I have found much trouble identifying the old word 'tis.

Does it mean "this is" or "it is?"

I have done some research and found that the dictionaries conflict.

One said 'tis :An old English word used in the place of this is ; a contraction of this is.

I showed this to my brother and he showed me another one it said 'tis :an old English contraction of the words it is.

as in:

'tis(this is) the voice of the lobster....or

'tis(it is) the voice of the lobster....

So how?

  • 1
    Could you please show the dictionary from which you got the definition of "this is"?
    – Thursagen
    Aug 1 '11 at 21:10
  • Just think about "'tis I". Who would ever read that as "this is I"? Aug 1 '11 at 21:32
  • It's not an unreasonable question, whoever marked it down: the dialect word "tother" shows that a "th" can change to a "t" in contractions. But it does seem unlikely, and I too wonder which dictionary it was which listed "this is".
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 2 '11 at 11:37
  • 1
    @ColinFine Tother doesn’t actually show that, because the t doesn’t come from a th at all. It’s a mis-divided form of a much older þet oþer, where þet is the older form of that, used as a neuter definite article. It is basically just a neuter version of a napron, a nadder, a norange, etc. The fact that the definite article has in some dialects become t’ has led to people reinterpreting tother as t’other = the other; but that’s a later folk etymology. Oct 3 '14 at 18:42
  • 1
    It's just a different way to contract it is. /ɪtɪz/ becomes /tɪz/ simply by deleting the first /ɪ/. /ɪtɪz/ can also delete the second /ɪ/, putting the /t/ and /z/ together and therefore devoicing the /z/ to an /s/, which results in /ɪts/. Vowel deletion is not rocket science, folks. Dec 25 '14 at 19:13

"'Tis" is a contraction of "it is", from all of the dictionaries I've searched. The little apostrophe just before 't' shows that there's a missing letter(the way can't shows that there the missing letters 'no').

Thus, "'tis" in your example would it :

It is the voice of the lobster.

Other examples are :

'Tis the season to be jolly.
'My country, 'tis of thee.

A similar expression is 'tiwll

  • 2
    Another similar expression is 'Twas, such as `Twas the night before Christmas
    – Phil
    Aug 1 '11 at 21:25
  • 1
    Aye, and a good one too.
    – Thursagen
    Aug 1 '11 at 21:31
  • 4
    Do you two guys know each other, or is the clash of names just a coincidence? Aug 1 '11 at 21:35
  • 1
    @Fumble,.... he's my brother
    – Thursagen
    Aug 1 '11 at 22:38
  • 1
    @Thursagen ...really?
    – simchona
    Aug 2 '11 at 6:09

'tis is still used in English, even if it is chiefly poetic, or literary. It is the contraction of it is.


'Tis means both "it is" or "this is". However, its etymology comes from "it is". You can see or listen it in modern English too as in poetry and on role play or video games.