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I am writing a screenplay set in England during the year 1608. I would like to know if I am using the -eth ending correctly. According to some sources this ending was only used with -t or -d endings, but some sources say otherwise. Other sources also tell me that although this ending is correct for the year 1608 it was becoming obsolete.

I know this question is not the most specific, but the help of someone who has studied English from 1608 would be very valuable to me. I need to avoid any anachronisms.

  1. The whole forest looketh alike. (Here I don't know if I'm using "looketh" right or if it should be "lookes").

  2. He liketh not.

  3. He expecteth us to speak.

  4. I shall not wed the man that seeketh my hand.

  5. He wanteth.

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  • People alive in 1608 would be speaking words that were heard and used between the early and late l16th century if not earlier! It's not that the language changed significantly from 1600.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 16 at 12:03
  • If you want to write realistic 17th century dialogue, you need more than -eth suffixes to make it sound authentic. But you're in luck, there quite a few Elizabethan playwrights working in that era
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 16 at 12:14
  • @Mari-LouA do you think this sentences are realistic? Feb 16 at 14:10

1 Answer 1

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It seems it was a period of transition from the -th/eth inflection to -s/es, but a few forms were still used in writing.

This linguistics article on Verbs in Early Modern English explains that

“In the earlier sixteenth century {-s} was probably informal, and {-th} neutral and/or elevated; by the 1580s {-s} was most likely the spoken norm, with {-eth} a metrical variant” (Lass 1999:164). “In Shakespeare, {-th} occurs mainly in verse, and {-s} nearly invariably in prose – except for doth, hath which are common to both” (Lass 1999: 163).

OED points out a Northern dialect influence:

At the start of the period [of Early Modern English], the normal third person singular ending in standard southern English was –eth. The form -(e)s, originally from Northern dialect, replaced –eth in most kinds of use during the seventeenth century. A few common short forms, chiefly doth, hath, continued often to be written, but it seems likely that these were merely graphic conventions.

The University of Edinburgh has an article that explains this in more detail:

Although there is only one marker of third person singular in Modern English, -s is in competition with -eth throughout the Early Modern English period. The -s form was originally northern and had spread to the East Midland system by the 15th century. The original southern -eth form became the standard written form when the new standard literary language took shape. Yet -s continued to move southwards and in 1500 was probably common in southern speech. The use of -s increases and over the 16th century it becomes the normal spoken form (Barber 1997: 166—167; Lass 1999: 162—164; Nevalainen 2006: 17). More precisely, variation in the early stages is between -eth and -es (as in comyth and makys) rather than the contracted -s and the syllabic -eth which we find in the 17th century (Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003: 67—68).

-eth is associated with more formal text types, namely official documents, poetry, sermons, and biblical translations (such as the Authorized Version of 1611); and -s appears in journalistic prose, drama, private letters, and diaries (Barber 1997:166–168; Gorlach 1991:88;Nevalainen and Raumolin Brunberg 2003:81).

Therefore, I doubt your use of -eth will be deemed anachronistic. To a modern ear, this inflection evokes those times much better.

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