What is the correct usage for "thee" and "thou"

I suppose I might best post this question for the Amish Dopers, but that presents certain difficulties. At any rate, I am curious as to the usage for “thee” and “thou”. Jeeves sent me off to an essay from such English twit who’s shorts were in a twist about addressing God or Jesus as “you”. Wierd.

Surely, says I to myself, there’s a smartass on the SDMB who happens to know this one thing, and is pining away that nobody ever asks.

I’m extremely tired right now, so I don’t know if this is gonna make sense, but it seems to me they both basically mean “you”; the difference is whether the “you” being addressed is the subject or object of the sentence. Examples:
Thou art quite fine, baby.
Shut thy mouth, or I shall smite thee!
Hast thou seen the new Pamela Lee video?
My heart burns for thee.

I’m sure it’s more complicated than this, but that’s my addle-brained take on it at the moment. I’m sure somebody will come along to set us both straight.

No Woody, it’s no more complicated than you say. Both are archaic forms of the second person pronoun. ‘Thou’ for subject, ‘thee’ for object.

ianzin’s right. Other European languages have kept a distinction between scond person singular and second person plural, but in English, the “you” form is now used for second person plural and second person singualar. The one major exception is that in some liturgies, notably the traditional Anglican liturgy, “thou” is used to address God, as a sign of the personal relationship. You probably came across a rant from a member of the Prayer Book Society, dedicated to using only the traditional liturgy from Cranmer’s time, not the more modern liturgy from the past 50 years.

As a quick rule of thumb for “thou” and “thee,” transpose the sentence to first person singular. If you would use “I” (subject), then “thou” is the correct one for second person singular. If you would use “me” (object), then you would use “thee.”

For example:

“I gave it to Sally.”


“Thou gavest it to Sally.”


“Sally gave it to me.”


“Sally gave it to thee.”

Ok, while we’re at it, how about thy and thine?

Thy and thine are simply the possessives of the subjective (thou) and objective (thee) as discussed above. (Think “your.”)


“Thy RAM is fried.”


“This new RAM shall be thine.”

Close, but not quite. “Thy” can be an object as well as a subject: “Give me thy hand.”

You can use “thine” wherever you’d use “mine” today: “Thine is the kingdom.”

“Thine” can also be used instead of “thy” before a noun beginning with a vowel: you would say “thy ram” but “thine alpaca.”

The object in this sentence is “hand”, not “thy”. The (implied) subject is “you”, or “thou”. friedo is right that “thy” and “thine” are possesive pronouns. I don’t think he (she?) meant to imply that one would be used with the subject and the other with the object.

Round here on the edge of South Yorkshire district these terms are widely used.

There are some additions such as tha, thissen.

Try this

Get thissen off home, tha’s pissed - Take yourself home you are drunk.

Regional poem.

Hear all see all se’nowt.
Ayt all sup all pa’nowt.
If ever tha does owt for nowt,
Allus do it for thissen


Hear everything, see everything, say nothing.
Eat and drink as much as you can but pay nothing
If you do anything for nothing,
Always do it for yourself.

You’re all missing one important point here, and this bears on the issue in the OP of how to God should be addressed.

Thee and thine are “familiar,” or informal, forms of the pronoun you. They are analogous to forms in other European languages; German for example has a whole set of formal vs. informal verb forms for the second person. In Spanish, the familiar forms for you are “tu” and “vosotros”, with the formal being “Usted” and “Ustedes” (with the exception that in Latin America Usted has replaced vosotros).

When praying, it is customary to use the familiar form to the deity, in order to indicate that a personal relationship exists. That is why the “English twit” mentioned in the OP is upset about using “you” to address God.

Colibri, I believe I touched on this point:

[Moderator watch ON]
The subject line appears to have been truncated, so I fixed it. If that’s not what you wanted it to say, elucidator, let me know.
[Moderator watch OFF]

While we’re on the subject, what’s the proper usage of the -st and -eth endings, as in “gavest” and “giveth”?

Now, there you have me, Chronos. My guess is that “-est” is the verb ending for “thou,” and “-eth” is an archaic third person singular verb ending (“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away…”), but I’m not sure.

Very interesting. Especially since “thissum” is a perfectly good Old English word.

“And ic secge thissum ‘ga,’ and he gaeth. And ic secge thissum ‘cum,’ thanne cymth he. And ic secge minum theowe ‘do this,’ and he daeth.” St. Luke 7:8.

You are quite right, *jti, my apologies. I went skimmming through a bit too fast.

No probs - I just have this view that every word that I enter is golden, with the Teeming Masses parsing each missive like prophecy, and get distresed when rude reality indicates it isn’t so :smiley:

Just adding more small pieces to the puzzle, regarding the “informal” nature of thou vs. “formal you.”

The German distinction mentioned above: informal singular you is “du,” e.g. “du hast ein Hund” (you have a dog), and informal plural is (IIRC) “ihr,” e.g. “ihr hat ein Hund” (you-all have a dog). Formal, it’s the same whether singular or plural – the noun is “Sie,” e.g. “Sie haben ein Hund.” You’d use the previous form talking to your friend, and you’d use the latter form talking to, say, Archduke Ferdinand. (“Sie haben ein Bullethole.” Har har.) Someone who’s got more linguistic expertise might be able to explain how the coincidental verbs – German “du hast” and old English “thou hast,” both meaning “have” – relate to one another.

Shakespeare goes back and forth between you/your and thee/thou/thine, which is part of why the language sounds archaic. However, modern readers usually transpose the formal/informal quality of the two pronouns. When Shakespeare uses “thou,” it’s supposed to be a familiar usage; when he uses “you,” it’s supposed to be more formal. But because “thou” is considered obsolete, and we use “you” in all cases, we subconsciously interpret “thou” as being more formal, which is not the case. Just a small item for the next time you’re perusing Antony and Cleopatra

Thanks Cervaise for refreshing my memory on German. I’ve forgotten most of what I learned at college in the one year I took it.

Regarding du and ihr, a good friend of mine was posted to Germany when he was in the army in the 60s. They gave the troops basic lessons in German, but never bothered to teach them anything other than the Sie forms. When my friend asked why, he was told, “You’re only posted here for three years. In that time you won’t get to know anybody well enough to use du to them.”

I also seem to recall a Kafka story in which the narrator expresses intense paranoia when a stranger comes up to him in the street and adresses him as “du.”

-est is the ending for second person singular verbs, where the subject is thou.

-eth was the ending for third person singular verbs, where the subject is he, she, or it. IIRC, -eth was used in the London dialect of Early Modern English. The -s/-es ending that we use now was an import from a northern dialect that came in I guess during the 17th century.

So now we’ve lost a way to distinguish second person singular from plural. No wonder people have felt a necessity to make a second person form when they specifically want to show plurality. That’s why Southerners say “y’all” and plebian Newyorkese has “youse” (the latter comes from a northern England dialect, I think).

Well, nuts, even the dictionary confuses me:

thee "the\ pronoun archaic objective case of thou
1 a— used esp. in ecclesiastical or literary language and by Friends esp. among themselves in contexts where the objective case form would be expected
b — used by Friends esp. among themselves in contexts where the subjective case form would be expected
2 : thyself

©1996 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. All rights reserved.
1thou "thau\ pronoun [ME, fr. OE thu; akin to OHG du thou, L tu, Gk sy] (bef. 12c)
archaic : the one addressed <thou shalt have no other gods before me — Exod 20:3 (AV)> — used esp. in ecclesiastical or literary language and by Friends as the universal form of address to one person — compare thee, thine, thy, ye, you

©1996 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. All rights reserved.