What's the difference between "thee" and "thou"?

As far as I can tell, they both mean “you”. What are the rules about when you should use each one?

“Thou” is the nominative form, whereas “thee” is the accusative. It’s like the difference between “I” and “me”, or “he” and “him”.

“Thou” is nominative, like “he” and “I” and “they.” “Thee” is accusative/objective, like “him” and “me” and “them.” Simple as that.

Note that “thou” always takes the -st form of any verb that has one: * I was, thou wast, he was, you were; I did, you did, he did, thou didst; I have, thou hast, he has, you have.*

Also, thou/thee has two genitive/possessive forms, thy and thine, which match exactly my and mine in where they are used.

Thou art correct: I commend thee!

It’s a difference that modern standard English no longer recognizes between nominative and accusative forms of the second-person singular. My understanding is that the th- forms were familiar forms (as in the difference between vous and tu in French), another difference that modern standard English no longer recognizes. The form “you” was concurrent with “thou” and “thee” but used to indicate the status of the addressed person was higher than the addresser’s. That’s why “thou” and “thee” were used by the Quakers for everyone, since in Quaker theology, judges and nobles and royals deserved no more respect than the beggar on the street, and the beggar on the street deserved no less respect than judges or nobles or royals.

BTW, you was originally the accusative plural form. The original plural nominative was ye.

Great, I never realized that I always wanted to ask this question!

It’s still used in some parts of England, tha’ knows.

Go up to Yorkshire and you’ll hear it all the time, I can tell thee.

Those dialects that preserve thou and thee (eg West Country Engand, the Quakers, etc) have lost any distinction between nominative and accusative. The Quakers, for instance, use thee as subject where thou would have been the correct form in the past. This characteristic was already being commented on in the mid-19th century, as evidenced by an article in Notes & Queries, c 1860, which I recall reading a couple of years ago. I’ll try to dig it up.

So… tell me if I’ve gotten it right in this paragraph:

*I hear thou are (art?) going to town tomorrow. Thy sister lives there, does’t she? Make sure to take thy jacket. Thou lost thy jacket? I’ll lend thee mine, if next time thou lend me thine. *

Ironically, a modern English speaker would probably think that someone using “thee” and “thou” was trying to be more formal, not less. I think this stems from the Bible: In the original Hebrew, in passages where God is addressing men, He uses the Hebrew familiar forms, much as one would within a family. The translators of the King James version correctly translated these into the English familiar forms, and so we have “Thou shalt not…” and so on. But nowadays, the only place most people see the “thou” forms is in the King James Bible, and incorrectly assume that, because it’s God, He must be using formal constructions.

Not the last time I was in Yorkshire (about 4 years ago). However, I learned the distinction growing up in Leeds about 50 years ago, when a lot more people spoke proper Yorkshire.

It’s “thou art”, and “thou lendest” or “thou lend’st”. I think that those special verb forms helped to kill the word “thou”.

IIRC, the reason why The and Thou were confounded into Ye and You was because of the “Olde English” letter thorn, a cursive y-looking letter representing the phonic sound “th”, which people misinterpereted as a regular y.

Giles try a few miles south of Leeds, especially in the former mining communities.

Yip. It’s still seen in such cases as “Ye Olde Archery Shoppe”, which even includes he silent ‘e’ of yore.

Did anyone ever actually pronounce it /ji/? I’m assuming that’s a modern affectation.

And re: Quakers, no one says thou anymore, at least not at any of the meetings I’ve attended.

I do know that the ‘Y’ in ‘Ye’ is a mutated form of Þ, the thorn, a letter English has lost. The thorn, like the Ð, or eth, could represent either the voiced /th/ (as in ‘this’ and ‘that’) or the voiceless /th/ (as in ‘thin’ and ‘three’). (Voiced, here, means that the tongue vibrates against the back of the upper front teeth, whereas voiceless means it does not.)

(Yes, two letters that could each make the same pair of sounds. English spelling used to be just that much weirder.)

Therefore, yes, ‘Ye’ was pronounced ‘The’ originally, but I don’t know when the mispronunciation became popular, or whether it would count as a ‘modern’ mistake.

Ye as tje vocative and nominative of you in Middle and Early Modern English was pronounced /ji/ (“Yee”). The letter used for the form of “the” written “ye” (and pronounced “the”) was wen, which rsembled thorn but with the rightward extension angular rather than round. Instead of a smooth curve coming out from the upright, visualize it with two 45-degree angles coming out 1/4 and 3/4 of the way along the upright, and joining each other at the halfway point out to the right of the upright. or imagine a vertical line cutting a diamond shape in half, with the left half then erased.

Looks on target, with the emendations Giles suggests – definitely “thou art” and probably “lendest” or dialectally “lend’st”.