Columbus, Georgia, Zarathi, Wohali, Anglonesia
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Angelus of Anglonesia. Geospatial Analyst and Cartographer.
Cosmographer and Poet. BA in Liberal Arts - Literature and History at Washington State University 1988. MS in Geographic Information Science, Geospatial Analysis and Cartography at Michigan State University 2008.


APRIL 23, 2012 4:24PM

How to Properly Sound Shakespearean Using Thou

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How to Properly Sound Shakespearean Using Thou

Every single time someone has attempted to use the original second person pronoun, Thou, when writing, in an attempt to sound Shakespearean or Biblical, as in the King James Version of the Bible, they fail so miserably to use the declensions of the pronoun and conjugations of relevant verbs correctly, that I feel tempted to laugh in mocking ridicule.

I know, I should be nice. Okay, so here is the correct way to use Thou.

Use Thou as the subject, and add -st or -est at the end of the verb. Thou art happy. Thou eatest apples.

Use Thee as the object. I see thee.

Use Thy and Thine as the owner. I visited thy house. I admire thine art.

Never use ye or yee. We should be using thou instead of you anyway, but it is hard now to reverse 400 years of semi-literate misuse of archaic language.

The reason th was replaced by y was because, in the 1500s, writers used a now-extinct letter. This lost letter was a curved d that looked like an s closed on the bottom loop, and was crossed like a t, so it appeared similar to a curving y. This letter was the sound dh- and the voiced th- sound, as in the th- in words like the, this, and that.

Because this dh- letter appeared like the y, semi-literate immigrants from England to the early American colonies mistook it for a y, and so we find ridiculous signs that say "Ye Olde Bookeshoppe". The curved dh that appeared like a y makes that sign properly read "The Olde Bookeshoppe".

Full disclosure: I am descended from Anne Bradstreet, the Puritan poet of Massachusetts, though she was a bit more literate than the average Puritan.

The word Thou was also written with this curving, crossed dh letter, and so Thou and Thee morphed into You and Yee.

If you want to sound literate when attempting to write in Shakespearean-era language, use the simple rules outlined above. True, few will notice but me. However, I will not feel tempted to mock you, in fact I will admire you and be impressed. 

Update: Someone graciously pointed me to the Wikipedia article about the letter Thorn, which is the name of that letter.

On a Windows keyboard, this letter can be access by holding down the Alt key, then on the numeric keypad type +0222 

Þ = thorn 

Þou = thou 

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A few hardcore Quakers and such still use thou, thee, thy, thine and est... I've actually heard a few speaking in conversation... really blew my mind.
Even Quakers apparently misuse "thee" as the subject, like "thee are a stranger".


"Thou art a stranger."
Too many people also brutally misuse the third person singular which uses the -eth ending. How often I read something like the following:

"I speaketh like unto Shakespeare."
"Today thou shalt speaketh like Shakespeare."

Both those require the basic form "speak".

This is correct use:

"He speaketh like Shakespeare."
"Jacob eateth bread."
Here is a very simple rule to help know how to use thou:

I speak, Thou speakest, He speaketh
Thou seest Me, I see Thee, He seeth us
My house, Thy house, His house
Mine eye, Thine eye, His eye
And Ebonics is reviled, hated, sneered at and derided. I hate that. language is language and when it works it works.

Great post and R
Grins. I guess "you" was the Puritan-era version of ebonics, along with words like fix and reckon.