I (pronoun)

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This article is about the English personal pronoun. For other uses, see I (disambiguation).

The pronoun I // is the first-person singular nominative case personal pronoun in Modern English. It is used to refer to one's self and is capitalized, although other pronouns, such as he or she, are not capitalized. In Australian English, British English and Irish English, me can refer to someone's possessions (see archaic and non-standard forms of English personal pronouns).

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Person (gender) Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
Singular
First I me my mine myself
Second you your yours yourself
Third Masculine he him his himself
Feminine she her hers herself
Neuter it its itself
Plural
First we us our ours ourselves
Second you your yours yourselves
Third they them their theirs themselves

Etymology[edit]

English I originates from Old English (OE) ic. Its predecessor ic had in turn originated from the continuation of Proto-Germanic ik, and ek; ek was attested in the Elder Futhark inscriptions (in some cases notably showing the variant eka; see also ek erilaz). Linguists assume ik to have developed from the unstressed variant of ek. Variants of ic were used in various English dialects up until the 1600s.[1]

Germanic cognates are: Old Frisian ik, Old Norse ek (Danish, Norwegian jeg, Swedish jag, Icelandic ég), Old High German ih (German ich) and Gothic ik and in Dutch also "ik".

The Proto-Germanic root came, in turn, from the Proto Indo-European language (PIE). The reconstructed PIE pronoun is *egō, egóm, with cognates including Sanskrit aham, Hittite uk, Latin ego, Greek ἐγώ egō and Old Slavonic azъ, Alviri-Vidari (an Iranian language) اَز (az)

The oblique forms are formed from a stem *me- (English me), the plural from *wei- (English we), the oblique plural from *ns- (English us).

Capitalization[edit]

There is no known record of a definitive explanation from around the early period of this capitalisation practice.

It is hypothesised that the capitalization could have been prompted and spread as a result of one or more of the following:

  • changes specifically in the pronunciation of letters (introduction of long vowel sounds in Middle English, etc.)
  • other linguistic considerations (demarcation of a single-letter word, setting apart a pronoun which is significantly different from others in English, etc.)
  • problems with legibility of the minuscule "i"
  • sociolinguistic factors (establishment of English as the official language, solidification of English identity, etc.)

Other considerations include:

Capitalization was already employed with pronouns in other languages at that time. It was used to denote respect of the addresser or position of the addressed.

There is also the possibility that the first instances of capitalisation may have been happenstance. Either through chance or a sense of correctness, in the practice or the delivery, the capitalisation may have spread.

A folk legend tells of a printmaker who was convinced by the Faustian demon Mephistopheles to begin the practice of capitalizing "I".[2]

There are failings of many of these explanations based on other words, but there is the possibility that the factors or factor that prompted and/or spread this change may not have been applied to all similar words or instances.

Me as a subject pronoun[edit]

Further information: Objective case § English

According to traditional grammar, the objective case appears only as the direct object of a verb, the indirect object of a verb, or the object of a preposition. But there are examples which meet with varying degree of acceptance which violate this rule.

  • There are exceptions which appear with several pronouns:
    • it is me, as well as it is us/him/her/them.
    • Me and Bob are (the compound subject with a pronoun). This can be contrasted with the use of the subjective case as the object in to Bob and I
    • as me and than him (as if as and than were being treated as prepositions rather than as conjunctions)
    • These exceptions have their own exception: the objective case whom is never so used.
  • There are idiosyncratic uses generally restricted to the first person singular pronoun:
    • dear me (dear us is also used, but rarely)
    • me too and me neither (us too and us neither are rarely used)
  • In Caribbean dialect, me can be the subjective case form

Older versions[edit]

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 (archaic)
þou / þu / tu / þeou
you (thou)
þe
you (thee)
þi / ti
your (thy)
þin / þyn
yours (thine)
þeself / þi selven
yourself (thyself)
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 (archaic)
ȝe / ye
you (ye)
eow / [ȝ]ou / ȝow / gu / you
you
eower / [ȝ]ower / gur / [e]our
your
youres
yours
Ȝou self / ou selve
yourselves
Third From Old English heo / he his / heo[m] heore / her - -
From Old Norse þa / þei / þeo / þo þem / þo þeir - þam-selue
modern they them their theirs 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 genitives my, mine, thy, and thine are used as adjectives before a noun, or as possessive pronouns without a noun. All four forms are used as adjectives: mine and thine are used before nouns beginning in a vowel sound, or before nouns beginning in the letter h, which was usually silent (e.g. thine eyes and mine heart, which was pronounced as mine art) and my and thy before consonants (thy mother, my love). However, only mine and thine are used as possessive pronouns, as in it is thine and they were mine (not *they were my).
  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. Genitive "it" appears once in the 1611 King James Bible (Leviticus 25:5) as groweth of it owne accord.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Volume 1 of Historia von D. Johanni Fausten, dem weyt beschreyten Zauberer unnd Schwarzkünstler, Fridericus Schotus, Spies .

"Etymology of I". etymonline.com. Douglas Harper, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2010.

"Etymology of Me". etymonline.com. Douglas Harper, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2010.

Halleck, Elaine (editor). "Sum: Pronoun "I" again". LINGUIST List 9.253., n.p., Web. 20 Feb. 1998.

Jacobsen, Martin (editor). "Sum: Pronoun 'I'". LINGUIST List 9.253., n.p., Web. 20 Feb. 1998.

Mahoney, Nicole. "> Language Change". nsf.gov. n.p. 12 July 2008. Web. 21 Dec. 2010

Wells, Edward. "Further Elucidation on the Capitalization of 'I' in English". (a paper in progress). Lingforum.com. n.p., Web. 25 Dec. 2010

Further reading[edit]

  • Howe, Stephen (1996). The personal pronouns in the Germanic languages: a study of personal pronoun morphology and change in the Germanic languages from the first records to the present day. Studia linguistica Germanica 43. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-014636-3. 
  • Gaynesford, M. de (2006). I: The Meaning of the First Person Term. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-928782-1. .
  • Wales, Katie (1996). Personal pronouns in present-day English. Studies in English language. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-47102-8. 

Wren and Martin English Grammar book for High-schoolers.

External links[edit]