From Middle English thou, tho, thogh, thoue, thouȝ, thow, thowe, tou, towe, thu, thue, thugh, tu, you (Northern England), ðhu, þeou, þeu, þou (the latter three early Southwest England), from Old English þū, from Proto-West Germanic *þū, from Proto-Germanic *þū (“you (singular), thou”), from Proto-Indo-European *túh₂ (“you, thou”).
The English word is cognate with Saterland Frisian du (“thou”), West Frisian do (“thou”), dialectal Dutch du, dou, douw (“thou”), Limburgish doe (“thou”), Low German du (“thou”), German du (“thou”), Danish du (“thou”), Swedish du (“thou”), Faroese tú (“thou”), Icelandic þú (“thou”), Gothic 𐌸𐌿 (þu, “thou”), Latin tu, Ancient Greek σύ (sú) (Doric Ancient Greek τύ (tú), Greek εσύ (esý)), Irish tu, Lithuanian tu, Old Church Slavonic ty (ty), Welsh ti, Armenian դու (du), Albanian ti, Persian تو (to).
The informality of thou and its replacement by ye in formal situations date only to the 14th century and come from French influence, since French (as many European languages, but not Old English) uses the second-person plural (vous) instead of the second-person singular (tu) as a mark of politeness or respect.
- (archaic, dialectal, literary, religion, or humorous) Nominative singular of . [chiefly up to early 17th c.]
- 1742 April 4, Charles Wesley, A Sermon Preached on Sunday, April 4, 1742. Before the University of Oxford, London: Printed by J. Paramore, […], published 1783, OCLC 877568242, page 10:
- Art thou in earnest about thy soul? and canst thou tell the Searcher of Hearts, Thou, O God, art the thing that I long for? Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I would love thee?
- 1843 December 19, Charles Dickens, “Stave Four. The Last of the Spirits.”, in A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, London: Chapman & Hall, […], OCLC 55746801, page 137:
- Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion!
- For more quotations using this term, see Citations:thou.
- When the subject of a verb in the indicative mood is thou, the verb usually ends in -est, in both the present and simple past tenses, as in “Lovest thou me?” (from John 21:17 of the King James Bible). This is the case even for modal verbs, which do not specially conjugate for the third person singular. A few verbs have irregular present forms: art (of be), hast (of have), dost (of do), wost (of wit), canst (of can), shalt (of shall), wilt (of will). Must does not change. In weak past tenses, the ending is either -edest or contracted -edst. In the subjunctive, as is normal, the bare form is usually used. However, thou beest is sometimes used instead of thou be.
- Traditionally, use of thou and ye followed the T–V distinction, thou being the informal pronoun and ye, the plural, being used in its place in formal situations. This is preserved in the dialects in which thou is still in everyday use, but in Standard English, due to the pronoun’s association with religious texts and poetry, some speakers find it more solemn or even formal.
- Occasionally thou was, and to a lesser extent still is, used to represent a translated language’s second-person singular-plural distinction, disregarding English’s T-V distinction by translating the second-person singular as thou even where English would likely use ye instead. It is also sometimes still used to represent a translated language’s T-V distinction.
From Late Middle English thouen, theu, thew, thou, thowe, thowen, thui, thuy (“to address (a person) with thou, particularly in a contemptuous or polite manner”), from the pronoun thou: see etymology 1 above.
- (transitive) To address (a person) using the pronoun thou, especially as an expression of contempt or familiarity.
- Synonym: thee
- Antonym: you
- Don’t thou them as thous thee! – a Yorkshire English admonition to overly familiar children
- c. 1530, “Hickscorner”, in W[illiam] Carew Hazlitt, editor, A Select Collection of Old English Plays. Originally Published by Robert Dodsley in the Year 1744. […], volume I, 4th edition, London: Reeves and Turner, […], published 1874, page 180:
- Avaunt, caitiff, dost thou thou me! / I am come of good kin, I tell thee! / My mother was a lady of the stews' blood born, / And (knight of the halter) my father ware an horn; / Therefore I take it in full great scorn, / That thou shouldest thus check me.
- c. 1601–1602, William Shakespeare, “Twelfe Night, or VVhat You VVill”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act III, scene ii], page 266:
- [T]aunt him with the licenſe of Inke: if thou thou'ſt him some thrice, it ſhall not be amiſſe, and as many Lyes, as will lye in thy ſheete of paper, although the ſheete were bigge enough for the bedde of Ware in England, ſet 'em downe, go about it.
- 1603 November 27, “The Tryal of Sir Walter Raleigh Kt. at Winton, on Thursday the 17th of November, Anno. Dom. 1603. in the First Year of King James the First”, in [Thomas Salmon], editor, A Compleat Collection of State-Tryals, and Proceedings upon Impeachment for High Treason, and Other Crimes and Misdemeanours; […] In Four Volumes, volume I, London: Printed for Timothy Goodwin, […]; John Walthoe […]; Benj[amin] Tooke […]; John Darby […]; Jacob Tonson […]; and John Walthoe Jun. […], published 1719, OCLC 470588883, page 177, column 2:
- Attorney. [Edward Coke, Attorney General for England and Wales] All that he [Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham] did was by thy Inſtigation, thou viper; for I thou thee, thou Traitor. / Raleigh. [Walter Raleigh] It becometh not a Man of Quality and Virtue, to call me ſo: But I take comfort in it, it is all you can do.
- 1677, William Gibson, “An Answer to John Cheyney’s Pamphlet Entituled The Shibboleth of Quakerism”, in The Life of God, which is the Light and Salvation of Men, Exalted: […], [London: s.n.], OCLC 802074687, page 134:
- What! doſt thou not believe that God's Thouing and Theeing was and is ſound Speech? [...] And Theeing & Thouing of one ſingle Perſon was the language of Chriſt Jeſus, and the Holy Prophets and Apoſtles both under the Diſpenſations of Law and Goſpel, [...]
