"ye": "the" vs. "thee"?

Paul A Johnston, Jr. paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU
Wed Oct 1 02:24:07 UTC 2008

Both the and thee were spelled with thorn, and in Middle English texts, not infrequently with one e.  Northern scribes were the ones who wrote their thorns and y's identically or nearly so.  Now, ye is a separate word, the old second person PLURAL pronoun, nominative case < Old English ge = /je:/.  Since thee is objective case, the two generally don't get confused, particularly in the North.  Furthermore, thou and you can look alike (you or yow), but thou is nominative and you, objective.

The confusion is potentially more likely in Early Modern English, once ye and you get confused.  Northern Middle English and Older Scots also frequently write the plural pronouns as <3e, 3he, 3ou, 3ow, 3hou, 3how) where 3 =  the letter yogh.  Again, they can be disambiguated this way.

Paul Johnston

----- Original Message -----
From: "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 9:23 pm
Subject: "ye":  "the" vs. "thee"?

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      "ye":  "the" vs. "thee"?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------
> ------------
> I have managed to confuse myself about "ye" in 18th-century
> writings.  I have understood the Y to stand for thorn.  But were both
> "the" and "thee" spelled with thorn, and the latter became the "ye"
> meaning "you" (in addition to the "ye" meaning "the")?
> Joel
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