pronounce ‘a’ and a vowel in a row. Similarly,‘thy’ is used preceding a consonant and ‘thine’ is used preceding a vowel.

e.g. ‘Is that your broadsword or are you just pleased to see me?’
turns to ‘Is that thy broadsword or art thou just pleased to see me.’
However, ‘Your orangutan is going through my saddlebags.’
Turns to ‘Thine orangutan is going through my saddlebags.’

There, we’ve almost finished. Told you it was simple.

Conclusion

Oh, enough with the pronouns already!

Okay. Just one more thing. There are other grammatical forms in English that I had neither space nor patience to cover here. However, the beauty of the English language is that it is extremely lazy and often makes no real distinction between these forms. Thus you don’t have to worry-the rules I taught you above still hold for most examples, even if they aren’t 100% grammatically rigorous.

I have been purposefully as exhaustive (and exhausting) as possible in my treatment of ‘thou’ simply because a thorough understanding of the principles behind its use will make things much easier if you wish to go on studying archaic grammar. There’s a lot out there to learn, most of which can be picked up just by reading once one knows what is going on. I only hope I haven’t put you off!

References

The English of Renaissance texts is probably easiest for fantasy writers to copy, since it retains an archaic feel without being as incomprehensible as Old or Middle English. Most Renaissance works are public domain (obviously :-) and can be found on the internet.

Here are a few links:

Project Gutenberg is one of the largest collections of e-texts on the internet.

You might also want to try the Modern English Collection at the University of Virginia Library.

However, they do not sort contributions by date, so you have to know the authors you are looking for. Try any of the authors listed at the Internet Shakespeare Editions site.

As an atheist I never thought I’d say this, but the King James translation of the bible is also rather useful.

And all else fails, try searching for the appropriate inflection on Google This won’t tell you what the correct inflection is, but it will tell you if your made-up inflection is right. Make sure that the source of the inflection is an actual Renaissance text, otherwise you may just end up repeating somebody else’s modern mistake.


 

Cheat Sheet

This is a quick way of putting sentences into the ‘thou’ form. It isn’t perfect but produces accurate results as long as the grammar of the sentence is simple.

Step One

Write out the sentence that you want to have in the ‘thou’ form.

e.g. “You can stay here as long as you like and I will look after you. Take yourself off to bed and give your old bones a rest for you came far today; I will put your horse into the stable for you.”

Step Two

Put the sentence into the ‘he’ form. Don’t worry if it sounds a bit odd.

e.g. “He can stay here as long as he likes and I will look after him. [He should] Take himself off to bed and give his old bones a rest for he came far today; I will put his horse into the stable for him.”

Step Three

Make these substitutions:

‘Thou’ for ‘he’
‘Thee’ for ‘him’
‘Thyself’ for ‘himself’
‘Thy’ for ‘his’ (before a consonant)
‘Thine’ for ‘his’ (before a vowel)

e.g. “Thou can stay here as long as thou likes and I will look after thee. Take thyself off to bed and give thine old bones a rest for thou came far today; I will put thy horse into the stable for thee.”

Step Four

Add ‘t’, ‘st’, or ‘est’ (so that it will still be possible to pronounce) to the end of any verb that comes straight after one of the words you substituted.

e.g. “Thou canst stay here as long as thou likest and I will look after thee. Take thyself off to bed and give thine old bones a rest for thou camest far today; I will put thy horse into the stable for thee.”

Exceptions:

‘he is’ goes to ‘thou art’
‘he shall’ goes to ‘thou shalt’
‘he will’ goes to ‘thou wilt’
‘he dares’ goes to ‘thou durst’

And that’s all there is to it. But if you want to understand why, or are using complex sentences, it's better to read the full article.


 

Grammar Tables

Personal Pronouns

Possessive Adjectives

Subjective

Objective

Reflexive

Possessive

I

me

myself

mine

my

thou

thee

thyself

thine

thy

you

you

yourself

yours

your

he/she/it

him/her/it

himself/herself/itself

his/hers/its

his/her/its

we

us

ourselves

ours

our

they

them

themselves

theirs

their

Inflection for the ‘thou’ form:

For the present tense:

Add ‘st’ or ‘est’ (so that it can still be pronounced) to the infinitive (base) form of the verb. Doubling the last letter of the base form may be required (e.g. ‘Thou runnest’).