- 1755, [Voltaire [pseudonym; François-Marie Arouet]], “Ferdinand III. Forty-seventh Emperor.”, in Annals of the Empire from the Reign of Charlemagne […] In Two Volumes, volume II, London: Printed for A[ndrew] Millar, […], OCLC 753367451, page 257:
- The emperors before Rodolphus I. ſent all their mandates in Latin, thouing every prince, as the grammar of that language allows. This thouing of the counts of the empire was continued in the German language which diſallows ſuch expreſſions.
- 1811, Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra, “Of Matters Relating and Appertaining to this Adventure, and to this Memorable History”, in Charles Jarvis, transl., The Life and Exploits of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Translated from the Spanish [...] In Four Volumes, volume IV, London: Printed [by Harding & Wright] for Lackington, Allen, and Co. [et al.], OCLC 557751787, part II, book III, pages 57–58:
- Unfortunate we the duennas! though we descended in a direct male-line from Hector of Troy, our mistresses will never forbear "thouing" us, were they to be made queens for it.
- 1888, Rudyard Kipling, “On the City Wall”, in In Black and White (A. H. Wheeler & Co.’s Indian Railway Library; no. 3), 5th edition, Allahabad: Messrs. A. H. Wheeler & Co.; London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, Ld., […], published 1890, OCLC 849518497, page 91:
- "One service more, Sahib, since thou hast come so opportunely," said Lalun. "Wilt thou"–it is very nice to be thou-ed by Lalun–"take this old man across the City—the troops are everywhere, and they might hurt him for he is old—to the Kumharsen Gate?["]
- 1917, Russell Osborne Stidston, “Inferiors to Superiors”, in The Use of Ye in the Function of Thou in Middle English Literature from Ms. Auchinleck to Ms. Vernon: A Study of Grammar and Social Intercourse in Fourteenth-century England: […], Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University, OCLC 459075770, section 1 (The Higher Classes to Royalty), page 22:
- In Guy a duke in council thous his emperor [...] In Bevis the earl addresses the emperor of Almaine [...] while the young son of the family, Bevis, thous him not only as his father's murderer [...], but even when he is pretending friendship for him [...].
- (intransitive) To use the word thou.
- 2006, Julian Dibbell, chapter 5, in Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot, New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, →ISBN:
- The hardcore role-players will wake up one day feeling, like a dead weight on their chest, the strain of endless texting in Renaissance Faire English—yet dutifully go on theeing and thouing all the same.
- 2009, David R. Keeston [pseudonym; Alan D. Jenkins], “Seeing God in the Ordinary”, in The Hitch Hikers’ Guide to the Gospel, [Morrisville, N.C.]: Lulu.com, →ISBN, page 39:
- You want to hear the word of God, and be challenged to go out and change the world. Instead, you are, for the fifth Sunday in a row, mewling on about purple-headed mountains (which is a bit of an imaginative stretch, since you live in East Anglia) and "theeing" and "thouing" all over the place.
Short for .
thou (plural thous)
- (Britain, dated) A unit of length equal to one-thousandth of an inch.
- Synonym: (US) mil
- 1984, Robert D. Adams; William C. Wake, “Surface Preparation”, in Structural Adhesive Joints in Engineering, Barking, Essex: Elsevier Applied Science Publishers, published 1986, DOI:10.1007/978-94-009-5616-2, →ISBN, pages 220–221:
- All these methods remove metal and can, in fact, remove a few thou from the surface. For accurately machined parts, therefore, none of these methods are suitable but wet blasting with a fine alumina which gives a polishing–cleaning action may be operated within the required tolerances.
- 2000, Mike Bishop; Vern Tardel, “Bells and Whistles”, in How to Build a Traditional Ford Hot Rod, revised edition, Osceola, Wis.: MBI Publishing Company, →ISBN, page 131, column 2:
- Make no mistake, we’re talking about some major repositioning; the rear ends of the cones didn’t move just a few thou’ or even 1/4 or 1/2 inch in one direction. These beauties moved around big time.
Short for .
thou (plural thou)
- (slang) A thousand, especially a thousand of some currency (dollars, pounds sterling, etc.).
- 1999, Don Winslow, chapter 58, in California Fire and Life, New York, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, →ISBN; 1st Vintage Crime/Black Lizard edition, New York, N.Y.: Vintage Books, September 2007, →ISBN, page 169:
- He has a few thou in the account, enough to make your everyday living expenses, not enough to keep current with the bigger bills.
- 2000 November, Sheri S[tewart] Tepper, “Benita”, in The Fresco, New York, N.Y.: Eos, HarperCollins, →ISBN; 1st Eos paperback edition, New York, N.Y.: Eos, HarperCollins, February 2002, →ISBN, page 17:
- Well, we'll need a few thou, Carlos. Got to get together a few thou first. For rent, you know. Rent and making contacts with artists, all that.
A misspelling of .
- (Received Pronunciation) enPR: thō, IPA(key): /ðəʊ/
- (General American) enPR: thō, IPA(key): /ðoʊ/
Audio (GA) (file)
thou (not comparable)
- Misspelling of .
- Misspelling of .
- ^ “thǒu, pron.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 11 July 2019.
- ^ Compare “thou, pron. and n.1”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2012; “thou1, pron.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
- ^ “thǒuen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 11 July 2019; “thou, v.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2012.
- “thou, n.2”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2012; “thou2, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
- Alternative form of
- Regularly used throughout Scotland up until the middle of the 1800s; now only used as an archaism outside Shetland and Orkney.