thou is archaic now, but before it fell out of use,
thou was the second person singular
you was the second person plural. The lapse of this usage that made
you bear the weight of
both the singular and the plural has lead to the introduction of the plural forms
youse in some
American regional dialects. The use of the older
thou form persists in popular culture through older works of
English literature, including the plays of Shakespeare and the King James translation of the Bible. Unfortunately, the
thou form may appear in literature classwork, but it does not typically appear in grammar class. Consequently,
some people think
thou is simple a more formal way of saying
you, and abuse the poor pronoun ferociously.
Pronoun abuse is a peeve of mine; but since I lack the resources to run a pronoun abuse hotline, I'll settle for writing
lists like this one.
How to use
thoufor singular and
youfor plural. It is not correct to thunder from the pulpit
Thou art sinners!unless perhaps you're addressing someone with multiple personality disorder -- and in that case, don't you think you're being a bit hard on the poor fellow? It would be grammatically correct to say
You are sinners -- except thee,though the I will leave the truthfulness of the statement to the religious authorities.
Conjugate! You would wince (or perhaps thou wouldst wince) if you heard someone say
we am going now; the phrase
thou are going nowis just as wrong. It should be
we are going nowand
thou art going now.In general, verbs that go with
thouend with an
st,though there are irregular verbs that don't fit (like
art). Thou dost, thou makest, thou thinkest, thou hast.
Be consistent! Unless you need to do so for some specific reason, don't switch between the verb forms in mid-sentence
That means that if you start with
thou, you should use
thinefor possessives. If you're unsure how to use
thoucorrectly, why not use the modern forms?
Do not mistake
thoufor a particularly impressive or authoritative form of the modern
you.It has a specific meaning; that meaning should be respected. If you're unsure of the grammar of the old form and still want to give your prayers and hymns a sense of religious grandeur, use capitalization. And if Terry Pratchett's personification of Death can speak in capitals all the time, surely you can manage it for a single word on occassion.