Why is thee not used anymore?

The pronoun “thee” was once commonly used in English as the objective form of “thou”, which was the singular informal second person pronoun. However, around the 14th century, “thou” and “thee” began falling out of everyday use and were replaced by the plural “you”, which is still used today.

When was “thee” commonly used?

“Thee” was commonly used from about the 12th to 14th centuries alongside “thou” as the singular second person pronoun in English. It was originally the accusative/dative form of “thou”, while “thou” was the nominative form. For example, a person might say:

  • “What dost thou want?” (nominative)
  • “I gave thee a gift” (accusative/dative)

During this period, “thee”, “thou”, and “thy” were used to address individuals in an informal, familiar way, while “you” and “your” were used as plural pronouns or for formal address.

Why did “thee” and “thou” fall out of use?

There are a few theories as to why “thee” and “thou” decreased in use and were eventually replaced by “you”:

  • The Black Death in the 14th century decimated populations and disrupted class structures in England. Using the informal “thou” was no longer seen as appropriate by lower classes when addressing upper classes. People switched to the more formal “you” instead.
  • Increased geographic mobility meant people interacting with more strangers, requiring more formal modes of address using “you”.
  • The meaning of plural “you” was expanding to be used as a polite singular, so it could replace both informal “thou” and formal “you”.
  • “Thou” fell out of use in the standard language, so the associated objective form “thee” also disappeared.

By around 1600, “thee” and “thou” had mostly disappeared from standard English, surviving only in regional dialects and in religious contexts such as the King James Bible.

Examples of “thee” and “thou” in classical literature

While no longer used in modern English, “thee” and “thou” are abundant in English literature from the 12th-16th centuries. Some examples include:

  • “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” – Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
  • “Fare thee well!” – a common parting phrase meaning “go well!”
  • “I shall go with thee a part of thy way” – a line from John Donne’s poem The Prohibition
  • “Lord, how can man preach thy eternall word?” – from a sonnet by the 16th century poet Edmund Spenser

In these examples, “thee” is used as the objective form, in contrast to the nominative “thou”. The verbs and prepositions associated with “thee” differ from those used with “thou”.

Survival in dialect

Although “thee” and “thou” disappeared from standard English by the 17th century, they remained in use much longer in regional dialects, especially in northern England and Scotland. Examples:

  • Yorkshire: ” ‘ow do thee?”
  • Lancashire: “Will ta come with me?” (ta = thee)
  • Cumbrian: “Divvent ley that theer”

In some remote dialect communities, remnants of “thee” and “thou” survived into the 20th century before being completely supplanted by “you”.

Use in modern religion

The use of “thee”, “thou”, “thy”, and “thine” survived in English through religious contexts, such as prayers and hymns. Examples:

  • The Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
  • Common hymn: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.”
  • The Roman Catholic confiteor: “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

The preservation of these pronouns in sanctified religious contexts long after they disappeared from secular use suggests their solemnity and sense of tradition.

Should “thee” and “thou” be revived?

Some people argue that bringing back “thee”, “thou”, “thy”, and “thine” would be beneficial:

  • They allow distinction between singular and plural second person pronouns (currently both “you”)
  • They can convey informality versus formality
  • Some find them more beautiful sounding

However, any attempt at revival would face significant obstacles:

  • Modern audiences are unaccustomed to these archaic words
  • The nuances between informal/formal are not widely understood
  • Regular plurals like “yous” or “y’all” have naturally developed in dialects
  • The proper use of “thee” versus “thou” has been forgotten

For these reasons, it seems unlikely that “thee” will ever return to common use in Standard English. The sole remnants are now found in historical literature, dialects, religion, and attempts to recreate archaic speech.


In summary, “thee” was once the objective form of the second person informal pronoun “thou”, but fell out of everyday use in the 14th century along with “thou”. It disappeared due to changing social structures and the meaning of “you” expanding. Though vanished from modern Standard English, “thee” remains in some dialects and religious contexts, and will likely continue to appear in historical literature and media attempting to recreate antiquated speech. Though some argue “thee” and “thou” should be revived, powerful linguistic and social factors make that unlikely to occur.