Exceptions:

‘to be’-‘thou art’
‘to have’-‘thou hast’
‘to dare’-‘thou durst’

For the simple past:

For regular past forms, add ‘st’.

For irregular past forms, add ‘st’ or ‘est’ according to pronunciation. Double letters may be required ('Thou hittest').

Future tenses:

‘will’-‘thou wilt’
‘shall’-‘thou shalt’
.


 

Practice

Put the following monlogue into the 'thou' form. Answers are at the bottom of the page,

“Ah, you! Well, you must come in. Sit yourself down. I was not expecting you so soon. Your horse has been stabled? Are you thirsty? You will have some wine? I know you ate already. Well you shall not have to wait long. You rode long and far today.

Now I must chide you a little. You come and go as you please, these days, and in that you do yourself little honour. When you were younger you neglected not your duty; you walked in the footsteps of your own father. But you have changed and only you now know what you do these long nights. It was you, I fear, that beguiled my daughter. I know you kissed her, but you dare not own to it. Oh, I wish you were a more obedient young man.”



































 

Practice Answers

“Ah, thee! Well, thou must come in. Sit thyself down. I was not expecting thee so soon. Thy horse has been stabled? Art thou thirsty? Thou wilt have some wine? I know thou atest already. [Extra points for: I know thou hast eaten already.] Well, thou shalt not have to wait long. Thou rodest long and far today. [Extra points for: Thou hast ridden long and far today.]

Now I must chide thee a little. Thou comest and goest as thou pleasest, these days, and in that thou dost thyself little honour. When thou wert younger thou neglectedst not thy duty. [Extra points for: When thou wert younger thou didst not neglect thy duty.]; thou walkedst in the footsteps of thine own father [Or: Thou didst walk…]. But thou hast changed and only thou now knowest [Or: know’st] what thou dost these long nights. It was thee, I fear, that beguiled my daughter. I know thou kissedst [Or: kist] her, but thou durst not own to it. Oh, I wish thou wert a more obedient young man. [Extra points for recognizing a subjunctive].”


FARP Article Guestbook

DateNameComment 
12 Sep 200845 Asdfjklöqweruopi
@Lucas Manell: The use of ye ass nom. of you is very common in the KJV-bible.
Yes the y mixed up with þ also exist, found first when printing came to England.
So the two words are pronounced differently: ye=þe=the vs. ye=yee (nom. of you).
29 Sep 200945 Anon.
I think you might use pult for the past tense of pull.
16 Sep 201045 Kate Gladstone
You mention:
" ... an English that is almost incomprehensible to you or I today"

Why didst thou not write "to you or me today"?

Concerning your further remark:

"I don’t know why thou shootest because firearms haven’t been invented yet" --

hast thou not considered that one may shoot with a longbow or a crossbow?
4 Dec 201045 Anon.
Wouldn’t do become doth, or am I just crazy?
5 Jan 201145 Fellow Lover
Why does thoust not put thine talents to use to make an article on other grammar points using thy skill? 2 Thou wouldst then be appreciated much more.

This is REALLY funny! Your voice is amazing!

Yay! There also is someone as obsessed with this sort of thing as me!!! My friends roll their eyes at me because I choose to be someone like Ivanhoe for a school project just because I can use thine wonderous grammar. 2
20 Mar 201145 Anon.
As a high school English teacher, I am most impressed! Though by now you are probably out of school. Still, this is quite the amazing article. My specialization in graduate school was Medieval literature, so I’ve read a lot of "thee’s" and "thou’s," and I absolutely love the language. So much prettier than the modern "Hey, what’s up?" (it’s the sky...it’s always the sky...)

I must make one clarification: you are correct in saying "archaic English" is a broad term--indeed it is! The informal 2nd person (i.e. "thou"12 was a product of the Normans in the medieval period, and was primarily used in Middle English (c. 1000-c. 1500) and Early Modern English (c. 1500-c. 1650). What we call "Modern English" followed the Renaissance period, and "thou" fell largely out of useage. Some speculate this was because it was perceived as too informal. I love the idea (especially for writing) that a relationship between two people can be summed up so neatly. Simply by using "thou," one is suggesting a close relationship--friend, child, servant, parent. Amazing how the nuances of language can be so powerful!
31 May 201145 Anon.
You’re incorrect about "thou wert". It’s actually "thou wast" with wert being the past subjunctive.

e.g.

