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ye 1 (thē, yē)

[Alteration of Middle English þe, the (from the use of the letter y to represent the letter thorn (þ) in early English printing).]

Usage Note: In an attempt to seem quaint or old-fashioned, many store signs such as "Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe" use spellings that are no longer current. The word ye in such signs looks identical to the archaic second plural pronoun ye, but it is in fact not the same word. Ye in "Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe" is just an older spelling of the definite article the. The y in this ye was never pronounced (y) but was rather the result of improvisation by early printers. In Old English and early Middle English, the sound (th) was represented by the letter thorn (þ). When printing presses were first set up in England in the 1470s, the type came from Continental Europe, where this letter was not in use. The letter y was used instead because in the handwriting of the day the loop of the letter thorn was often not connected to the upright, and so the thorn looked very similar to y. So spellings like ye for the, yt or yat for that, were not only common but survived into the 1800s. However, the modern revival of this archaic form of the has not been accompanied by a revival of the knowledge of how it was pronounced, with the result that (yē) is the usual pronunciation today.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
ye 2 (yē; yəwhen unstressed)
1. You. Used as the nominative second person pronoun: "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (King James Bible).
2. You. Used as the objective second person pronoun: "Johnny, we hardly knew ye" (traditional Irish song).

[Middle English, from Old English gē; see yu- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

Word History: In Modern English, most personal pronouns distinguish two forms (leaving aside the possessive forms of the pronouns such as my, our, and their). The forms I, he, she, we, and they are used when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence, while me, him, her, us, and them are usually used when the pronoun has another grammatical role in the sentence. (The first set of forms, the subject forms, are said to be in the nominative case, while the second set goes by various namesfor convenience, we could call it the objective case.) Modern English also has an archaic second person pronoun that has the form thou in the nominative case and thee in the objective case. You and it have only one form in Modern English, but things were not always so in earlier stages of English. Old English had one pronoun, thu, for the second person singular (used when speaking to one person), and another, ge, for the second person plural (used when speaking to more than one person, much like modern colloquial English you guys and y'all.) Old English thu, whose accusative and dative case was the, became the Middle English pronoun thou with the objective case thee. Old English ge, whose accusative and dative case was ēow, became the Middle English pronoun ye, with objective case you. However, by about 1300, people had begun using the plural pronoun ge as a polite way of addressing a single person in Middle English. (Modern French still has a pronominal system much like Middle English of the time, with vous used as both a general second person plural pronoun and as a polite second person singular pronoun, in contrast to the more familiar or intimate tu.) After 1300, however, people also began to use you as the nominative case in both the singular and plural, and ye also came to be used as the objective case form. By 1600, you had for the most part replaced ye in general usage. Thou and thee continued to lose ground to the old plural pronoun, until at last you became the usual form of the second person personal pronoun, in both numbers and cases.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.