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Thou is an old second-person singular pronoun in English.

Are there any old third-person singular pronouns?

3 Answers 3

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Personal Pronouns: Rustic hisn and hern, hit and sho

Because Old English and Middle English each had their own sets of pronouns that differ from ours, let’s restrict this to Modern English only, not anything earlier like The Canterbury Tales or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, respectively from two different branches of Middle English.

Otherwise we’d have to discuss things like the pronoun hit that we now spell without the leading h- these days outside of various regional dialects. English dialects do preserve a tremendous wealth of such ancient forms that are still used in dialect speech. For example:

  • 1993 New Shetlander Sept. 29
    Hit’s a notion shu’s taen lately.

There hit means it and shu (or sho) means she. There are many, many more of these that you come across from time to time.

Even so, we can still find other archaic personal pronouns that persist today only in dialect, not in standard English. The most notable of these is probably the -n genitives formed by analogy with mine and thine, including hisn, hern, theirn, ourn, yourn. The one that goes with his has many spellings, being non-standard. These include hisn, his’n, hisen, hissen, hizzen.

The paywalled OED gives as the etymology of hisn:

Alteration of his adj. after mine pron., thine pron. Compare hern pron.1, hern pron.2, theirn pron., ourn pron., yourn pron., and compare also hisis pron.

Eng. Dial. Dict. records the word from Yorkshire and Lancashire and widely from the midlands and south of England; Surv. Eng. Dial. records the word from the majority of midland and southern counties, with the exception of Cheshire to the north, Rutland, Norfolk, Kent, and Sussex to the east, and Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall to the west. Dict. Amer. Regional Eng. records the word chiefly from New England and southern and south Midland states.

Compare also English and U.S. regional hisn’s, pronoun and adjective (19th cent.).

These started in Late Middle English, and made the transition into Early Modern English. However, they were never really considered part of standard English, and modern writers have used them only to represent the speech characteristic of various regional dialects, where they still exist to this day. The OED says that hisn is:

Now English regional (midlands and southern) and U.S. regional (chiefly south Midland, southern, and New England).

They give genitive examples corresponding to mine and thine, including these later ones:

  • 1867 ‘M. Twain’ Celebrated Jumping Frog 15
    It always makes me feel sorry when I think of that last fight of his’n.
  • 1930 W. Faulkner As I lay Dying 115
    He don’t say nothing; just looks at me with them queer eyes of hisn that makes folks talk.
  • 1938 W. E. Railey Hist. Woodford County ii. 55/1
    I trust the old mill will be to ‘him and hisn’ a sacred trust.
  • 1946 L. Lenski Blue Ridge Billy viii. 108
    I’ve got more baskets than I can sell in a month of Sundays. Uncle Pozy come by here t’other day..and wished all his’n on me.
  • 1983 E. McClanahan Nat. Man (1984) iii. 22
    Old Nobs thinks this new boy of his’n is gonna be shit on a stick, don’t he?
  • 2011 S. Rodriguez Weight of Light iii. 36
    My tongue feel thick and swole like hisn, and I can’t speak.

They also give possessive examples corresponding to my and thy of which these are just the more recent:

  • 1910 C. E. Mulford Hopalong Cassidy xx. 130
    Taking the button and looking it over. ‘Yep, it’s hissn, all right.’
  • 1923 ‘R. Crompton’ William Again x. 179
    Well it isn’t his’n—it’s stole stuff.
  • 1995 M. L. Settle Choices ɪ. vi. 76
    He’s got seven kids, four of them hissen.
  • 2004 J. B. Rehder Appalachian Folkways 297
    That plate is hern... But the cup is hisn.

Notice how these examples are almost all meant to represent the rustic speech of regional dialects.

Demonstrative Pronouns: yon, thon, thilk

Another source of archaic pronouns still occasionally heard is the demonstrative pronouns beyond the four standard ones this, that, those, these. These include yon, yond, yonder, thilk, thon.

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  • The most notable of these is probably the -n genitives formed by analogy with mine and thine, including hisn, hern, theirn, ourn, yourn. These are phrases - they are contractions for "his one" or "his ones" (his'ns), etc. As a native speaker of East Midlands English, I heard (and still hear when I am there) "his one" (pron "his un") for emphasis.
    – Greybeard
    Dec 30, 2020 at 17:29
  • @Greybeard Once whilom phrases like be-hind and be-fore and be-yond and a-sleep and a-shore and now-a-days and to-day and to-morrow become fully lexicalized, they no longer count as phrases. So for example, yinz is still a second-person plural pronoun not a phrase, even though it derives from earlier ye-ones. In any event, notice how the OED gives more weight to the survival of hisn and hern due to analogy with mine and thine than they do to any anterior phrasal derivation.
    – tchrist
    Dec 30, 2020 at 18:05
  • As far as I'm aware, his'n, etc. has not made the transition that mine and thine have. I feel that it is unlikely to as it is dialect and has no standard spelling. The OED entry as "his'n" is just that - his'n with apostrophe. "to day" is a prepositional phrase, but today is an adverb. It also does not account for "his un/one", nor why "his" pronoun is interchangeable even among those who speak the dialect.
    – Greybeard
    Dec 30, 2020 at 18:18
  • @Greybeard I see no mention of region or register or currency or “acceptability” or derivation or period in the question. Do you?
    – tchrist
    Dec 30, 2020 at 18:25
  • Your answer includes it. The question is "Are there any old third-person singular pronouns?" My response is that His'n, etc., are not pronouns but phrases as the "'n" can be omitted.
    – Greybeard
    Dec 30, 2020 at 18:50
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No.

Thee and thou correspond to the French tu, and similar second person singular pronouns in other European languages, which are used for intimates, children and animals while the plural form is reserved for addressing people politely. In English, for some reason, we long ago started using the plural you for everyone and thou fell out of use except in traditional prayers and some dialects.

This doesn't affect the first and third person at all.

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Thou/thee/thy/thine are exceptions in that they survived into Modern English and can still be heard (albeit rarely or in religious contexts). There were old third-person pronouns in both Old English and Middle English, but none of them survived into Modern English other than the ones we have.

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