Thou, thee, thine: How to use the English second-person singular

When writing something old-timey, one may be tempted to make use of the now-unfashionable second-person singular pronoun, “thou”. But all too often, people get it wrong. So here’s how to do it right.

Let’s get this out of the way first.

I try to lean toward linguistic descriptivism rather than prescriptivism. However, this page is written in a prescriptivist way simply because, well, people who use the second-person singular are generally trying to give their writing a very specific flavor, and using the “correct” words will enhance that flavor. And also this is a pet peeve of mine and I dislike it when people get this wrong.

So none of this applies to, say, Quakers, who use “thee” as both a subject and an object. That’s just how their dialect of English works.

“Thou” is never plural

For plural forms, you always use “you”.

“Thou” is not polite

That doesn’t mean it’s inherently rude, though in certain contexts it can be. When writing someone who’s speaking to a monarch, a lord, or any other social “better”, “you” should be used. If you, or the character you’re writing, doesn’t give two fucks about social niceties, then just use “thou” for all singular usage and keep “you” reserved for the plural.

(This is actually why “thou” was phased out of usage. Snobs got their feelings hurt over their so-called “lessers” using it on them, so everyone just became “you”.)

This is basically the same as the T-V distinction in other Germanic and Romance languages. You can also draw parallels with plain and polite speech patterns in languages like Japanese.

Modern English speakers get this mixed up sometimes and think “thou” is extra polite. I blame the Christian bible. Some translations call Yahweh “Thou” to indicate an intimate relationship, a nuance that is lost in the modern era.

okay but how do I decline them???

Subjective form: Thou

Thou art my friend.
Thou hast two apples.
Canst thou spare a moment?

Objective form: Thee

Never gonna give thee up, never gonna let thee down, never gonna run around and desert thee.

Possessive form: Thy/Thine

I see this one trip people up a lot. Think of these as being like “my/mine”.

Sometimes in old-timey speak, you’ll see both “thine” and “mine” where you might expect to see “thy/my”. This basically follows the same rules as “a/an”; “my” and “thy” go before words starting with consonant sounds, while “mine” and “thine” go before words starting with vowel sounds.

My cat, thy cat.
This cat is mine, this cat is thine.
Lend me thine ear.


Now go forth and write thy Shakespeare fanfiction or RP Urianger from FFXIV, secure in thy newfound knowledge.