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What happened to them, and how were they once used? Straining my mind to sound archaic, I came up with the following:

Dost thou thinkest thou can escape thy sins?

and

Bringeth me mine armor and favorite sword.

I’d like to use these suffixes intelligently, so my questions are: how are ‑est and ‑eth properly appellated in conjugations, and when and why did they disappear?

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These examples are incorrect. The first should be "dost thou think...", because you've already conjugated do, and the second should be bring because that is the imperative form. Bringeth would be the 3rd person indicative form ("he bringeth"). –  Kosmonaut Apr 24 '11 at 16:19
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The correct versions would be “Dost thou think thou canst escape thy sins?” and “Bring me my armor and my favorite sword.” –  Jonathan Sterling Apr 24 '11 at 23:23
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Nice to see we have plenty of people here capable of correcting medieval grammar. I also find it exceptionally irritating when people get these mock versions so wrong. But at least now I can tolerate people saying Y instead of Th in Ye Olde Tea-Shoppe, for example. So there is hope my 'word-rage' can be managed without excessive bloodshed. –  FumbleFingers May 20 '11 at 16:06
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@FumbleFingers: Yes, you are right; it would have been mine because the following word (armor) begins with a vowel. –  Kosmonaut May 21 '11 at 2:01
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Um, wouldn't Thinkest thou that thou canst escape.. be perfectly KJV-compliant? –  TimLymington Mar 10 '12 at 21:31
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4 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Verb paradigm in King James English for think

   Singular             Plural
   --------------------------
1  (I)    think         (we)   think
2  (thou) thinkest      (you)  think
3  (he)   thinketh      (they) think

Imperative: think
Infinitive: (to) think

These unfamiliar suffixes are applied in the same context that the -s suffix is applied in Modern English; for example:

  • He thinks.
  • Thou thinkest.


  • He shall go. (no -s suffix on go)

  • Thou shalt go. (irregular verb form for shall; but again, no suffix on go)

During the Early Modern English period, the 2nd person singular suffix disappeared and the -th suffix in the third person was replaced by another suffix, -s, which spread from dialects in the northern parts of the country. Other conjugations, such as -e in the first person singular from Middle English, had already been lost.

This sort of change is known as paradigm leveling. There is no particular reason per se that this kind of change happens, but it is not uncommon in the languages of the world.

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What about that song by The Ark, "Calleth you, Cometh I", do you remember it? If "-eth" is the third person, what's going on here? I was just wondering :D –  Alenanno Apr 24 '11 at 17:01
    
@Alenanno: They probably just did it wrong (either intentionally or unintentionally, I don't know). –  Kosmonaut Apr 24 '11 at 18:52
    
To expand on this, morphological leveling isn't a random phenomenon. It can be difficult to track the precise reasons for a specific change, but we can conjecture that it might be similar to issues like verb agreement in Modern English ("they/you is"). This one is likely the result of AAVE; the ancestors of modern African-Americans, not being native speakers of English, largely had difficulty grasping things like verb agreement which may have been radically different in their native language. Language is mimetic, so these little peculiarities spread beyond just one cultural group. –  user19572 Mar 31 '12 at 18:11
    
Re: 'Calleth you, Cometh I.' In some dialects it, mostly of Middle English, it was common to use '-th' in the first person (I calleth). In Old English, and indeed Middle English, '-ath' was a common plural suffix; thus we get 'you calleth'. Hopefully that clarifies things. –  user61979 Feb 24 at 21:20
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In English, as in other languages, we employ "First Person" (the one speaking), "Second Person" (the one being spoken to), and "Third Person" (the one being spoken about). There is singular (I speak) and plural (we speak). Using French as an example, I can say tu parles to my friends (Second Person Singular) but to show respect I would say vous parlez, whether to one of you with whom I'm not familiar, or to more than one of you. So vous is the plural as well as the formal form of tu. The same in English. You is the plural of thou. Other languages use either she and the Third Person to show respect since such words as grace and majesty are feminine (Sie in German and Lei in Italian) whereas others use a word formed from Your Grace to show respect (Vuestra Merced in Spanish becomes Usted after Vuestra being abbreviated as "Vst" which became "Ust" and combined with "-ed" from merced. The Portuguese você has a similar construction coming from vossa mercê, or Your Grace.) In some Spanish-speaking countries, the formal Usted (which, keep in mind takes the Third Person form) replaced the Second Person . This is what happened in English: the formal use of you, even in the singular sense, replaced thou almost everywhere, except for example among the Amish: thou speakest and you speak. The same for their object pronouns thee and ye which were replaced by the subject pronoun you. So that's what happened to thou and its suffix -est.

As for the ending -(e)th, that was replaced over time by -(e)s: he maketh becomes he makes.

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-eth didn't get replaced randomly. The northern dialects had -es even in the early Middle English period. It spread southward and replaced -eth during the later Middle English and Early Modern English period. –  siride Feb 25 at 4:08
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-Est was dropped when the uniquely singular "thee/thou/thy" fell out of use. -Eth was eventually replaced by -s or -es; the point being that language changes over time and tends to move toward simpler forms.

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It's basically a feature of being a Germanic language. In German, the second person takes -st, e.g., "Ich bin, du bist, Ich kenne, du kennst" (I am, you are, I know, you know).

The old English forms follow the same pattern, as Kosmonaut shows above. This is the easiest way to spot "fake Elizabethan" language in books and movies. "Wouldst thou?" is fine, "wouldst I?" don't fly.

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To be clear, it's not a remnant of Germanic influence, but a feature of being a Germanic language. –  Jonathan Sterling Apr 25 '11 at 0:19
    
Correct - good clarification. –  The Raven May 20 '11 at 14:58
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Well I think if we're all agreed on that point, you should edit your answer to reflect it. Your substantive point remains valid, and does usefully supplement Kosmonaut's answer, so it shouldn't be left with misleading elements that downgrade the whole. –  FumbleFingers May 21 '11 at 2:31
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