This article is about the Middle English personal pronoun. For other uses, see Ye (disambiguation)
Ye (IPA: /jiː/) was the second-person, plural, personal pronoun (nominative), spelled in Old English as "ge". In Middle English and Early Modern English, it was used to direct an equal or superior person. It is also common today in Ireland's Hiberno-English to distinguish from the singular "you".
"Ye" is 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. 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. Occasionally this orthography leads moderns to pronounce "ye" as /ji:/.
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 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
||mec / mē
||ūser / ūre
||þec / þē
Personal pronouns in Early Modern English
|plural or formal singular
||his/her/his (it)[# 2]
- ^ 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). Shakespeare pokes fun at this custom with an archaic plural for eyes when the character Bottom says "mine eyen" in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
- ^ 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.
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See also