Quick Primer on Elizabethan Language
The Elizabethan language is flirtatious, joyous, filled with risqué double entendre and political
gossip. Elizabethans loved their language and their words were well chosen. Have fun with it.
"Hello", best said as "Good Day!", "Good morrow!", "Well met" "Good Bye" spoken as "Fare thee well!", "God save thee", "I shall see thee anon".
"Yes" be "Aye"
"No" be "Nay"
"You" are certainly "Thou"
"You would" or "You should" rolls best off the tongue as "Thou would'st"
or "Thou should'st".
"Listen" takes power as "Hark" or "Hark now" "Ignore that" best be whispered as "Shun that" "Come here" moves more feet as "Come hither" "Until later" - "Anon"
"Thank you" - "Grammercy"
When in doubt make up a word by adding " 'st" to a conventional word such as "fill'st my cup".
About extra pronouns
1st person – S/he who speaks. “I think, therefore, I am first person.”
2nd person – S/he who listens. “You think, therefore you are second person.”
3rd person – S/he about whom they‟re gossiping. “She thinks, therefore she is third person.”
The subject is the person in the sentence who is acting or being. The object is what he‟s acting upon. The boy is the subject, and he threw the ball, which is the object.
Subject Object Possessive Subject Object Possessive
stI Me My, mine We Us Our, ours 1 ndThou Thee Thy, thine You, Ye You, Ye Your, yours 2 rdHe, she, it Him, her, it His,his; her, hers; its, its They Them Their, theirs 3
Singular/familiar – speaking about only one person, informal or familiar relationship such as close friends, family, pet, deity, or as an insult, like when Leonato challenges Claudio. “…Thou, thou dissembler, thou!…” All the more pointed because he would have used “thou/thee” with Claudio had Claudio become his son-in-law…
Plural/formal – speaking about more than one person, someone to whom you have a more formal relationship or speaking to one‟s “better” in terms of social class. Formal first person is also used by a monarch to refer to him/herself, as in “We are pleased the Dauphin is so pleasant with us” from Henry V (right before he declared war on France ).
ndIn modern English, we do not regularly use the singular familiar 2 person form “thou” except
in some churches. Many other languages still retain this form, and it was still in use during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I at the turn of the seventeenth century.
If you‟re having trouble finding the verb in a sentence whose subject is “thou,” look for a verb that ends with t, usually –st or –est, -lt or -rt. Most regular verbs will conjugate that way for
“thou.” “Thou hast slain mine innocent child!”
A note about possessive forms:
Thy It is thy possession.
My It is my possession.
Thine It is thine object because “object” begins with a vowel.
Mine It is mine object because “object” begins with a vowel
Use thy and thine, my and mine, the way you would use a and an. A peach,
an apple. Thy peach, thine apple. My peach, mine apple.
Thine The object is thine.
Mine The object is mine.
Third person conjugations are a bit different as well. If you have a sentence using he, she or it as the subject and you can‟t find the verb, look for words that end with –th or –eth. In later usage,
we changed the –th in hath to the Z sound in has. “His Grace hath made the match…”
One last thing about verbs. Some verbs that we would make into past tense by using TO HAVE – I have gone, for example – are made past tense by using TO BE – I am gone.
Thee's & Thou's
Many romantic languages have a familiar form of address, and a formal form of address. In French, "vous" is the formal mode of address, whereas, "tu" is the familiar mode. Elizabethan English worked the same way.
Many people are under the impression that "thee" and "thou" are the formal mode of address. This is probably due to the way these words are used in the King James Version of the Bible
when someone is speaking to God. However, the translators of the King James Version wanted
the reader to know that one's relationship to God is personal, and therefore familiar.
So, the mode,"you," is formal, and the mode, "thou," is familiar.
Nominative Objective Possessive
I me my/mine
thou (familiar) thee thy/thine
you (formal) you your(s)
he/she/it/hit him/her/it his/hers
Nominative Objective Possessive
we us our(s)
ye/you (familiar) ye/you your(s)
you (formal) you your(s)
they them their(s)
Properly using the “Thees” and “Thous” is easy. Just remember that “Thou” refers to the subject
of a sentence: “Thou art a poxy boggard!” And “Thee” is used for the object of the sentence
“What does it matter to thee?”
“Mine” and “thine” are used when the article possessed begins with a vowel or an H. “Thy” and
“My” are used when the article possessed begins with a consonant:
; That be mine ostrich.
; That be mine horse.
; That be my peacock.
; Is that thine ox?
; Whither goest thy wife?
There's not much need conjugating every verb there is. I'll show you one verb and let you get the
I run Present Tense you run
you ran Past Tense thou didst run
I will/shall run
Future Tense you will/shall run
thou wilt/shalt run
As you can see, Elizabethan verb conjugation is similar to our American English. The two exceptions are when using the familiar mode of the second person singular, (thou) and the third person singular (he, she, and it).
