Ye (pronoun)

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This article is about the personal pronoun. For other uses, see Ye.

Ye (IPA: /jiː/) is a second-person, plural, personal pronoun (nominative), spelled in Old English as "ge". In Middle English and Early Modern English, it was used to address an equal or superior person. While its use is archaic in most of the English-speaking world, it is used in Northern England dialects, Cornish, and Ireland's Hiberno-English to distinguish from the singular "you".

"Ye" is also sometimes used to represent an Early Modern English form of the word "the" (traditionally pronounced /ðiː/), such as in "Ye Olde Shoppe". In this transcription the letter which resembles a 'Y' is actually a thorn (þ), the predecessor to the modern digraph "th". The word "The" was thus written Þe, never as ye. Medieval printing presses did not contain the letter thorn, so the letter y was substituted owing to its similarity with some medieval scripts, especially later ones. This orthography has sometimes led speakers of Modern English to pronounce "ye" as /ji:/.

Etymology[edit]

In Old English, ye was governed by a simple rule: thou addressed one person, and ye addressed more than one. After the Norman Conquest, which marks the beginning of the French vocabulary influence that characterised the Middle English period, thou was gradually replaced by the plural ye as the form of address for a superior and later for an equal. The practice of matching singular and plural forms with informal and formal connotations is called the T-V distinction, and in English it is largely due to the influence of French. This began with the practice of addressing kings and other aristocrats in the plural. Eventually, this was generalised, as in French, to address any social superior or stranger with a plural pronoun, which was believed to be more polite. In French, tu was eventually considered either intimate or condescending (and, to a stranger, potentially insulting), while the plural form vous was reserved and formal. In Early Modern English, ye functioned as both an informal plural and formal singular second-person nominative pronoun. "Ye" is still commonly used as an informal plural in Hiberno‐English.

Old English pronouns
Nominative IPA Accusative Dative Genitive
1st Singular [ɪtʃ] mec / mē mīn
Dual wit [wɪt] uncit unc uncer
Plural [weː] ūsic ūs ūser / ūre
2nd Singular þū [θuː] þec / þē þē þīn
Dual ġit [jɪt] incit inc incer
Plural ġē [jeː] ēowic ēow ēower
3rd Singular Masculine [heː] hine him his
Neuter hit [hɪt] hit him his
Feminine hēo [heːo] hīe hiere hiere
Plural hīe [hiːə] hīe heom heora
Personal pronouns in Middle English
The Modern English is shown in italics below each Middle English pronoun
Person (gender) Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
Singular
First
modern
ic / ich / I
I
me / mi
me
min / minen [pl.]
my
min / mire / minre
mine
min one / mi selven
myself
Second
modern
þou / þu / tu / þeou
you
þe
you
þi / ti
your
þin / þyn
yours
þeself / þi selven
yourself
Third Masculine
modern
he
he
him[a] / hine[b]
him
his / hisse / hes
his
his / hisse
his
him-seluen
himself
Feminine
modern
sche[o] / s[c]ho / ȝho
she
heo / his / hie / hies / hire
her
hio / heo / hire / heore
her
-
hers
heo-seolf
herself
Neuter
modern
hit
it
hit / him
it
his
its
his
its
hit sulue
itself
Plural
First
modern
we
we
us / ous
us
ure[n] / our[e] / ures / urne
our
oures
ours
us self / ous silve
ourselves
Second
modern
ȝe / ye
you
eow / [ȝ]ou / ȝow / gu / you
you
eower / [ȝ]ower / gur / [e]our
your
youres
yours
Ȝou self / ou selve
yourselves
Third
modern
heo / he / þa / þei / þeo / þo
they
þem / his / heo[m] / þo
them
heore / þeir / her
their
-
theirs
þam-selue
themselves

Many other variations are noted in Middle English sources due to difference in spellings and pronunciations. See Francis Henry Stratmann (1891), A Middle-English dictionary (A Middle English dictionary ed.), [London]: Oxford University Press  and A Concise Dictionary of Middle English from A.D. 1150 TO 1580, A. L. Mayhew, Walter W. Skeat, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1888.

Personal pronouns in Early Modern English
  Nominative Oblique Genitive Possessive
1st person singular I me my/mine[# 1] mine
plural we us our ours
2nd person singular informal thou thee thy/thine[# 1] thine
plural or formal singular ye, you you your yours
3rd person singular he/she/it him/her/it his/her/his (it)[# 2] his/hers/his[# 2]
plural they them their theirs
  1. ^ a b The possessive forms were used as genitives before words beginning with a vowel sound and letter h (e.g. thine eyes, mine heire). Otherwise, "my" and "thy" are attributive (my/thy goods) and "mine" and "thine" are predicative (they are mine/thine).
  2. ^ a b From the early Early Modern English period up until the 17th century, his was the possessive of the third person neuter it as well as of the third person masculine he; however, their has also been documented as the neutral plural possessive. Genitive "it" appears once in the 1611 King James Bible (Leviticus 25:5) as groweth of it owne accord.

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