What art thou talking about?

Know your 2nd person singular pronouns.

The English language has never been well-endowed with inflections. The history of the Old English (OE) period can be characterised as one of morphological decay. It seems to have been a pattern in Germanic, since about half of the nominal derivational endings in OE are the second elements of moribund and not so moribund compounds. In other words, as time passed, much of the original derivation morphology, which could be traced back to Indo-European, had ceased to be productive in Germanic.

The present form of the finite verb in OE had all of four personal endings. (þ, a letter called “thorn” = ‘th’.)

1 ic bind-e “I tie”
2 þu bind-est “you tie”
3 he, heo, hit bind-eþ “he, she, it ties”
1 we bind-aþ “we tie”
2 ge bind-aþ “you tie”
3 hie bind-aþ “they tie”

In the plural, the 3rd person ending was also used for the 1st and 2nd person.

In Modern English (MnE), we have one ending left in the present.

1 I tie
2 you tie
3 he, she, it tie-s
1 we tie
2 you tie
3 they tie

As you can see, MnE doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural “you” in the same way that OE did. Originally, “you” was plural and could only follow verbs or prepositions. In OE, if you were talking to one person, you’d use þu which is the ancestor of the archaic “thou”; and if you use “thou”, then the verb takes the ending -(e)st. You can add -st to the verb just as you’d add -s to the verb, but you can only use it with “thou”.

There are some minor but noteworthy exceptions. The 2nd sg of “will” and “shall” is “wilt” and “shalt”. The 2nd sg of “have” is “hast”.

If we write the OE 3rd person sg -eþ as -eth, you can see where the archaic 3rd person singular has its source. The -s ending in MnE comes from the Anglian dialect, whereas -eth is southern. But it survived in “hath” (= has) and “doth” (= does) for some time after -eth had long since fallen out of general use. Frankly, -eth doesn’t sound as archaic as it does uncouth. Actually, the endings -s and -eth were contemporaries in Shakespeare’s day, but that was perhaps a matter of metrical convenience in verse rather than an everyday alternation. Note

And giues the Crutch the Cradles Infancie.
O tis the Sunne that maketh all thinges shine.
Loues Labours Lost, Act IV, Scene iii

where “maketh” is conveniently disyllabic.

So, if you want to go round writing mock archaic English use the following:

1 I love; do; have
2 thou love-st; dost; hast
3 he, she love-s, -th; doth; hath
1 we love; do; have
2 you (ye) love; do; have
3 they love; do; have

(As I note below, the period which the language is meant to evoke will effect how the forms are used. I’d only recommend -eth for mock 16th-century [Elizabethan] English, but doth and hath are safe into the 18th century.)

All right, that’s all about the subject of the sentence.

The 2nd person singular after a verb or preposition is “thee”. I – me; thou – thee; he – him; she – her etc. I love thee; thou lovest me. Why does it always have to be about thee?

Get the picture?

03.08.14. I see that I didn’t mention specifiers and genitive pronouns when I wrote this, an omission which I ought to correct.

Person Specifier Example Pronoun Example
1 my My bed mine That bed is mine.
2 thy Thy bed thine That bed is thine.
3 his, her, its His/Her/Its bed his, hers, its That bed is his/hers/its.
1 our Our bed ours That bed is ours.
2 your Your bed yours That bed is yours.
3 their Their bed theirs That bed is theirs.

Spenser makes a definite distinction between my ~ mine and thy ~ thine by analogy with a ~ an. Arthur Golding’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses follows the same pattern with a few minor exceptions.

Harington’s translation of Orlando Furioso, which was published in the late 16th century, follows this pattern, but not with absolute consistency. In Book 7, Stanza 53, line 4, Harington has “Whose ofspring chiefe must of thy issue spring”, which I was prepared to call a typo. In his translation of the First Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1632), George Sandys has “Now, from the Heard, thy issue must descend”, although like Harington, he mostly faithfully maintains the distinction between thy + consonant and thine + vowel. Early in the Fifth Book, Sandys has “Nor shall thy wings, nor Ioue in forged gold / Worke thy escape” as a rare excpetion.

I also note, without doing a full and proper survey, that Sandys seems to use pronominal thine much more often than he uses the word as a prevocalic specifier. The same seems to be true of mine.

Dryden only uses thine 15 times in his translation of the Aeneid, all pronominal. The number of times thy occurs in a prevocalic position is small – a mere 12 out of 306 instances, and half of those are before words beginning with o-.

In the novel, Oroonoko, Aphra Behn uses thy four times, thine never, which suggests that the thy love ~ thine eyes distinction was an archaism that was retained in verse for a time, but already long defunct by the end of the 17th century. Mine only occurs twice, and is pronominal on both occasions.

In Pope’s translation of The Iliad, there are about 111 instances of pre­vocalic thy (about 11% of all instances of thy); thine is almost exclusively pronominal apart from “But go, Achilles, as affairs require, / Before the Grecian peers renounce thine ire” (Book XIX).

If the archaisms are meant to reflect 16th or 17th century English, then both my and thy would be used as specifiers in a preconsonantal position, while mine and thine would be used in a prevocalic one. But archaising in a late 17th or early 18th century style would employ my and thy as the sole specifiers almost without exception.


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