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I know there are plenty of words that use the -st ending: wouldst, whilst, unbeknownst, etc. but I'm not really sure what it means to add an -st suffix to a word. What does it mean to add the suffix? How can I tell what words can take the -st suffix? Are there any modern words that can take the suffix and not have people look at me in a strange way?

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For whilst, amongst, amidst, it's a remnant of archaic English grammar that I don't understand ... I hope somebody will give a good explanation in an answer. –  Peter Shor Aug 21 '13 at 2:58
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2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Long long ago in a galaxy far far away...uh, well, not really.

English used to have a more complex grammar than it does presently. It is a Germanic tongue and so retains a touch of German in old, not so much used, forms.

The -st you refer to are from the old second person singular. Wouldst:

  • Wouldst = Wouldest thou - would you
  • Wouldest thou that I could = Wouldst that I could = would that I could

As to whilst, it is also a contraction of "whilest thou", it is an archaic formulation which is still used, although more in Britain than the US. See Wikipedia on Whilst. and its place can be taken by "although". It is also common these days to use "while" in its place. "Whilst we watch Rugby, the Americans watch Football." becomes "While we watch Rugby, the Americans watch Football." Put "Although" in that sentence instead and the meaning remains the same.

In short it is an archaic form, and to use it instead of that which is more modern might be seen to be pretentious, or poetic.

On the other hand, while "whilst" and "wouldst" are uncommmon, I have heard "unbeknownst" used much more commonly: "Unbeknownst to me, she was married." This would likely not sound odd at all to me, just perhaps a touch formal.

Another one that is completely disused is "durst", which is the second person singular of "to dare".

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The odd thing about this one is that Americans have enthusiastically taken up the archaic form unbeknownst in recent decades, despite the fact that they clearly have no time for whilst. Thou wouldst hardly have expected Americans to be leading the field in terms of reviving archaic forms! :) –  FumbleFingers Aug 21 '13 at 3:39
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"While we watch Rugby, the Americans watch Football.": A Brit would say "Americans watch American football", as "football" in BrE = "soccer" in AmE. :-) –  Steve Melnikoff Aug 21 '13 at 11:20
    
Yes, you're more correct than I was. –  Cyberherbalist Aug 22 '13 at 0:24
    
"whilst" has nothing to do with the 2nd person singular as it clearly isn't a verb. It's in the same group as "amongst" and "amidst", where the "t" was added to a form already ending in "s" to achieve some sort of euphony (German has done similar things: "niemand", "jetzt", etc.) –  siride Aug 25 '13 at 16:47
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For unbeknown vs. unbeknownst: http://fandom-grammar.livejournal.com/39346.html which would probably explain the others also. "Whilst" I've heard British people use working with them, but everything they say sounds funny and lovely!

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I lived there for a few years, once upon a time, and I agree that "everything they say sounds funny and lovely!" Although it is not so much what they say, but how they say it! –  Cyberherbalist Aug 21 '13 at 16:43
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