Pronoun Meaning Modern Equivalent
Thee Objective form of thou You
Thou Nominative singular informal You (singular)
Thy/Thine Possessive determiner Your
Ye Nominative/objective plural You (plural)

This table summarizes the obsolete pronouns “thee”, “thou”, “thy/thine”, and “ye” and their meanings compared to modern equivalents.

Thee in popular culture

Though no longer used conversationally, “thee” and “thou” are still familiar through continued references in modern popular culture, including:

  • Uses in classic literature or historical dramas, like Shakespeare productions
  • To give a Medieval flare, like in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • In fantasy genres with mystical characters, e.g. Gandalf in Lord of the Rings
  • In common expressions like “woe is me” and “holier than thou”
  • In popular music, such as the song “Why Dost Thou Weep Little Angel?”

These references remind modern audiences of the strong heritage of “thee” and “thou” in the evolution of English. Though no longer used conversationally, they remain recognizable terms that convey a sense of historical immersion.

Thee vs. You

Thee You
– Objective form of “thou” – Can be subjective or objective
– Informal singular 2nd person – Originally plural but now both singular/plural
– Fell out of everyday use by 1600s – Has been in consistent use
– Remains only in dialects and religion – Standard 2nd person pronoun in modern English
– Conveys a sense of intimacy or informality – Does not imply age or formality

This table summarizes some of the key differences between “thee” and the modern “you”. It shows how the meanings and usage have diverged over the centuries.

Thee in the King James Bible

The King James translation of the Bible into English was published in 1611. By this time, “thee”, “thou”, and related words were archaic in everyday speech but were still used in religious contexts and poetry. The translators intentionally used these pronouns to convey solemnity and grandeur.

Here are some examples of “thee” in well-known passages from the King James Bible:

  • “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9)
  • “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exodus 20:7)
  • “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1)

The King James Bible became hugely influential, standardizing these terms in written religious English. However, it did not stop “thee” and related pronouns from disappearing from secular speech.

Significance of “thee” in the King James Bible

The use of “thee”, “thou”, and related pronouns in the King James Bible served several purposes:

  • Conveyed a solemn, respectful tone appropriate for sacred texts
  • Differentiated singular and plural second-person pronouns
  • Distinguished between intimate singular and formal plural
  • Retained rhythmic qualities from Hebrew poetry
  • Reflected language usage at the time of translation

The singular familiar terms brought a sense of closeness and personal intimacy between God and people. This resonated with audiences and helped ensure the lasting influence of the King James Bible.

Quotations using “thee”

Here are some famous quotations from literature and pop culture that contain the archaic pronoun “thee”:

  • “With my sword I thee wed.” – Wedding vows in The Princess Bride
  • “If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!” – Frankenstein’s Monster in Frankenstein (1931)
  • “What’s done to me, that might be undone, but what I’ve done to thee.” – Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Shakespeare
  • “You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go.” – Bob Dylan lyric
  • “Oh, maiden, lend thy hand, I’m thy knight.” – From the musical Camelot

Even in contemporary works set in modern contexts, writers will occasionally use “thee” to give a sense of old-fashioned drama. These quotations demonstrate how “thee” has an archaic flair that conjures a feeling of bygone eras.


In summary:

  • “Thee” was the objective form of “thou”, used until around 1600
  • It fell out of standard use due to the Black Death, mobility, and changing class structures
  • Remnants survived in regional dialect and religious contexts
  • Revival is unlikely due to loss of early nuances and plural “you” development
  • It remains familiar from classical literature, historical dramas, fantasy genres
  • The King James Bible standardized its use in religious writing
  • Quotations continue to employ it for dramatic flair

While “thee” itself is now archaic, its history reveals much about changing cultural attitudes and power relationships during the evolution of English. The few lingering instances preserve echoes of how our ancestors spoke for centuries.

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