While today we use for example the word "you" for second person singular and plural in objective and subjective manner, there were actually words to differentiate this usages like "thou" and "thee", along with many other pronouns and irregular verbs (that can be looked up in this table for example).

How come this parts of the language, especially specifying forms basically does not exist in today's language?

  • Apart from ye, it looks like it is only the second person singular pronouns that have disappeared (thou, thee, thy/thine). I have a suspicion that the disappearance of the second person singular pronoun ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou#History ) from most dialects of English (but see also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… ) may be connected with its adoption by the Quakers ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quaker ) - however, I have not seen any direct evidence for this.
    – user11752
    Jun 29, 2013 at 17:58
  • 5
    @Mark: I doubt we dumped thou/thee/thy because it was "contaminated" by association with Quakers, Amish, etc. More likely you had more "upmarket, formal" connotations (cf French tutoyer and our royal "we"). And it's not so long ago that thou/thee/thy was common in the North of England. People don't use it today because it has overtones of being "unsophisticated rustic", as much as "archaic". Jun 29, 2013 at 18:07
  • 3
    @MarkBannister Actually, it's the other way around: the Quakers clung to an old distinction which had been dying in the prestige dialect for two or three generations before Fox and Nayler came along. The distinction is already inconsistent in Shakespeare. Jun 29, 2013 at 18:33
  • 2
    Actually, singular they is well on its way to replacing something or other.
    – tchrist
    Jun 29, 2013 at 18:55
  • 1
    In some places we see you and y'all ... And how about youse?
    – GEdgar
    Jun 29, 2013 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


I remember when I was very young, my grandpa used to use the words thou and thee and wert and wast, as well as other people in Yorkshire.

When I was at school, these words were used to express a closeness to people, and as I was growing up, they were removing all these words from the old school books, and thou wast became you were. However, there were children who came from close agricultural family backgrounds, whose parents spoke in the old way, and they said things like you wast instead of you were. Eventually, this seems to have become you was, and finally you were, as the schools drove out the old way of speaking.

I think this has also partly happened due to the breakdown of family closeness these days, and the words that had a meaning of this have started disappearing. This also includes words such as shall, ought, hence (in the old imperative sense) and other words that talk of duty, and they are replaced with more relative words that lack strength. People have just become more spiritually and socially insular these days, and the language reflects this.

  • I don't think 'insular' is the word you really want there.
    – Mitch
    Jul 9, 2013 at 22:03
  • 1
    @Mitch He’s from the Isles: he cannot help but be insular.
    – tchrist
    Jul 9, 2013 at 22:05
  • @Mitch: I think he used the word appropriately. Man is an island. Jul 9, 2013 at 22:08
  • @tchrist, Cerb Ha ha, you guys are crazy.
    – Mitch
    Jul 9, 2013 at 22:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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