What is the difference between thee and thou and how are they used?


6 Answers 6


Thee, thou, and thine (or thy) are Early Modern English second person singular pronouns. Thou is the subject form (nominative), thee is the object form, and thy/thine is the possessive form.

Before they all merged into the catch-all form you, English second person pronouns distinguished between nominative and objective, as well as between singular and plural (or formal):

thou - singular informal, subject (Thou art here. = You are here.)
thee - singular informal, object (He gave it to thee.)
ye - plural or formal, subject
you - plural or formal, object

Interestingly, when the first English translations of the Bible were being made, the informal thee and thou were used specifically in reference to God to indicate an approachable, familiar God, but as the language changed this paradoxically brought thee and thou to sound more formal to the modern English speaker.

  • 37
    +1. Good answer. The difference between thy and thine is that thy came before a consonant sound and thine before a vowel, e.g., 'hallowed be thy name' vs. 'thine own self'.
    – J D OConal
    Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 0:17
  • One other thing to keep in mind is that when the language was incorporated by Tyndale (and subsequently in the King James Version) into English Bibles, the forms were already dying out. By using the archaic familiar, the translation objective was to make it both familiar and "other" Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 20:38
  • 3
    I wonder if the translation of Thou instead of Thee could be in some part to prevent the heresy of pantheism (there being multiple gods). Better to err on the side of informality than to allow any inference that there are plural gods/ Reference: Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, Apostles Creed
    – user61830
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 3:10
  • 1
    @user61830 That's a good point but it is also part of a more general one that they were very concerned to avoid the heresy of mistranslation and often erred on the side of a word-for-word translation even if it failed to get the meaning across correctly. The Latin (from which they worked much more than modern translators would) used tu and so they did as well. They were missing the point that Latin did not use the polite plural whereas English does. Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 20:41
  • 1
    @justhalf It varied over time. Thine etc. is effectively the oldest as it corresponds to German dein but it later came to be used like mine or yours. In the transition period there would have been some flexibility. The translators often used old-fashioned forms and were strongly in favour of euphony as they considered that beautiful English glorified God. They may also have been influenced by the French where the feminine ta is changed toton before a vowel. Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 21:16

‘Thou’ is historically perceived in Yorkshire (England) as being disrespectful, or over-familiar in a formal context, e.g. if used to address a teacher, or upon greeting a stranger… However, ‘thee’ is perceived to be more respectful, as with the French usage of the words ‘vous’ and ‘tu’, of which ‘tu’ is regarded as offensive if used inappropriately (another conversation altogether). Barnsley folk are especially well know for having the bad habit of using ‘thou’, including one instance I’ve heard of with a French teacher, who mistakenly believed it to be endearing, and quickly chastised her pupils once she was put in the picture.

A classic Yorkshire phrase, often attributed to Ossett:

Don't thee thou me, thee thou thissen, and 'ow tha likes thee thouing. (Don't you thou me, you thou yourself, and see how you like it!)

  • Same in Germany. We use Du (you, tu, 2nd person singular) for informal and familiar addressing. Sie (you, vous, 2nd person singular) is used for respectful and formal addressing. In Bavaria things are a bit different: Du is also often used for addressing strangers, and sometimes even where formal addressing should be done, but then not implying disrespect, but rather a feeling of familiarity or a sense of belonging to each other, like a big family or clan whose members don't know each other, but all know they're sitting in the same boat.
    – JayC667
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 19:34
  • Don't thee thou me, thee thou thissen, and [see] 'ow tha likes thee thouing. Heard when I was young.
    – DaveP
    Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 13:33

A paradigm would help here:

  • I, me, my (mine) we, us, our(s)
  • thou, thee, thy (thine) you, you, your(s)
  • he/she, him/her, his/her(s) they, them, their(s)

A table would be better still but I don't know how to do that here.
Now all you've got to remember is that the left side of the second row is obsolete, so that both sides of that row are now the same.
If you're ever moved to try to sound archaic, as when using a rotary dial phone or having God over for tea, you can use the second row, choosing the appropriate form on the pattern of the corresponding forms in the first or third row.
There are still a lot of dialect forms heard in different places. For instance in a pub in Edinburgh I saw a sign above a urinal: NOW WASH YOUR HANDS. Under it one wag (or just a Scottish pedant) had written We Scots dinna pee on we'r hands. Perfectly good Scots - and perfectly good sense too.


