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Many European languages conjugate their verbs, thus:

I am
You are | Thou art
She is
We are
You are
They are

The form of the verb changes, depending on the person. In some languages (Latin and Polish, to my knowledge), the verb form is completely different for each person, which means that the actual pronoun can be omitted. (I believe it can be reinserted for emphasis.) English can't do that. For regular verbs, only the third person singular has a distinct form. We always use pronouns (except when we don't).

However, in King Lear, at one point Lear turns to his Fool and asks him, "Art cold?" This would not be possible in current English, as the pronoun thou has all but vanished. Was it possible in actual speech in Shakespeare's time, or could it exist in the play only as a poetic flourish?

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In contemporary English, one would ask merely "Cold?" The subject pronoun and the copula can be elided without a problem. The answer to your question is simple: To the extent that it doesn't cause a problem of clarity and understanding. But not anywhere near as often as in Chinese, for example. Cases by case. –  user21497 Jan 22 '13 at 22:58
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In current English people often say, "You cold?" or even just "Cold?" –  Jim Jan 22 '13 at 22:58
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Who voted to close "general reference" and why? –  MετάEd Jan 22 '13 at 23:27
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German has uniquely marked verbs and still requires a subject; it's not just lack of morphology that does this. But English does have a process that removes predictable material at the beginning of sentences in speech. It's called Conversational Deletion. –  John Lawler Jan 22 '13 at 23:27
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I believe that what is meant by an "expert" question in this thread is that the person who asked it is, in this case, an educated native speaker of English who appears qualified to answer many or most of the questions about English language and usage posed here. Almost everyone who commented on your question is also in that category. –  user21497 Jan 23 '13 at 2:48
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes, this was ordinary colloquial English in Shakespeare's day, although you was rapidly passing thou. Here are three more instances from Lear:

Art of this house?
Art not asham’d to look upon this beard?
What, art mad?

There was also a contracted form in the indicative:

As th’art a man, Give me the cup. —Ham
Well said; th’art a good fellow —2HIV
Th’art a tall fellow; hold thee to that drink. —TS

An interesting fact (although only marginally relevant to your question) is that Elizabethan/Jacobean English was as likely to contract the pronoun as the verb be. Our it’s appears as ‘tis, our you’re appears as y’are, and our he’s appears as ’a’s—indeed, ’a is the ordinary unstressed form of he:“’a babbled o’ green fields”. (And as often as not, the apostrophes are missing in the printed texts, which can be disconcerting.)

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We can do this when the expanded version would be a present progressive construction. For Are you going out? we can say Going out? and for Are you feeling cold? we can say Feeling cold?

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