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Monday, 3 October 2011

Speakest thou in the familiar?

Most speakers of most languages outside of English recognise a part of the language to speak to inferiors, children, or those very close to them.  The English language has lost the everyday use of these words, and grammatical forms, but they do exist.
And one of the things that really gets my hackles up is seeing ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ ‘hast’ and ‘hath’ and so on horribly abused and misused.  I have trouble with the Star Trek episode where Spock fights people with a Vulcan ritual garden spade because of T’pau and her gross misuse of the language.  ‘Wilt thee do such and such’ as I recall. OWWW!

Thee is predicate, not subject!  Isn’t that obvious? 

Do you want me to explain subject and predicate? [sigh] perhaps I had better. Grammar stopped being a subject that was properly  taught in my young day and things rarely improve....
Subject is a noun doing something.  Predicate, also called object, is a noun having something done to it.  It really is that easy.

The sentence I use as an example from T’pau is like someone saying ‘Me will do something’
I rant about the I/Me, We/Us misuse as well, which I may as well address while I’m at it. 
When in doubt which to use, pare down the sentence to take all other people out .
Eg Me and the boys will go to the house
 So pare it down: Me will go to the house
So now you know that should have been I and the boys will go to the house except of course placing yourself first is incorrect and it should be The boys and I will go to the house.
For We/Us, check which is correct by replacing the offending article with I or Me.  We is the plural of I, being subject; Us is the plural of Me, being predicate. Us will all go to the house  is obviously wrong - we will all go to the house has the correct pronoun.

Ok, happy with the first person?  Time to move on to those archaic second person forms.   Which are, may I reiterate, used to speak ONLY to those very close to you, children, or social inferiors.  Let any courtier start calling the King ‘thou’ and he’s going to make a very close acquaintance with the rack and chains because it’s treason.
No I’m not joking. 
It is belittling the king and that is treason. 

So, you are talking to a social inferior; a younger sibling perhaps.
Thou art turned ten today, youngling; hast thou any bauble that thou wouldst that I procure for thee?

For thee – predicate.  Thou art, hast thou, that thou wouldst – object.
If in doubt put 'I' and 'me' in and turn the sentence around:
 I am turned ten today, and I have [in mind] a bauble that I would [have you] procure for me.
 Simple or what?

So now those tricksy suffixes, -st and –th.

Guess what? That’s easy too.

When addressing someone the –st ending is used; it agrees with second person.  When speaking of someone, the –th ending is used; it agrees with third person.
Now this strays out of the use of familiar forms because the use of the –th suffix for the third person is purely archaic. Hath and doth  tend to be the ones that hang on longest, generally by the Renaissance, using the –th suffix is a little flowery for everyday speech unless within the use of familiar speech.
This also means that –th is used for more abstract concepts eg It seemeth to me to be a fine day.
It, meaning the day, is a third person, being an object spoken about, not to.
If however someone opens the shutters and fancifully speaks to the weather outside he might say O sky, why weepest thou so sore? Hast thou such sorrow? 
Here we have that hast, familiar second person part of the verb to have.
Compare this with: he hath a fair face; but I charge thee, youngling that thou hast care. It likes me not.
Good medieval phrase, it likes me not meaning ‘I do not like it’. 
He hath: third person part of the familiar of the verb ‘to have’
I charge thee 'I' is the subject, so 'thee' is obviously the predicate.
Thou hast care  'Thou' is the subject.  Hast, familiar form, second person verb to have

Thou dost  and he doth

Did I go over that rather too heavily?  If so I apologise.

Do I dare mention that there are irregular forms and exceptions?
Thou art  is the correct use of second person familiar of the verb ‘to be’ not, as one might expect ‘thou arst’ which is meaningless. It can also be shortened to Thou’rt
He be was in use as much as he is

Thou shouldst;  He should
Thou shalt; He shall
Wilt thou: will he

Thanks for reading my rant; I hope it comes in useful. Note below the use of the –th suffix within a speech couched familiarly as I might surely address all my friends on the web thus…..
Thinkest thou that it bringeth good rede to thee, gentil reader?


  1. The lady doth rant just enough and not too much, methinks.
    I'm always bothered by the Quakers' quaint use of 'thee' instead of 'thou'. In fact it seems to be used for 'thee' as well. As in the movie Friendly Persuasion. "Does thee love me? I love thee" etc.

    I'm confident thou knowest why, forsooth!

  2. I suppose a consistent inaccuracy is better than randomly trying several and getting it right sometimes by guess, but for me, using thee all the time not adjusting to the grammatical construction is like using baby talk. Because it's identical to saying 'Me can do this'.
    and then there's 'thy' and 'thine' which go like 'my' and 'mine' subject and predicate, except when 'mine' and 'thine' are used before a noun that begins a vowel.

  3. Don't recall if the Quakers use 'thy' and 'thine' - whole new can of works. Probably 'thee's'!

  4. Christine Headley11 October 2011 at 22:44

    I wonder whether Quaker usage was different on each side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, both the quotes I have from the last generation to use the plain speech - born around 1860, in England - has 'thee' in the accusative.

    However, I have in my possession a 'Memorial' of a relation who died in 1838. Deathbed conversation - very little is said about his life - includes 'thou' properly used - thou dost, thou wilt.

    I have high regard for Jessamyn West, author of The Friendly Persuasion, but I don't own that book and my copy of To See The Dream (her memoir of its progress into a film) has been mis-shelved. The dialogue in the film could be using the language she wrote, or it could have been adapted to accord with how people thought Quakers spoke at that time.

  5. Thanks Christine, that's a good point, film can be guilty of a lot of alteration between page and screen.
    All the Friends I've ever known speak as do the rest of the populace only generally more kindly.....

  6. Mary Ann said--Your entire site bursts its seams with needed information. This is definitely on my reference shelf. Thank you for what you've shared.