English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The Lord’s Prayer begins in English:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

Shouldn’t it be who is there, not who art? You would have said thou art and he is at the time this was written. See the Wikipedia article on Thou for example.

share|improve this question
It wasn't originally written in English. And arguably, this isn't - certainly not the English of today. – Edwin Ashworth May 18 '14 at 9:01
Perhaps if it had been “O Father, who art in heaven”, that would have been more clearly the person addressed. But it didn’t start out that way in the original. – tchrist May 18 '14 at 14:41
No, it's fine because his father's name is Art(hur). Or maybe Harold, as in "our father who, Art, in heaven, Harold be thy name" – Carl Witthoft May 18 '14 at 17:35
You is a naughty person. – Blessed Geek May 18 '14 at 21:24
up vote 20 down vote accepted

"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy (your) Name," is the rest of that sentence.

By saying "Our Father... Thy..." you are addressing God personally, making that the second person singular (you are). (First person singular: I am. Third person singular: he/she/it is.) "Our Father" is not speaking about God; it is speaking to God. (It is like saying, Hey, Dad, you, up there. Blessed be your name.)

If it were about Him, it would certainly be He is. From the same book which states Our Father, who art in heaven:

For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us. - Isaiah 33:22

Quoting your source:

When thou is the grammatical subject of a finite verb in the indicative mood, the verb form ends on t... (e.g., "thou goest"; "thou dost"), but in some cases just -t (e.g., "thou art"; "thou shalt")


Originally, thou was simply the singular counterpart to the plural pronoun ye... thou was later used to express intimacy...


The familiar form is used when speaking to God... (an "informal" singular form of the second person in modern speech.)

share|improve this answer
The "who" seems misplaced for this explanation to be correct. It seems who should instead be thou. – Lembik May 18 '14 at 9:13
@Lembik - When someone asks you, "Who are you? Do you have any question that they are talking to you? What does the word who have to do with it? It is akin to saying which. The extended quote is "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name," or "“Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name." There is no question that it is a prayer to God. – medica May 18 '14 at 9:23
@Lembik Try imagining a “you” (or “thou”) before the whole thing: “You, our Father, who are in Heaven” is perfectly grammatical even in Modern English. 400 years ago when the KJV was made, that initial “you” was not necessary for the construction to be idiomatic; nowadays it is. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 18 '14 at 10:08
@Kris, if you tell me (please) which part of my reasoning is weird, maybe I can clarify or cite sources. – medica May 18 '14 at 16:56
Note “I who am your father”, “You who are my father”, “Thou who art my father”; but compare “O Peter&Paul&Mary, you who are in the living room” versus “That Judas who is the living room”. Note how the last pair differ from each other: an appositive to a vocative in the former but not the latter. “I, Thomas, am ready to leave.” “We people are ready to leave.” You just don’t have much inflection in English, so you are unused to a more inflected version. – tchrist May 18 '14 at 19:34

As you yourself said: "Thou art". "Our Father" etc. is a title by which the speaker is addressing god. This is confirmed by the next section, "hallowed be Thy name", which is essentially a parenthetical addition to that title.

So it really is self-consistent, though not a form we're used to hearing these days and further obscured by being poetic phrasing rather than simple prose.

(Actually, I'd expect a modern reader to have more trouble with the imperative use of "come" and "be done" later in that sentence.)

share|improve this answer
Those aren’t imperatives; they’re present subjunctives. One does not command the Lord. Not that there is any morphological difference from an infinitive in either case. – tchrist May 18 '14 at 14:42
Hm. Possibly. (I don't think it was commanding the Lord but asserting that these shall/must occur, which may be what drew me off track.) – keshlam May 19 '14 at 3:24
It is definitely the subjunctive. Hallowed be Thy name, not is. Imperative: Hallow Thy name! or Hallow His name, all ye peoples.... Etc. – medica May 19 '14 at 7:24
Right. Thanks for the correction! – keshlam May 19 '14 at 13:24

The passage is written in second person, addressing God as Father (Pater in the Greek). Second person required the verb are, not is. The agreement is in person rather than number.The Greek text actually has no verb in the adjective phrase rendered "Which art in heaven." The Greek did not need art or are for the sense to be clear regarding where the verse was locating God. The Latin Vulgate placed the verb (es)in the phrase. The Authorized Version of the Bible (the 1611 King James Version) was an English translation of the Vulgate, and so carried the verb into that revered version. For second person formal address the verb art was used. Most modern translations keep the verb. At least one does not-- The Good News Translation, 2nd Edition, simply says, "Our Father in heaven."

share|improve this answer
Pater is Latin. And other translations simply say, "Father in heaven...." – medica May 18 '14 at 21:57
@medica pater (πατήρ) is actually Greek for father and the original text of this prayer was indeed written in Greek so the Latin version of Pater is irrelevant. Garry is also quite correct about the Greek version not having a verb, it basically says Our father, the one in heaven or he who is in heaven if you prefer. – terdon May 19 '14 at 0:34

The main issue here is that the original Greek uses a form that does not exist in English. The relevant portion of the Greek text reads

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·

Translated directly, word for word, that is

Father ours the one in the heavens.

Or, to make it closer to actual English

Our Father, in the heavens.

The ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς has no direct equivalent form in English, it literally means the one in the heavens. Well, the sky actually, but some poetic license is assumed. The main point is that there is no verb there, the text is not saying "who is in heaven" but "the one in heaven".

As @medica already pointed out, the prayer addresses God in the second person, therefore, the art is quite correct and the sentence could be rephrased to

Our father, thou who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.