“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You” – Dr Seuss. One of the most important words we use in conversation is ‘you’. It exists in several different forms and acts in different roles in languages from all over the globe – as a second person pronoun, the subject of a verb, or the object of a verb or proposition.
Most languages have a singular and a plural word for you. In French it’s tu and vous, in Italian it’s tu and voi. It makes communication easier when you know if one person or more than one is being addressed.
In the past, English had thou as the single ‘you’ and ye as the plural. Thee was the objective form of thou. We still hear these words in familiar phrases such as Holier than thou or Fare thee well.
The King James Bible has the line Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? said by Jesus to the apostles when the storm threatened to capsize their boat.
Another well-known line is in Robert Herrick’s poem To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time, “Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may”, advice to young maidens to enjoy their fleeting youth. Both were addressed to more than one person.
The word ye was also used in shingles such as Ye Old Coffee Shoppe, but in this case it didn’t mean you but an old form of ‘the’.
By the 20th century, you was being widely used for both singular and plural. We lost ye – why on earth did we let it escape?
In USA’s southern states, they use y’all (abbreviation of you all) for a plural ‘you’. Here in Australia, the word youse has been used although its use is frowned upon. In 1987, boxer Jeff Fenech first issued his trademark ‘I love youse all’. It makes sense to add an ‘s’ onto you.
Ye is still used in Ireland, to address more than one person. I’d like to start a campaign to bring this word back. Who’s with me?