If I were you.
If thou wert he.
3 Aug 2011:-) Han AnWulf Wulf
“Ah, thee!" should be "Ah, thou (or thu)" ... Grammatically saying it is I is more correct than saying it’s me.

Yeong/yung Grasshopper, thu hast made a common error:

thou dost (auxiliary form) thou doest (main verb)
he doth (auxiliary form) he doest (main verb)

“Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel?” (1 Kings 21:7) aux verb
“God is with thee in all that thou doest” (Genesis 21:22) main verb

Thus, "thou dost thyself little honour" should be "thou doest thyself little honor". BTW, even the Brits originally spelled honor/color without the "u".

"When thou wert younger" ... "When thou wast yeonger". Wert is subjunctive. Note: in Ango-Saxon (AS) aka Old English, young was spelt geong but the g was pronounced as the modern y ... thus yeong ... related ... yeo-man is a contraction of yeong-man.
3 Aug 2011:-) Han AnWulf Wulf

If thu art interested, a couple of minor points. Thu shouldst list it as thu/thou ... the "ou" was pronounced as the "ou" in "you" and was often spelled thu after the use of the letter thorn (þ12 was dropped. (see Magery Kempe’s writing in the early 1400s http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/kemp1frm.htm). It appears that the "ow" sound came later probably as a mis-pronunciation after its usage had died out of associating the "ou" with the "ow" sound or maybe the Great Vowel Shift.

Further, the T-V distinction (using ye as a polite form) did not happen until after the Norman conquest in 1066 and it took a couple hundred years for it to kind of take hold. In Anglo-Saxon (Old English) there was no T-V distinction (tu-vos from Latin ... which, ironically, originally also did not use vos as a polite form). Anglo-Saxon was truly the language of equals in this regard. So if thu art using Anglo-Saxon/Old English/Middle English for role playing, then thu hast the option of whether or not to use the T-V distinction and be correct either way.

"In Old English, thou was governed by a simple rule: thou addressed one person, and ye more than one. After the Norman Conquest, which marks the beginning of the French vocabulary influence that characterized the Middle English period, thou was gradually replaced by the plural ye as the form of address for a superior person and later for an equal. ...

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." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou

Thu hast done good work!

As for Shakespeare ... Remember this, Shakespeare wrote plays that often used the vernacular of the time and was OFTEN CRITICIZED by the grammarians of the time. Imagine if 400 years from now people were reading the transcripts of our current movies ... Would ye hold them up as examples of proper grammar? I think not!


15 Apr 201245 Anon.
The change of the pronunciation from *u* to *ou* in the word "thou* was a result of the so-called Great Vowel Shift in the English language that took place in the period between ca. 1350 to 1500 and was finally completed not before the 18th century. During this time, all long vowels changed their pronunciation: long u became to *ou*, long i became to*ai", all other long vowels increased their tongue height, e.g. long *o* became a long *u* (as in *good*), long *e* became a long *i* (as in *wheel*). Also many short vocals changed their pronunciation (except short *i* and short *e*, and some words with short *u* as in *pull*, *put*, *bush* and so on). The Great Vowel Shift is one main reason for the conspicuous difference between spelling and pronunciation in English language, since the standard of the present spelling was fixed in the second half of the fifteenth century, caused by the invention of printing in England by William Caxton in 1476. At this time, the so-called "polite pronunciation" of the learned and upper classes (setting the standard of spelling) still
orientated itself by the medieval usage.

The usage of *thou* has lasted until today in some northern English dialects, as. e.g. in the Yorkshire dialect (*tha" for thou/*thee"12 or the Lancashire Dialect (*tha* or *t’" for thou, *thi" for thee, and *thy*/*thine" still in usage, also the ending -st in some auxiliary verbs as *hast", *art* or "dost". Examples: "What art t’ doin’? Tha must be jestin’! Dost t’ see yon mon o’er theer? Si thee! Ah’m talkin’ to thee! Wheer’s thi jackbit? This is mine an’ that’s thine! Hast ta geet a fiver tha con lend me?" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancashire_dialect_and_accent).
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