I am writing a script in which all the characters speak early Modern English. I have learned a bit about Old English, but I am not an expert so I am also consulting multiple artificial intelligences, but they all yield different results.

The script is set in 17th century England, the year 1608 specifically. (The year is very important.) It is language that people would use every day.

In sentences like the following, how can I correctly choose between to and unto?

'Tis not worth to go unto/to hell.

  • 5
    You should ignore all the AI's. They're wrong about coven. Etymonline says that it was first used for a group of witches in the 1660s, which is definitely 17th century. And since words back then were probably used for several decades before they appeared in texts which have lasted until today, you could get away with using it for a book set in the 1630s. Furthermore,lamb has been around since Old English; lambkin is a diminutive of lamb, that you might use for a child. Feb 15 at 15:43
  • 1
    What are the "intelligences"?
    – Lambie
    Feb 15 at 15:43
  • 2
    I adore questions about historical English, but this is really several disparate questions, some of which have already been asked and answered (e.g. How do you conjugate Early Modern English verbs (other than present tense)?). You really need to pare this down into one focused question (e.g., to vs unto), and ask a new question for each additional point you want to know about, preferably also checking to see if it's already been answered here before.
    – Laurel
    Feb 15 at 15:49
  • 4
    AIs are very unreliable for questions where the answers aren't obvious. They're trying to imitate human writing, and in doing so often produce correct answers to simple questions, but for more complex ones they'll give outputs that sound like they're from a human but bear no relationship to the truth.
    – alphabet
    Feb 15 at 15:52
  • 2
    You have a lot of questions here. There are answers on ELU for how to conjugate -eth/-est/etc (links in other comments). As to word choice, there are links (somewhere) to Middle English and Early Modern English dictionaries, and also selections of texts from those periods to check against. As to ChatGPT/Bing, they are not trained on enough ME or EME texts to give reliable era appropriate text. You can use it but it won't sound authentic to even casual consumers of narrative works from those eras (more likely the output will be poisoned by the scads of awful quasi-Shakespearean fanfic).
    – Mitch
    Feb 15 at 17:01

1 Answer 1


Although to appeared earlier than unto, if you want to evoke Early Modern English, I suggest you use unto. Nowadays unto is considered archaic for to or until.

The Middle English Compendium will give you all the meanings with which it was used at that time, among which some apply really well to your sentence:

In phrases with verbs of motion expressed or implied: (a) onward to and into (a place, structure, etc.); (b) in contexts expressing or implying upward or downward motion: up or down to and into (a place, structure, water, etc.)
In phrases expressing extension in space: (a) as far as (a country, city, etc.); all the way to (a place, river, a mark on an instrument, etc.)

The entry for to is much more ample than that of unto, and although it includes many of the senses of unto, the examples provided with both prepositions show that to can be ambiguous in certain contexts.

By 1755, Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language already labels unto as obsolete:

U’NTO. prep.
[It was the old word for to; now obsolete.]

The KJV Bible was written in 1611, pretty close to the year you are after. So you can search to see how unto is used there. For example, Isaiah says

And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell. (Isa. 57:9 KJV)

Hell is also preceded by to but mostly in combination with down:

And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell. (Matt. 11:23 KJV)

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