In the case of the second person singular, familiar, add “est,” or “st” on to the end of the same verb you would use in the formal mode. If you would say in the formal, “You took my coin
purse,” then the familiar would be, “Thou tookest my coin purse.” Of course, it would probably sound better if you said, “Thou didst take my coin purse.” Experience and practice will be a better guide. Use whichever form seems to flow better. For the future tense of the familiar mode of the second person singular, substitute “wilt” or “shalt” for “will” or “shall.”
In the case of the familiar mode of the present tense third person singular (he, she, it), add “th,” or “eth” to the end. If you would say, “He runs,” in American English, change it to, “He
runneth,” or, “He eateth.”
And, lastly, in the familiar mode of the future tense, change “shall” and “will” to “shalt” and “wilt.”
Do Use “Do”
To add some flavor to your conversations, use the word do before your verbs. “Pray do sit
down.” “I do believe that thou art a knave.”
The same holds true for did. “He did prattle on incessantly.”
Add the word me after first person verbs. “I will sit me down awhile and think me on this
It was an accepted practice to leave some words out of a sentence. For example, “Calls my
lord?” omits the words does and me. “[Does] my lord call [me]?” Of course, we do the same
thing, but in a different way, “Sit down.” In the modern example, we are using the imperative
mood and omit the object, “you.”
Mixing It Up
One of the ways you can add authenticity to your speech is to mix up your sentence structure. In our speech, you may say, “Sit down.” In this case, since we‟re speaking in the imperative mood,
the object is implied and placed at the beginning of the sentence, “[You] sit down.” In
Elizabethan English, it would be better expressed as, “Sit you down.”
Don't Use Don't
Elizabethan English avoids many of the contractions that we use today. As a rule, avoid using any of the contractions that you would ordinarily use in today‟s speech. The following contractions should be avoided.
Avoid contractions that shorten the word, “not.” For example, “don’t, can’t, won’t, didn’t,
couldn’t, etc.” Rather, say, “do not, can not, will not, would not, did not, could not, etc.”
We often say something like; “I’d have coffee.” A better way would be, “I would have coffee.”
(Although coffee was an unknown beverage during Queen Elizabeth‟s reign.) Also, “would” was
used much more extensively. It was a substitute for would prefer: “I would that thou didst take
the other path.”
In Modern American English, we also use a contraction to express possession. For example, we refer to John’s coat or Tom’s hat. This is a contraction of John his coat and Tom his hat. I know
this sounds odd; but in ELizabethan English, you would not use the contraction. We use the longer method.
Contractions You Can Use
While you should avoid using most of the contractions that you use today, people in the Elizabethan period didn‟t avoid using contractions altogether. They were just different. Here‟s an example of some of the contractions that were used.
The word, “it” was often contracted. The often said “‟tis: for “it is,” “‟twas” for “it was,” “‟twere” for “it were.” And here‟s a peculiar one. The used “‟ist” for “is it.”
“In” was also contracted. “I‟faith” was used for “in faith,” and “i‟sooth” was used for “in sooth.”
There are even some words that you would never think of using in a contraction. You‟ve already
seen the phrase, “„Ods me!” It was short for, “God save me!” There are others along a similar vein; “Uds teeth,” and, “Zounds!” Those are short for, “By God‟s teeth,” and “God‟s wounds.” Also, there‟s “God a‟mercy” for “God have mercy.”
You have also seen some contractions that today would be in the poetic form. “O‟er” is short for “over;” and “e‟er” is short for “ever.”
Remember, though, that the same ideas apply to contractions. You would be less likely to use a contraction when writing. Also, you would be less likely to use a contraction if you are being pretentious, or if you were better educated. Still, most every one uses contractions if they are in a
hurry, or in a casual setting.
About Archaic Usages
Some words don‟t mean exactly the same things now that they did during Shakespeare‟s time, and some words are either completely or mostly out of usage now. This list is but a start, hitting
the most common trouble words. Feel free to add to it.
ANTIC false or comedic, buffoon-like (buffoon if used as a noun) BREAK (with) to bargain with, particularly about marriage
DON put on (clothing)
DOFF take off (clothing)
DISCOVER literally, uncover or reveal, show
FLOUT jeer, mock
HUMOUR type of personality, one of four medieval “humours,” sanguine, choleric,
melancholy and phlegmatic, believed to be caused by excesses of certain
bodily fluids – blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm.
I‟FAITH in faith
MARRY short version of “By the Virgin Mary,” a mild oath used like “well” or
“indeed.” Also, to marry someone meant to join him/her in marriage to
someone else, not to be married to him/her.
PRAY ask, wish, hope, beg, not necessarily in a religious context SLANDER lies, particularly touching one‟s character (not just in the legal sense)
STOMACH appetite, hunger
TEACH teach, as it means now, but also show, demonstrate
TROTH promise, pledge, truth, honor, faith (as in loyalty)
WIT humor, particularly sarcasm, but also intelligence
WHEREFORE why (not where!)