Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Speak King James English in one easy lesson!

Can you tell an -est from an -eth? A thee from a thou? And what's ye* all about, anyway?

If you want to make fun of turn-of-the-seventeenth-century English, or if you have the nobler aim of understanding Shakespeare or the King James Version, this short lesson may help.

Contrary to popular opinion, writing like a Jacobean is not quite as easy as adding eth to every verb. But it's not all that difficult, either. Here's the one clue that makes it all fall into place:

Jacobeans made a distinction between you (singular) and you (plural).

Since Texas hadn't been invented in 1611, they didn't have the you-all option at their disposal. So they used a different set of words to distinguish you, my friend, from you guys. Look at the charts below to see how it works.

Subjects and Verbs

1st person
I speak
We speak
2nd person
2011: You speak
1611: Thou speakest
2011: You speak
1611: Ye speak
3rd person
2011: He (she, it) speaks
1611: He (she, it) speaketh
They speak


1st person singular
They love me
They give me the books
2nd person singular
2011: They love you
1611: They love thee
2011: They give you the books
1611: They give thee the books
3rd person singular
They love her (him, it)
They give her (him, it)the books
1st person plural
They love us
They give us the books
2nd person plural
They love you
They give you the books
3rd person plural
They love them
They give them the books

Possessive pronouns

1st person singular
My books (mine eyes)
The books are mine
2nd person singular
2011: Your books
1611: Thy books (thine eyes)
2011: The books are yours
1611: The books are thine
3rd person singular
His books; her books
The books are his or hers
1st person plural
Our books
The books are ours
2nd person plural
Your books
The books are yours
3rd person plural
Their books
The books are theirs

So, what about those verbs?
Actually, they’re mostly like ours. As you’d expect by now, the verb that goes with the 2nd person singular is different. If your subject is thou, your verb is likely going to end in the letter t. You know about thou shalt [not]. Other common (and irregular) verbs are thou art, thou wilt, thou hast, thou dost, thou canst, thou wouldst, thou shouldst, thou couldst … they all end in t, and most of them end in st. Less common (but more regular) verbs tend to end in est, especially if it’s easier to pronounce that way: thou eatest, thou drinkest, thou sleepest, etc.

Exception: if your verb is in the imperative mood, it’s just like a modern English verb. “Eat! Drink! Be merry!” works just as well in 1611 as it does in 2011.

If your subject is he, she, or it, your verb is likely going to end in the letters th: he hath, he doth, he saith [not sayeth], or the ever-popular eth: almost everything else. He prayeth, he loveth, he eateth, he drinketh. Think of it as a lisp. If the modern English verb ends in s, substitute th or eth and you’re talking like a Jacobean.

But if the modern English verb doesn’t end in s, then don’t mess with it! A Jacobean can, would, should, and could.  And the verb to be breaks every rule. A Jacobean, like a 21st-century person, is what he is.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe is something else altogether. Here the Y is a now-defunct letter that is pronounced th.


sewa mobil said...

Very nice, thanks for sharing.

Pi1133 said...

As touching the last bit, "thou art"
a little off. ;)

Thanks for sharing this.

David Edward said...

thou speakest truth

Anonymous said...