I know that a language evolves with time and constantly keeps itself up to people's needs. But when I read a bible or a poem of Shakespeare, I can see English was very different by then with sentences like:

  • "I love thee."
  • "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name! Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, And I'll no longer be a Capulet."
  • "Draw, if you be men. Gregory, remember thy swashing blow."
  • "Such is my love, to thee I so belong."
  • "Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in night; For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night Whiter than new snow upon a raven's back. Come, gentle night; come, loving, black-brow'd night; Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garish sun."

I concur that "Thou" is a single version of "You". Maybe I'm wrong but what happened to it? How did it get lost? Bible is relatively old but not Shakespeare. So how did English transformed that much in such a short time? Or were there any official attempts like governments enforcing some grammatical rules at schools?

  • 5
    The King James translation of the bible is younger than Shakespeare. And this is a big question; there's a lot of things that happened, and most of them are still happening. Oct 4, 2013 at 17:50
  • 2
    @JohnLawler KJV is nominally younger, but it was largely based on Tyndale's vv of two generations earlier. Oct 4, 2013 at 18:45
  • 3
    John is right,it is a big question, and the only way you're going to begin answering it is by reading a a few histories of the English language. You could do worse than by starting with 'A History of the English Language' by Baugh and Cable: tinyurl.com/ppuhl7r Oct 4, 2013 at 18:47
  • And judging by the number of - er - discussions on what is acceptable, 'the modern version we use today' is an inappropriate term. Oct 4, 2013 at 19:39

2 Answers 2


The short answer is: Always.

Languages evolve all the time, very gradualy, as usage changes, words fall out of favor, and new words get used that had never before existed. The fact that new words are added to dictionaries every year (and certain unused words are taken out) is a part of this, but more representative of the larger evolution that language undergoes.

And it is still happening today. You may complain about the words "twerk" and "selfie" being added to the Oxford English Dictionary, but formerly-slang words fall into common use all the time, and this will continue to go on for as long as the English Language (and languages in general) exists.

Letters are dropped for simplicity, new words are added to represent modern ideas, and they fall in and out of favor with English speakers. There is no one 'event' that caused this.

Also, if you think the shift from Shakespearian English is drastic, look at Beowulf, which literally requires a translation into modern English.

  • 6
    Beowulf, 8th to 10th Century, I can't read it. Canterbury Tales, 14th Century, I can read some of it, but very slowly and with a modern translation side-by-side. Shakespeare, 16th Century, I can read it but it feels really weird. US Constitution, 18th Century, I can read it but it seems forced. H.G. Wells, 19th and 20th Century, I can read it but am confused by some of the references. Harry Potter, 21st Century, I can read it with absolutely no problem.
    – cobaltduck
    Oct 4, 2013 at 19:20
  • Yes, exactly right!
    – Zibbobz
    Oct 4, 2013 at 19:23

It depends on how much you want to break down Modern English and what parts of the early aspects of Modern English you're ruling out (e.g. Shakespeare). Assuming you're ignoring that part then, ignoring the customs of addressing certain audience types, around the 17th or 18th centuries. Certainly by the end of the 18th century, but I'd say a good deal earlier than that, generally agreeing with the mid 16th century assessment (ignoring spelling differences and Shakespeare, who made up new words which became a part of the language).

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