In a previous question about the English of the KJV a link was helpfully supplied and I read the following

The vocative case is used when directly addressing a person with a noun identifying the person instead of with the second person pronoun “you.” An example is in Matthew 6:9 which says, “Our Father, which art in heaven.” Today we are less inclined to say “Our Father, who ARE in heaven.” It seems more natural to say “Our Father, who IS in heaven.” The peculiarity of the KJV is based on the faithful translation of the vocative case. This is not an archaism but a faithful translation of the Greek which has the vocative case.

Like many things, I learned the words as a child and have accepted them all my life without intelligently understanding them.

I am still struggling to understand why the verb is plural and where 'art' comes from.

  • I don't see why the verb would be plural either in that context. For art, scroll down to the bottom of the ODO entry: "archaic or dialect second person singular present of be". Note both second person and singular. I suppose the argument would be that one is addressing the Father in that prayer, hence something like "Our Father, You (who) are in heaven ...". – Lawrence Jan 25 '18 at 16:43
  • 2
    'art' is singular. 'Thou art' - singular. Not sure why the commenter thought it should be 'are' in modern English. – Mitch Jan 25 '18 at 16:44
  • @Lawrence Oh, I see. It is the second person singular. Silly me. – Nigel J Jan 25 '18 at 16:45
  • 2
  • 1
    Duplicate accepted as answering the question. – Nigel J Jan 25 '18 at 19:44

Relevant to the verse and to the commentary, there are a few issues here:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

  • there may be a vocative case in classical Greek, but there is none in English (which has only nominative, accusative, and possessive for most pronouns, and dropping accusative for the rest of the nouns).

  • The sentence is directed at 'Our Father' so the vocative is really taken care of by the second person. So instead of the Early Modern English 'thou art' it would be in Late Modern English 'you are'. That for is both for the plural you and the singular you.

  • the 'faithful translation' is from the Greek vocative to the second person singular. It just sounds weird in that verse because it is not obvious that it is addressing 'Our father' rather than just talking about him.

As an aside, 'hallowed be thy name' is really passive subjunctive. In Modern English 'may your name be hallowed' (or 'kept holy'). Let's just say translation is not always straightforward.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    The sentence is directed at God, but that doesn’t make it imperative—it’s a plain present indicative. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 25 '18 at 19:42
  • @Mitch Your answer contains the root of the problem in translating Greek into English - 'is both for the plural you and the singular you'. The KJV translation distinguishes the singular and the plural, not out of any desire to be deliberately archaic, but for the sake of accuracy in translation. – Nigel J Jan 25 '18 at 19:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet On reflection, it is actually ... plain present subjunctive ... and passive too! '...Hallowed be thy name.' or in modern English for which the subjunctive has almost entirely disappeared (but not here), 'May your name be kept holy' ('hallow' is not exactly the most common of modern words (except maybe by JK Rowling)) – Mitch Jan 25 '18 at 20:54
  • @Mitch That sentence is subjunctive (or third person singular imperative—no actual way of telling which it is in English), but who art in Heaven is indicative. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 25 '18 at 20:58
  • @JanusBahsJacquet There's a third person imperative? – Mitch Jan 25 '18 at 21:02

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