You: A short history of the pronoun

Ye, originally plural, had also begun to be used as a formal way to address one person, under the influence of the French vous. As you encroached on ye's territory, it did so on both fronts, being used for the plural and formal singular.

The informal singular was still thou, in those centuries in which English maintained the informal/formal pronoun distintion that many modern European languages still have: tu-vous, du-Sie, tú-usted, etc. But gradually social change sealed you's triumph. Using a plural to address a single person was once reserved for the very highborn, but made its way down the social ladder until any social superior was to be addressed with you. It didn't stop there, though, as vous and Sie did. Instead, having once crowded out ye, you now edged out thou in the early modern period.

To recap: you began as as objective, then became usable in subject position too. Then it went from plural only to singular too. Then it went from formal use to informal use too. Ye, thou and thee (the objective form of thou) were all left behind in the history books. Quite the conquering pronoun. Good job, you.

(Images Source](

More than these tasty bits about the history of "You" in This Link.

March 21, 2017


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March 21, 2017

I really enjoyed the visual charts you included in your post. May I include them in this post? If not, that is understandable.

March 21, 2017

Yes you can

March 21, 2017

Tell that to a Yorkshireman. :-/

March 21, 2017

Ye always share interesting articles. Thank thou, keep up the good work!

March 21, 2017

Thou speak the truth!

March 21, 2017

Should be Thank thee and Thou speakest

March 25, 2017

That part of the Old English chart is inaccurate. It should be more like this: Wiktionary sample of Old English personal pronoun inflection

Also, Old English didn't have an objective case. They had four cases, which were the:

• Nominative.
• Genitive.
• Dative.
• Accusative.

There also was a fifth one, called the instrumental case, but it was slowly dying already then.
As well was the dual pronouns group. In Modern English, one can view the objective case as a merger of the dative and the accusative - essentially an accusadative.
That, too, is why you say 'whom' but not 'who' when you say 'I gave the apple to whom?'. If you were to say it as 'who', it would be the same as saying 'I gave the apple to he' instead of 'I gave the apple to him'.

See for a nice explanation of English grammar - this site called Grammar Monster is excellent in that regard, in both its simplicity and elegance.

Now, onto the other details:

As a second note: the dates also aren't always that precise. Take those with a grain of salt, and image it as a conventional date; the children of 1076 spoke similarly to their parents in 1050. It was around those times, however, that changes began.

A fun comparison is the cot-caught merger. Essentially, people begin to say those two words and words with similar constructions the same way - they become homonyms.

One can imagine that many, many, of these changes were what happened to Old English that made it shift into Middle English. And the same way, the Great Vowel Shift was what caused Middle English as we know it, to slowly change into our Modern English of Shakespeare, Byron, and Ashbery.

Certainly an interesting post, though, and I'm honestly surprised that modern English doesn't use a distinct form for the plural. At least not in the formal language.

March 21, 2017

@Osnakezz Wow, that is a lot of information. Any chance I could get you to edit the pictures above, if JackElliot is amenable, of course.


March 21, 2017

Thank you for the interesting post!

March 21, 2017


March 21, 2017

German used to have a du-ihr distinction and Spanish used to have a tú-vos distinction that still exists in countries like Argentina. But now they (mainly) use different pronouns for the polite version.

March 21, 2017

German still has that distinction.

March 21, 2017

I conjecture that he's referring to an old usage of 'Ihr', which used to be deployed instead of the modern 'Sie' as a polite form of address for the second person in both singular and plural. I've seen that usage in some books of medieval fantasy, although I have no idea in what historical period it was actually used as such.

March 23, 2017

it has a different distinction nowadays

March 21, 2017
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