Thee? Thou? Thine? A Primer On Ye Olde Pronouns

Recently, I saw The Green Knight, which - while being a film of very few words - still managed to ping something painful to mine ear:

That is, the dialogue egregiously misused the pronoun "thee."  When, you ask?  Well, when Arthur "thees" all his knights at once.  (Thee is singular.)  Or when Gawain meets a woman he doesn't know and "thees" her.  (Thee is intimate.)

Since this is far from the first time "thee" has been misused, and since so many verse dramatists employ "thee," it seems worthwhile to write a short primer on:

How to use "thee" like an expert.
(Please, for the love of God.)

Dev Patel in "The Green Knight" written and produced by David Lowry, produced by A24.
If you speak a foreign language, chances are you're halfway to understanding "thee."  Thee is the single, intimate form of "you."  You may think of thee and you as "tu" and "vous" in French, "du" and "ihr" in German, "tu" and "usted" in Spanish. 

Thee is a word which has been phased out from common modern parlance, although it still shows up in hymns, prayers, and verse drama.  And for the verse dramatist and actor, it offers a world of interpretation.


First, let's make sure that we place the word correctly in a sentence.

  • Thou - Subjective form.  "Thou art lovely." "Thou, not I, must thrive."  It's equal to the place of I, she/he, we, they.
  • Thee - Objective form.  "I give to thee." "Whenever she may gaze on thee."  It's equal to the place of me, her/him, us, them.
If you're not sure whether to use "thou" or "thee," try putting in one of the other pronouns.  You wouldn't say, "Me am lovely."  You'd say, "I am lovely."  Hence, in the same way, you'd use, "Thou art lovely." 

Conversely, you would never say, "I give to they."  You'd say, "I give to them."  Hence, in the same way, you'd use, "I give to thee."
  • Thy/Thine - Possessive form.  "Is this thy purse?" "Thine arm hath harmed me."  It's equal to my/mine, hers/his, ours, theirs.
Rather like my/mine or a/an, you use "thy" in front of a word that begins with a consonant, and "thine" in front of a word that begins with a vowel.  Hence, you'd say (in olde speake) an arm, mine arm, thine arm, but a purse, my purse, thy purse.

Also, use "thine" like "mine" in the predicate of a sentence.  Hence, you should say, "It's thine," as you would say, "It's mine."

When to use "Thee" vs. "You"

So when should you use "thee?"  Well, there are a few cultural rules that are good to keep in mind.  (The following are examples written on the fly by yours truly, and are not from any play.)

  • Thee is singular.  You is plural.
No matter what the context, if your character is speaking to more than one person, the character must use "you."  Thee is always, always, ALWAYS singular.  As so:

ARTHUR. (Speaking to LANCELOT.) Step thou aside the while.  I'll speak to them.
(Speaking to the other KNIGHTS.) You gallant knights, my brothers in the blood...

  • Thee is used by people of higher status to those of lower status.  You is used by people of lower status to people of higher status.

ARTHUR. (Continuing to LANCELOT.) This news wounds me.  Say'st thou 'tis true?

LANCELOT. (To KING ARTHUR.)  Indeed, my lord, 'twould pain me to deceive you.
But hear the beggar speak.  He shall deliver all.
What ho, there, lad!  Speak thou, and falter not.

My noble lords, I tremble on my knees
To speak so froward unto your honours both.
Your pardon, King.  Forgive a lesser man.

ARTHUR. (To the BEGGAR BOY.) I pardon thee.

BEGGAR BOY.                                                           My thanks.

  • Thee can also be used to elevate yourself, and presume that you're superior.  Or to put another person down by referring to them as "thee" when they're clearly above you.

Then hear my word:
'Gainst thee, Sir Lancelot, I bring this charge:
That thou, with Guinevere, hath known the blood;
That thou, who wast near-brother to the King,
Hath slept thou with his Queen and in his bed!

  • Thee is used for the intimate.  So family members, lovers, close friends, or others who want to invite an intimacy would use "thee."


GUINEVERE.                 (To LANCELOT.) What is't?

LANCELOT.                                                               We are discovered.


LANCELOT.                    Thou must not ask this yet.

GUINEVERE.                                                                 And yet I will!
Thy cheek is pale, thy strong arm trembles at my touch.
We both kept mum, and nothing should be known--

LANCELOT. I prithee, love, away.  Away!
Would God that one of us should thrive!

  • Similarly, you can show how intimate or distant two characters are, or have become, if they suddenly switch from "you" to "thee" (or vice versa) in a scene.

ARTHUR. (Entering.) I had not thought it possible...

GUINEVERE.                                                                  Mine honored lord!

ARTHUR. Speak not to me.  I cannot look on you.

LANCELOT. Then let me speak.

ARTHUR.                                       Oh, ho!  What should you say?
Or what can either of you say to me,
Who am most betrayed.  (To GUINEVERE.)
My once and future Queen, I should pardon, if
You can, with honesty, report that it was some...
Frailty of a woman's heart, or else that Lancelot
Had ta'en advantage...(No.  And yet, it cannot be.)
(To LANCLEOT.) That he...that thou couldst e'er deflower one
Against her will--speak thou!  Friend!

LANCELOT.                                          What should I say?

GUINEVERE. He did not overpower me.

ARTHUR.                                                   And yet made love to thee?

GUINEVERE. As I to him.

LANCELOT.                     (Sweet Guinevere.)

GUINEVERE.                                                  And I do love thee...both.

(Note.  This would be one of the only times that you would knowingly play with singular/plural.  Know the rules before you break them!)

  • If two people are strangers to each other, unless you're really certain that you're of higher status, the characters would both use "you" towards each other.  It's considered formal and respectful.

ARTHUR. (Wandering in the woods.  He meets a WOMAN.)
Your pardon, mistress.  Is there a stream about?

WOMAN. No stream near here.  Walk you three miles hence.

ARTHUR. That way is Camelot.

WOMAN.                                   The stream as well.

ARTHUR. I'd not go there.

WOMAN.                               You'd fit right in.
Your clothes are fine enough.  And near become a King.

ARTHUR. For so I am.

WOMAN.                    Your Majesty!

ARTHUR.                                              Nay, nay, I pray you, rise.
I am no King within these woods.

WOMAN.                                        And there's no stream.
But if you'd come inside, there's water from the well.

ARTHUR. I will.  Pray, lead me on.  My thanks.
NEXT TIME: We'll be talking about how to conjugate verbs in the "thee" form!


What are some ways you can play with "thee" vs. "you?"  Try it out in a scene, or take a look at a scene you love and see how the playwright used their pronouns.

Did we miss a way to use "thee" vs. "you?"  Drop us a comment below or tweet at us @hamlet2hamilton!


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