There’s an “influencer” that came across my page who posted a quote (attributed to themselves) and I know it’s wrong but I’m not informed enough to know how wrong it is. I’m not going to do anything with the corrections but I gotta know!

When thee thinketh thee are done, thee have just begun

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    I believe "when thee thinketh" was never correct in Old English, nor in Elizabethan English. More likely would be "when thou think'st". Some dialects (Quakers or so) may have used "thee" in place of "thou". But likely no one used "thinketh" for the second person.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 19:44
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    Thou is subject case, thee is the object case pronoun. Each thee above should be thou. Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 19:45
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    Calling it "Old English" is asking for trouble. You're dealing with Early Modern English here. The pronouns here should be "thou", as others have already pointed out, and the verbs should be "thinkest", "art" and "hast".
    – user888379
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 19:51
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    hwænne þu wenst þæt þu aert gedon, þu aert niewlice begunnen is my attempt an old English
    – James K
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 18:29
  • 1
    Some modern Quakers, up until the last century, were in the habit of using thee as their sole second-person pronoun, but they didn’t use the incorrect -eth form.
    – Davislor
    Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 2:34

4 Answers 4

  1. Note, although this language is "old," the term "Old English" refers to a much older version of the language (or, arguably, an earlier language altogether).
  2. A common misperception is that ca 17th-century usage always used "thee" and never used "you." If you find yourself transported back to Elizabethan England, you could certainly say "When you think you are done" with no anachronism (and be more polite too, since you is the more formal pronoun!).
  3. The main issues with the quote are that it doesn't decline "thee/thou" or conjugate "think" or "hast" appropriately. "Thou" is the subject of the sentence; "thee" would be the right form if it were an object. "Thinketh" would be a third-person form, not second-person. And "have" is the appropriate form for "you," but not for "thou." A corrected version would be:

When thou think’st [or thinkest] thou art done, thou hast just begun.

  • 11
    I suspect that that in EME the subordinate clause would be subjunctive, so When thou think'st thou beest done.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 23:20
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    @ColinFine Surely it would be thou be done, not thou beest? Is beest recorded anywhere as a subjunctive version of be? Honestly, I'm actually slightly leaning to When thou think'st thyself to be done. Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 5:50
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    @DawoodibnKareem Actually I'd probably go for "When thou thinkest thyself done" myself, but I could also imagine authors tweaking the tense for the sake of meter as suggested elsewhere. I kept quiet at Colin's suggestion, but I don't know that it has to go subjunctive. I'm not a Shakespearean scholar, but searching Open Source Shakespeare for the word "when," I see several places where it could have gone subjunctive and didn't, e.g.: Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 13:31
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    @DawoodibnKareem: both are found. The OED say "(b) beest forms (2nd singular). 1500s–1600s beest, 1600s bee'st. Historically, these continue indicative forms, but apparently at least some early modern English texts prefer beest (rather than art) in syntactic environments that otherwise favour use of the subjunctive such as conditional clauses, as illustrated here. Similar use in conditional clauses is found later in south-western English regional varieties, but these also use beest regularly in the indicative." The examples given include Milton and Shakespeare
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 18:02
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    @Bohemian That is not correct. Thou and you were always different words, which were þū and ēow in Old English (real Old English, not Early Modern). In Early Modern English, you was the accusative form of ye (Old English ġē), and both were pronounced with a y sound. You're probably thinking of how the article ye (as in "Ye Olde Shoppe", not to be confused with the aforementioned pronoun) is an old spelling of the. Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 13:17

I believe that this quote has been put together by a fraud with little knowledge of old English grammar.

In addition to any other corrections, thee are should be thou art; thee have should be thou hast; thee thinketh should be thou thinkest. These are all part of old English pronoun declensions and verb conjugations.

thou hast: old use a way of saying ‘you have’

thou art: old-fashioned biblical a phrase meaning ‘you are’


Thou thinkest, Lord, of me;
Thou thinkest, Lord, of me; ...

So the better version would be:

When thou thinkest thou art done, thou hast just begun

  • Something went wrong with site editing so there are two deleted versions of this answer visible to those with the appropriate privileges. Please ignore them
    – Anton
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 20:29
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    A tweak that I like even better (to maintain the trochaic tetrameter) would be "when thou thinkest thou art done, thou hast only just begun." (It would be perhaps more true to the style to say "verily, thou hast just begun" but then you have to smudge "verily" into 2 syllables.)
    – Hellion
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 23:11
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    You should clarify which "old English" you are correcting it to. Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 10:03

This is my attempt at correcting it to Old English.

hwænne þu wēnst þæt þu sīe gedon þu eart niewlice begunnen

Old English had not yet reversed the letters h and w in question words, so "hwenne" for "when". OE had the first person pronoun þu. The modern verb "think" was used only for the sense of "ponder", so I've used the verb "wenst", which has the meaning of "hold an opinion". I've use a subjunctive "sie gedon". The adverb "just" is a more modern borrowing from French, so I've replaced it with "niewlice" (newly), and I've used what I think is a reasonable use of "þu eart begunnen" "thou art begun" rather than using "have begun" from modern English.

  • I've CW'd this as I'm open to edits and improvements from those who know OE better.
    – James K
    Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 18:35
  • Just based on German and Swedish, I'd probably switch þu eart to eart þu, but this is based on absolutely no knowledge of OE at all.
    – Numeri
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 3:13

Anton has correctly said that the verb is incorrectly declined but it is also true that the influencer has confused the second and third person singular forms of the verb. "Thinketh" is the third person singular form, not the second, so "When he (or she, or it) thinketh that he (or she, or it) is done he (or she, or it) hath only just begun" would be correct but "thou thinketh" would be as wrong as "you thinks"

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