Thou, Thee, Thy, Thine & Ye: Meanings & Usage

In works of old, high-fantasy or historic fiction one may have chanced across the strange words: thou, thee, thy, thine and ye. While most people understand the gist of the words (that they all refer to people), the way each is to be correctly (formally) deployed is somewhat less well understood.

Thou, thee, thy, thine and ye are archaic personal pronouns (words which are substitutes for nouns or noun-phrases) which are generally articulated in the form of subject and object (depending upon the pronouns relation to the structure of a sentence). Subject pronouns in modern English typically take the form:

  • I (singular)
  • we (plural)
  • you (singular and plural)
  • he/she/it (singular); they (plural); it (dummy)

Example: I like writing.

Whilst object pronouns take the form of:

  • me/us
  • you/you
  • him/her (singular); them (plural); it (dummy)

Example: Writing likes me.

Modern English reflexive pronouns (self-referential pronouns) typically take the form of:

  • myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself (singular)
  • ourselves, yourselves, themselves (plural)

Example: I myself find writing difficult.

The Middle English pronouns follow a similar trajectory:

  • Thou = you when the subject (“Thou liketh writing.”)
  • Thee = you when the object (“Writing liketh thee.”)
  • Thy = your possessive form of you. (“Thy blade well serves thee.”)
  • Thine = your possessive form of you, typically used before a noun. (“Thine writing smacks of mastery.” or, “The writing is thine.” — thy own can be used in place of thine to similar effect)
  • Ye = you all | all of you used when referring to a group of people (“Ye fools!”)

Or, to put it more formally:

Subject form | Object form

I — I               | Me — Me

You — Thou  | You — Thee

You — Ye       | You — You

Just like with modern English pronouns, the more you (or rather, thou) practice with the words and use them in your sentences, the easier it will be to write fluently with them. Don’t agonize over precision of grammar if, in doing so, the fluidity of the writing is shattered, especially if your (thy) work is fictional (save when it is a work of historical fiction) and focus instead on the particular way your characters speak as they won’t always speak with ‘perfect’ grammar and syntax.