Verbs with Thou and Thee
The pronouns thou and thee were replaced by you in standard English a very long time ago, but the old forms still hold interest for modern speakers. A DWT reader wrote to me recently about a pastor who encourages his parishioners to use the “thou” forms in prayer. Many Bible readers still prefer the King James translation with its thous and thees to more modern ones.
Apart from a religious context, the old forms crop up in advertising and entertainment, often with the wrong verb forms, possibly for intended comic effect.
For example, an insurance ad on television features an agent dressed in paper armor made from insurance policies. He exchanges a few words with another agent. Here are some of their attempts at what the ad writer characterizes as “broken Old English.” It’s not Old English, but it is very broken.
I doth declare that thou have brought overmany discounts to thine customers!
Thou cometh and we thy saveth!
We doth offer so many discounts, we have some to spare.
The second person singular forms fell out of standard use as Middle English passed into Early Modern English.
Without going into too much detail, or trying to account for every variation, I’ll illustrate some of the uses of the forms thou, thee, thy, and thine.
Thou art my friend. (subject)
I love thee. (object)
Is this thy dog? (possessive adjective)
No, I thought it was thine. (possessive pronoun)
Thine was also used as a possessive adjective in front of a noun beginning with a vowel: Is he thine enemy?
Verbs used with the subject form thou usually ended in -st. For example,
What dost thou still in bed, thou lazy lout
Can I go out with my friends, Mother? No, thou canst not.
The -th ending doesn’t go with thou or, as in the insurance ad, with we or any other pronoun. The -th ending signals third person:
What doth he still in bed?
He doth what he liketh best; he sleepeth.
The use of thou still exist in some English dialects, although in altered forms, such as tha.
The use of a second person singular in the “plain speech” of the Society of Friends (Quakers) continued into modern times. Among some Quakers, the archaic verb endings dropped away and the subject form thou was superseded by the object form thee, much as the object form you replaced the subject form ye in standard English.
If you ever decide you want to use archaic pronouns and verb endings in an ad or a historical novel, you might want to review the forms.
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