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Ye (//) is a second-person, plural, personal pronoun (nominative), spelled in Old English as "ge". In Middle English and early Early Modern English, it was used as a both informal second-person plural and formal honorific, to address a group of equals or superiors or a single superior. While its use is archaic in most of the English-speaking world, it is used in Newfoundland, Northern England, Cornwall, and Ireland to distinguish from the singular "you".
Confusion with definite article
"Ye" is also sometimes used to represent an Early Modern English form of the definite article "the" (pronounced /ðiː/), such as in "Ye Olde Shoppe". "The" was often written "" (here the "e" is written above the other letter to save space but it could also be written on the line). The lower letter is thorn, commonly written þ but which in handwritten scripts could resemble a "y" as shown. Thus the article The was written Þe and never Ye. The "thorn" character was supplanted during the later phases of Middle English and the earlier phases of Early Modern English by the modern digraph "th". Medieval printing presses did not contain the letter thorn so the letter y was substituted owing to its similarity to some medieval scripts, especially later ones. This substituted orthography leads most speakers of Modern English to pronounce definite-article "ye" as /ji:/, when the correct pronunciation is /ðiː/ or // ( listen).
In Old English, the use of second-person pronouns was governed by a simple rule: þū addressed one person, ġit addressed two people, and ġē addressed more than two. After the Norman Conquest, which marks the beginning of the French vocabulary influence that characterised the Middle English period, the singular was gradually replaced by the plural 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, respectively, 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 and Newfoundland English.
|1st||Singular||iċ||[ɪtʃ]||mec / mē||mē||mīn|
|Plural||wē||[weː]||ūsic||ūs||ūser / ūre|
|2nd||Singular||þū||[θuː]||þec / þē||þē||þīn|
|Person (gender)||Subject||Object||Possessive determiner||Possessive pronoun||Reflexive|
|ic / ich / I
|me / mi
|min / minen [pl.]
|min / mire / minre
|min one / mi selven|
|þou / þu / tu / þeou
|þi / ti
|þin / þyn
|þeself / þi selven |
|him[a] / hine[b]
|his / hisse / hes
|his / hisse
|sche[o] / s[c]ho / ȝho
|heo / his / hie / hies / hire
|hio / heo / hire / heore
|hit / him
|hit sulue |
|us / ous
|ure[n] / our[e] / ures / urne
|us self / ous silve |
|ȝe / ye
|eow / [ȝ]ou / ȝow / gu / you
|eower / [ȝ]ower / gur / [e]our
|Ȝou self / ou selve |
|Third||From Old English||heo / he||his / heo[m]||heore / her||-||-|
|From Old Norse||þa / þei / þeo / þo||þem / þo||þeir||-||þam-selue|
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. [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.
|1st person||singular||I||me||my/mine[# 1]||mine|
|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]|
- The genitives my, mine, thy, and thine are used as possessive adjectives before a noun, or as possessive pronouns without a noun. All four forms are used as possessive 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).
- 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.
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