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

It’s like the SDSTAFF said here

It’s kind of strange that ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ now imply a formal context, when in reality it’s the opposite.

handy, the dictionary definitions are confusing because they report how thou and thee are used now. What everyone in this thread is telling you is how they were used 400 years ago. These are not the same.

There’s a cycle of 2nd person pronouns that languages (at least European ones) go through. It starts off with a language having singular (thou) and plural (you) forms. As others have pointed out, the plural starts being used as the formal and the singular as the informal. Eventually the singular falls into disuse (as discussed in that Mailbag article) and the plural takes over for both. After a while, people feel the need for a 2nd person plural, so they invent a new one and the cycle repeats.

Well, usually. In English we seem to have been stuck in the middle of the cycle for almost 400 years. Why, I don’t know, since several dialects have come up with new plural forms, notably the American South with its “y’all”. But we haven’t come up with a new plural used by everyone.

and if you want to go back further, some of the germanic languages, like Old English, Old Icelandic, and Old Frisian had another case: first person dual. It was used when the speaker was speaking for himself and one other person, so instead of “I” or “we” the speaker used the dual case. (Can’t remember the form that the pronoun took.) Verbs were conjugated accordingly.

I don’t know if dual case survives in Icelandic or Frisian.

[hit the submit button too soon]

Nor do I remember if there was a “second person dual” or a “third person dual.”

…for they will screw thee up. Most everyone here seems to have the thou/thee/thy/thine thing right, but as someone else mentioned elsewhere (you’re probably here, so I apologize for not remembering your name), the Quakers have their own system using ‘thee’ for the subjective as well as objective case.

The Quakers’ use of thee as a nominative pronoun is like saying “Me got to go now.” “Him is all right.” “Us don’t like that.” But in all fairness: The Jeffster is married to a Quaker, and I asked him about that. He told me that the Quakers he knows use thou in the nominative correctly.

The SD Mailbag article by SDSTAFF failed to mention that the old second person plural nominative was not “you” – it was “ye.” Ye gods and little fishes! Actually, “you” was just the object case of “ye.” So every time we use “you” in the nominative, hey, we’re really no different from the Quakers and their second-person singular solecism! Us all got it wrong!

The dual (not just in pronouns, but in all noun declensions and verb conjugations) was the legacy of Proto-Indo-European. It died out at an early stage in several branches of Indo-European, but it was still used in Sanskrit and Classical Greek. I don’t know of any living IE language that still has it. It seems likely that in Common Germanic it would have survived in pronouns after it no longer existed elsewhere.

Semitic had the dual too; it survived in Hebrew in fossilized forms in only a few words, but Arabic still has full dual functionality in both nouns and verbs.

Should have mentioned that the IE dual survived in nouns and adjectives in some archaic dialects of Lithuanian.

Old English had dual number for pronouns only, not verbs or nouns. There was a dual number for first and second person, but not third person. But even in Old English, the dual was disappearing.

From A History of the English Language by Baugh and Cable, here is a table of OE pronouns:

*          1st       2nd            3rd
                            masc   fem     neut*
Sing.  N. ic        ðu      he     heo     hit
       G. min       ðin     his    hiere   his
       D. me        ðe      him    hiere   him
       A. me(mec)   ðe(ðec) hine   hie     hit

Dual   N. wit       git
       G. uncer     incer
       D. unc       inc
       A. unc       inc

Plural N. we        ge             hie
       G. user(ure) eower          hiera
       D. us        eow            him
       A. us(usic)  eow(eowic)     hie

I left off the macrons indicating long vowels because this board doesn’t support those characters. N, G, D and A are the Nominative, Genitive, Dative and Accusative cases.

Cursie þe, dtilque! Ic hæbbe seo boc A Guide to Old English þe ic hæfde in scol… ic wolde giefan eallum þa word þe ðu wrat.

Funny, I’ve watched that show for 7 years, and have never heard them use “thee” or “thou”. Maybe they just use them when the cameras are off.

When I took German in college, our professor brought in a group of German exchange students that had been in town for a month or so. (I happened to have met one of them, but that’s another story.) We were instructed to talk to them in German only, asking them questions about anything.

We got through a few minutes of questions when one of them stopped us and asked why we were addressing them with the formal ‘Sie’. He explained that since we were contemporaries (students in our teens or early twenties) that we should use ‘du’. The only reason we were using ‘Sie’ was because we were used to addressing our teacher in that manner. :):slight_smile:

That’s nice, Olentzero, but I don’t really care how many words your textbook has. (I’d attempt to answer in OE, but all I have is an Anglo-Saxon to English dictionary and it doesn’t go the other way. Also since I’ve never formally studied the language, I’d probably screw the grammar up as well.)

Perhaps I missed it, but the answer to the “thy/thine” question is the same as “my/mine” – adjunctive and disjunctive forms of the possessive.

I have this thing; this thing belongs to me; it’s my thing. This thing is mine.

But if I give it to thee, and thou acceptst it, then

Thou hast this thing; this thing belongs to thee; it’s thy thing. This thing is thine.

The original Quakers, following the lead of George Fox, used thee as a nominative as well, usually with the -st form of the vrb. Apparently that’s pretty well out of keeping.

Minor note: The only verb form with a conjugated past tense is “to be,” where normal English differentiates “was” and “were” in the indicative, and uses “were” in the subjunctive. However, past indicative is “thou wast” and past subjunctive is “thou wert” – found only in recent usage in “which wert and art and evermore shalt be” and “Hail to thee, blythe spirit! Bird thou never wert.”

(Any time you can pull a twofer and quote a hymn and P.B. Shelley in a GQ thread having nothing to do with religion or literature without hijacking, it’s worth doing.)

I was just cursing you for beating me to the punch on the grammar point.

Oh, then I misunderstood the “Cursie þe”. I thought you were saying “the hell with that” or something similar.

No, as best I understand it cursie is the first person singular of cursian, ‘curse’. It would have been better written as “Ic cursie þe” but I wasn’t thinking too clearly. :wink:

“Dual case” doesn’t survive in Modern Icelandic, which now uses the familiar six cases.

casdave’s post on “thissum” reminded me more of Old Norse pronouns than of Old English. That would make sense, because traditional Yorkshire dialect is heavily influenced by the Scandinavian languages of Viking invaders. (My wife was working on this at Oxford; any questions on Yorkshire dialect/Old Norse or Old English language I will gladly pass on to her!)