The word thou ( /ðaʊ/ in most dialects) is a second person singular pronoun in English. It is now largely archaic, having been replaced in almost all contexts by you. It is used in parts of Northern England and by Scots (/ðu/). Thou is the nominative form; the oblique/objective form is thee (functioning as both accusative and dative), and the possessive is thy or thine. When thou is the grammatical subject of a finite verb in the indicative mood, the verb form ends on t, most often with the ending -(e)st (e.g., "thou goest"; "thou dost"), but in some cases just -t (e.g., "thou art"; "thou shalt"). In Middle English, thou was sometimes abbreviated by putting a small "u" over the letter thorn: þͧ.
Originally, thou was simply the singular counterpart to the plural pronoun ye, derived from an ancient Indo-European root. Following a process found in other Indo-European languages, thou was later used to express intimacy, familiarity or even disrespect, while another pronoun, you, the oblique/objective form of ye, was used for formal circumstances (see T–V distinction). In the 17th century, thou fell into disuse in the standard language but persisted, sometimes in altered form, in regional dialects of England and Scotland, as well as in the language of such religious groups as the Society of Friends. Early English translations of the Bible used thou and never you as the singular second-person pronoun, with the double effect of maintaining thou in usage and also imbuing it with an air of religious solemnity that is antithetical to its former sense of familiarity or disrespect. The use of the pronoun was also common in poetry.
The fact that early English translations of the Bible used the familiar form of the second person in no way indicates "disrespect" and is not surprising. The familiar form is used when speaking to God, at least in French, German, Spanish, Italian and Scottish Gaelic (all of which maintain the use of an "informal" singular form of the second person in modern speech).
In standard modern English, thou continues to be used only in formal religious contexts, in literature that seeks to reproduce archaic language and in certain fixed phrases such as "holier than thou" and "fare thee well". For this reason, many associate the pronoun with solemnity or formality. Many dialects have compensated for the lack of a singular/plural distinction caused by the disappearance of thou and ye through the creation of new plural pronouns or pronominal constructions, such as you all, y'all, yinz, youse, you ens, you lot, your lot and you guys. These vary regionally and are usually restricted to colloquial speech.
Read more about Thou: Grammar
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Famous quotes containing the word thou:
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to your word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to thy people Israel.”
—Bible: New Testament (RSV)
“At first thou gavst me milk and sweetnesses;
I had my wish and way:
My dayes were strawd with flowrs and happinesse;
There was no month but May.
But with my yeares sorrow did twist and grow,
And made a partie unawares for wo.”
—George Herbert (15931633)
“Hail holy Light, of spring of Heavn first-born,
Or of th Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblamd? since God is Light,
And never but in unapproached Light
Dwelt from Eternitie, dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence in create.
Or hearst thou rather pure Ethereal stream,
Whose Fountain who shall tell?”
—John Milton (16081674)