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How would Shakespeare have said "Thank you"? Can't decide if it is thee or thou, since it isn't really a sentence.

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    I believe thank ye was one earlier form, sometimes shortened to thank'ee. I remember a time when thank'ee was commonly used in rural Norfolk - perhaps elsewhere in England too. – WS2 Nov 2 '15 at 21:08
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    Ye is plural, so that's only if you're thanking more than one person. – Lee Daniel Crocker Nov 4 '15 at 0:11
  • @LeeDanielCrocker depends on how well you know them. – Jon Hanna Nov 4 '15 at 10:45
48

On a quick look through the concordance, it appears that Shakespeare rarely wrote Thank you and never Thank thee without a subject. He often wrote I thank you and we thank you (and forms such as to thank thee and shall thank thee); but for a shorter form without a subject he usually used Thanks.

Thank thou would be ungrammatical, unless it was followed by an object, and would then be a command: Thank thou the king!. But there do not seem to be any instances of thank thou in his writings.

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    Thank thou would be grammatical if you were ordering someone to give thanks, which is of course completely the wrong usage case. Thank thou thy parents for giving thee life! – Level River St Nov 3 '15 at 21:42
  • "I thank thee" would have been fine, even he never happened to use it. – Lee Daniel Crocker Nov 4 '15 at 0:12
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    He did, 46 times. I just didn't give it as an example. – Colin Fine Nov 4 '15 at 19:06
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From A Midsummer Night's Dream Act 5 Scene 1.

PYRAMUS Sweet Moon, I thank thee for thy sunny beams.

I thank thee, Moon, for shining now so bright.

For by thy gracious, golden, glittering gleams,

I trust to take of truest Thisbe sight.—

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16

Firstly you should realise that the English language was in a state of flux during Shakespeare's time. You will find inconsistencies. Shakespeare's English was not Old English -- it was Early Modern English.

  1. "Thank you" as used these days is an abbreviation of "I thank you". Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. Plural form: The modern 'you' is used for both singular and plural. In Shakespeare's day there was a distinction. For example it would make no sense to say "I thank thee" to a group of people. Instead you would have to say "I thank ye" (familiar form) or "I thank you" (polite form).

MACBETH: I thank you, gentlemen. (polite) Macbeth Act I, scene III

KING HENRY VIII: My noble gossips ... I thank ye heartily; so shall this lady. (A king isn't obliged to be polite to his subjects, especially when he is insulting them!) King Henry VIII Act V, scene V

  1. Singular form: It is possible to find "I thank you" and "I thank thee" in Shakespeare when spoken to an individual. The explanation is that the plural is used as a sign of respect to an elder or superior. In modern English this respectful form is the only one to survive.

WS2 has given an example of "I thank thee".

CLAUDIO: I thank you, good friend Lucio. (Claudio doesn't have to be so polite to his friend. It's a choice. He is adding a note of respect.) Measure For Measure Act I, scene II

  1. "Thank thou" is possible for the reason stated by Colin Fine. It would not be a complete utterance and 'thou' would be the subject.
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    I was about to "correct" your "I thank you" vs. "I thank ye" (because as far as I knew, ye is the subject and you the object form), but I thought I'd better check. I find that I thank ye occurs precisely four times in Shakespeare, three of them in King Henry VIII, which was co-written with Fletcher. (Apparently Cyrus Hoy used this quirk as one of his diagnostics for separating Shakespeare's and Fletcher's contributions.) So it was a rare form. – Colin Fine Nov 2 '15 at 23:08
  • Both 'ye' and 'you' were valid nominative forms in Early Modern English. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ye_(pronoun) – chasly - supports Monica Nov 2 '15 at 23:28
  • @ColinFine so Fletcher used "ye" and Shakspeare did not? I am not familiar with King Henry VIII...other plays, I am. – michael_timofeev Nov 3 '15 at 3:05
  • @michael_timofeev: that is the claim in this Wikipedia article, but I have not looked at Hoy's paper to see exactly what he says. Of course Shakespeare used ye as the subject pronoun often - this is about its use as object pronoun in I thank ye. There is one instance of this in another Shakespeare play - As you like it, so apparently he did use it on this one occasion. – Colin Fine Nov 3 '15 at 9:46
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    @ColinFine Dumb question, but is it possible he used "ye" as a dialect, or to show a person's character? – michael_timofeev Nov 3 '15 at 10:01
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According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "thanks" is a shortened form of "I give you thanks". The "you" in that phrase is the indirect object of the verb. Therefore, you should use the objective form "thee" rather than the subjective form "thou".

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    The question wasn't about thanks, but about thank thee, which would be grammatically different. – Colin Fine Nov 2 '15 at 21:14
  • @ColinFine To spell it out, Thanks> I give thanks to thee > I thank thee > Thank thee. "Thee is objective" is the real answer here. – jejorda2 Nov 2 '15 at 21:23
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    No. I give thanks to thee and I thank thee are different sentences with different structure, which happen to have the same meaning. In particular, thee is the indirect object in the first and the direct object of the second - by early Modern English these were no longer morphologically distinct. Thee is objective is indeed the real answer here, but I give thanks to thee is a red herring. – Colin Fine Nov 2 '15 at 21:28
  • @ColinFine Yes, you're right. – jejorda2 Nov 2 '15 at 21:47
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On Wikipedia there is an article which might help: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou#Declension

In the article it states that 'thou' is the nominative form and 'thee' is the oblique (accusative?) form. I think that if you are giving thanks to a person then the oblique form is the correct form.

So my understanding would be that 'I thank thee' is the proper formulation.

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  • Oblique is both accusative and dative (not to mention any other object case). Therefore, the oblique form is correct both for "I thank thee" (accusative) and "I give thee thanks" (dative). – phoog Nov 4 '15 at 17:48

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