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God -- Ты or Вы?

I believe I have seen this in two Russian translations of the Bible so far. I always expect to see the more formal Вы when the speaker is addressing God, but I always see the informal, though often capitalized, Ты. Does anyone know why this is?

November 4, 2015



Surprisingly, in English one also often addresses God informally. Or at least used to:

O Lord, thou art our God: we will exalt thee; we will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things: thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.

(Pulled from a random book found on Google.)


Indeed; in Middle English, one would have addressed one's social superiors as ye, yet one's close friends and inferiors (and God) as thou. I think the rationale is that the Christian conception of a personal God must surely make Him closer to one than even one's closest friends, whereas using the formal 'ye' would only put distance between the speaker and God.


English did a really weird thing. The informal "you" became formal and eventually useless in conversation whereas the formal "you" which is just "you" became the informal one.

English is just weird.


Actually it was a case of everyone becoming so polite that they forgot there was an informal form. Now we see it only in the Bible and Shakespeare so we think it's formal.


"Вы" is plural, "ты" is singular. Until the 18th century, any single person in Russia was addressed as "ты". Wikipedia says that under the French language and culture influence "вы" gradually become used to address a respected person. The translations of Bible are old or based on the old tradition. Moreover, God is a very personal thing to call Him "вы".
"Вы" is used to keep distance between people. Usually, you call your friend or your close relative "ты". Even children call their parents or grandparents "ты", even while they are obliged to say "вы" to any other adults.


Thank you both very much for your answers. I had forgotten that English used to make this distinction. Knowing that helped me to research the question further. On the note of вы keeping distance between people--I had not thought of it that way. As an English speaker, I thought it was always a safe bet to refer to practically anyone in the formal. So thank you also for helping me come to a better understanding of the вы form. Please, take some Lingots for your trouble!


You know God, so you speak to him informally ;) That's the reasoning behind it I presume.


It's the same in many languages. I've also seen "tu" to address God in French and Italian.

I also noticed that the Russian national anthem addresses Mother Russia with ты. I suppose it's the same concept of wanting to illustrate a close personal relationship.


God is our Father. And normally one uses "ты" when speaks with his father.


I was thinking about this the other day. Not just for Russian, but for any language that has formal and informal forms.

On one hand, God should be respected...

On the other hand, God loves us and doesn't want to keep His distance. He wants to be like our dad. Which would merit an informal form.

I guess maybe it depends on what aspect you wanted to emphasize about him at the time.


God is addressed as "ты" because that is the way he is addressed in the Bible. He is addressed that way in the Bible because back then absolutely everyone was "ты". To start calling him "вы" now would sound weird just as it would sound weird to begin a prayer "Dear Sir" and conclude it "Sincerely Yours".

God was addressed as "thou" (ты) in English well into the 20th century. Once God was the only person addressed in this way people came to see "thou" as an especially respectful form of address. This is a modern misconception.

If you are interested in the use of ты and вы, here is an article which I wrote on the subject:



In fact, the majestic plural is a relatively new phenomenon in language, appeared in English by the Middle Ages, when social relations adopted a very complex hierarchical system, based on suzerainty and vassalage, often with many intermediate links in the chain.

Then, plural forms addressed to a singular person - like Your Majesty, Your Honor, Your Grace or simply You - were used to mark social distancing and domination. Eventually, "you" extended to practically everybody, in formal contexts.

Scriptures didn't know this form of majestic plural, so you cannot find it in the Hebrew and Greek texts, nor in the Latin, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic or Georgian versions (to name just a few of the earlier versions), nor in more recent versions like the Slavonic, the Romanian, the 19th century Russian Synodal version, and the Elizabethan Authorized Version, aka King James.

The same is valid for the old Liturgies and theological or exegetical writings, where God is addressed always in the second singular person - even if modern vernacular versions adopt the majestic plural, due to cultural constraints or prejudice.

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