Ye (pronoun)

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The pronoun "Ye" used in a quote from the Baháʼu'lláh

Ye (/j/) is a second-person, plural, personal pronoun (nominative), spelled in Old English as "ge". In Middle English and 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 and Labrador in Canada, and some parts of Ireland to distinguish from the singular "you".[1]

Confusion with definite article[edit]

"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 "EME ye.svg" (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. Medieval printing presses did not contain the letter thorn. Thus, the letter y was substituted owing to its similarity to some medieval scripts, especially later ones. 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". This substituted orthography leads most speakers of Modern English to pronounce definite article "ye" as /ji:/ ("yee"), when the correct pronunciation is /ðiː/ ("the") or /ðə/ .


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. Both dialects also use variants of "ye" for alternative cases, such as "yeer" (your), "yeers" (yours), and "yeerselves" (yourselves).[2]

Old English pronouns
Nominative IPA Accusative Dative Genitive
1st Singular [itʃ] mec / mē mīn
Dual wit [wit] uncit unc uncer
Plural [weː] ūsic ūs ūser / ūre
2nd Singular þū [θuː] þec / þē þē þīn
Dual ġit [jit] incit inc incer
Plural ġē [jeː] ēowic ēow ēower
3rd Singular Masculine [heː] hine him his
Neuter hit [hit] hit him his
Feminine hēo [heːo] hīe hiere hiere
Plural hīe [hiːy] hīe heom heora
Personal pronouns in Middle English
Below each Middle English pronoun, the Modern English is shown in italics (with archaic forms in brackets)
Person / gender Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
First ic / ich / I
me / mi
min / minen [pl.]
min / mire / minre
min one / mi selven
Second þou / þu / tu / þeou
you (thou)
you (thee)
þi / ti
your (thy)
þin / þyn
yours (thine)
þeself / þi selven
yourself (thyself)
Third Masculine he
him[a] / hine[b]
his / hisse / hes
his / hisse
Feminine sche[o] / s[c]ho / ȝho
heo / his / hie / hies / hire
hio / heo / hire / heore
Neuter hit
hit / him
hit sulue
First we
us / ous
ure[n] / our[e] / ures / urne
us self / ous silve
Second ȝe / ye
you (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
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. [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
singular formal 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 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).
  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]


  1. ^ Nosowitz, Dan (October 13, 2016). "Y'all, You'uns, Yinz, Youse: How Regional Dialects Are Fixing Standard English: The real enemy? "You guys."". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  2. ^ Hickey, Raymond (1983). "Remarks on pronominal usage in Hiberno-English" (PDF). Studia Anglica Posnaniensia. Universität Buisberg Essen. pp. 47–53. Retrieved 2020-11-11.