Great answer from keithjgrant. Put otherwise, thou is closely equivalent to the French tu or the German du, and ye is like the French vous or the German Sie.

  • 1
    I don't think it quite maps correctly to the German; while "Sie" does mean "you (formal)", it doesn't mean "you (plural, informal)", which "ye" does. Germans would use "ihr" for "ye" (and "euch" for "you") in informal contexts, and use "Sie" across the board in formal contexts.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 14:28
  • @kosmonaut - I thought each language adopted the plural form as the polite version (hence you/sie/vous) to mimic royal use of "we". In England in the 17-18C quakers kept to the old thou to show that they regarded everyone as equal.
    – mgb
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 3:21
  • 1
    @mgb: German does not follow that pattern. German sie, with the same conjugation, outside of formal use, is 3rd-person plural: "they".
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 13:04
  • 1
    I'll add that, originally, thou singular and ye was plural ... there was no "polite singular ye" ... This came about after the Takeover by the Norman-French and many English speakers tried to pattern the thou-ye on tu-vous which led to much befuddlement ... and eventually to thou-ye being dropped. ... Interestingly, the Quakers reintroduced thee but also used it in the nominative.
    – AnWulf
    Commented Feb 11, 2012 at 10:00

These answers are helpful. To succinctly clarify one aspect: Thou is a more familiar or informal way to say 'you.' Thee is the more formal way to say 'you.' Dustin Hoffman, as Ben Braddock, might say "Dost thee desire tea, Mrs. Robinson?" but "Dost thou desire tea, Elaine?"

  • 1
    Using “thou” and the other second-person forms (-st on verbs, etc) has an archaically intimate sound to the native ear. “How do I love thee? Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.” There are only a few native speakers today who use thou anymore, and of those, most use either it as “tha” (still in regional use), or else they (the Quakers) use “thee” as a subjective rather than an objective form. But the 2nd person forms match 1st person ones more nicely: “thee and me”, “thine and mine” will always appeal to the poet.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 22:11
  • 1
    Thee is the object case. Dost thou want tea, Elaine? I will get thee a cup. Do ye want tea, Mrs. Robinson? I will get you a cup.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 4:26
  • 2
    I can't answer for the alleged distinction in modern Yorkshire dialect, but in historic usage 'thou' is subject and 'thee' is object, with no difference in formality. Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 11:04

I was 'brung-up reet proper' around Preston, Colne, Lytham and so on. This is now forty years ago and these forms existed then and were in common use. Thou didn't exist except in approbation. If thou don't come 'ere reet now I'll give 'ee heck.

The most common usage was Thee/Thou art. You could never tell which it was because it was always spoken as Th'art. As pointed out before thy is possessive, but it could used in place of thee/thou. If thy (or maybe tha) wants some th'ard better get a move on. I am not quite sure what verb and conjugation 'ard is.

And th'all (they-all this time) knew a brogue was a shoe. (cf. y'all Central SE USA)

Only just realised ... them there Lancashire lads also tended to pronounce words like knew with an American-ish vowel sound.

  • From that example, "th'ard" looks like it corresponds to standard (archaic) English "thou had" or "thou hadst" (the first would be what is commonly called "past subjunctive"; I'm not sure if its use would be standard in this context)
    – herisson
    Commented Jul 23, 2017 at 19:49
  • I've now learnt that I must italicise. It's good to know I am still alive whilst living in the Dark Ages. Another odd thing is the "-st" ending. . It was mainly applied to modal verbs like "wouldst' and "couldst". (although not mustst :). My spell-checker thinks they are OK. Thanks for the edit - and for the gentlest of nudges. Commented Jul 23, 2017 at 22:42

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