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Why did thee, thou and thy come to disappear from English? I am looking for solid explanations, rather than observations that these are still used in dialects in the north. Please explain cause for their obsolescence, if possible. It will greatly help my students if a legitimate and credible answer is provided! (Added): it would be really interesting if anyone can identify when this occurred.

My research: I have only found that the forms disappeared by 1800, but no illumination of why they fell away and were commonly replaced by 'you' as standard. I don't mean to sound apathetic, but I prefer to generate some debate or choose amongst responses from the people in the know who use this space than simply reference Wikipedia.

  • How much research of your own have you done? – Barrie England Jan 26 '14 at 20:34
  • A little, but the point in my using this form is to discover from the experts, if that's alright with you. – track2now Jan 26 '14 at 20:36
  • Please revise your question to include what research you've found. – DougM Jan 26 '14 at 20:40
  • Wikipedia gives an easy and simple overview of what happened. If there is anything beyond that simple (and quite common) change from plural to formal to unmarked in pronouns you’re wondering about, please update your question to indicate exactly what. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 26 '14 at 20:43
  • Please note that StackExchange sites discourage debate as well as apathy, so it's generally a bad idea to justify the latter with the former here. – Bradd Szonye Jan 26 '14 at 23:15
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They were never really part of modern English at all.

Douglas Harper's Online Etymology Dictionary notes that:

[Thou was] superseded in Middle English by plural form you , but retained in certain dialects. The plural at first was used in addressing superior individuals, later also strangers, and ultimately all equals. By c.1450 the use of thou to address inferiors gave it a tinge of insult unless addressed by parents to children, or intimates to one another. Hence the verb meaning "to use 'thou' to a person" (mid-15c.).

  • Later on, the Quakers in England were accused of rudeness when they proceeded to address everyone as thou and thee. That's why they came to Pennsylvania in the first place. – John Lawler Jan 26 '14 at 22:20
  • Where they could be as rude as they liked? – Edwin Ashworth Jan 26 '14 at 22:52

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