Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thee, Thy, Thou, Thine - Archaic pronouns simplified!

by Derek Spencer

I've spent some time on the internet (some might say too much), and one thing that's stuck with me is how often internet denizens misuse the pronouns "thou," "thee," "thy," and "thine."

I was lucky, I suppose — I learned these archaic words while playing Dragon Warrior, a classic role-playing video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Back then, games like Dragon Warrior contained thousands of lines of text, so being a strong reader was essential. Still, I lost the game many times; I became quite familiar with the words "Thou art dead," which the game displayed each time I was defeated by a red slime, scorpion, or other nasty.

But that repetition drilled the proper use of thou, thee, thy, and thine into my young mind, and I thought the words were pretty cool. Many of you probably know how to use these pronouns already, but just in case, here's a quick primer.


"Thou" is a subjective (or nominative) second-person singular pronoun — equivalent to "you" in modern English. So, you can plug "thou" in wherever "you" can serve as the subject of a sentence.
  • Modern: "Could you please deliver this delicious pizza for me?"
  • Old School: "Couldst thou please deliver this delicious pizza for me?"


While "thou" is subjective, "thee" is objective — if a person is being acted upon by the subject of a sentence, you can substitute "thee" for that person's name.
  • Modern: ". . . from hell's heart I stab at you [Moby Dick, you big jerk]"
  • Old School: ". . . from hell's heart I stab at thee" (much more literary, eh?)


Here, I have to admit that I wasn't always entirely sure what the difference between "thy" and "thine" was. They seemed to me to be interchangeable, but this is not the case! As a general rule, both "thy" and "thine" indicate possession, but there are some special rules for these two pronouns.

In predicative constructions, you *must* use "thine" — "thy" simply will not do. So, you could write, "that bag is thine," but not, "that bag is thy." More examples:

  • "Thou art incorrect to attribute the error resulting in this driving accident to me; the fault is thine"
  • "Thou ruffian! Thou hast spilled cranberry juice upon my doublet! Justice shall be mine, ignominy thine!"

When used as part of a genitive construction (in which a noun modifies another noun, often to indicate possession), the rules change a bit. Use "thine" before words beginning with vowels or the letter 'h'; use "thy" in all other cases. A couple examples:

  • "Depart now and seek thine enjoyment of sport elsewhere, thou supporter of my most hated baseball squadron."
  • "Thy words are as empty as thy soul."
  • "I shall strike thee about thine ears should I hear such grotesque slander spout from thy mouth again!"

So, there you have it. Follow those simple rules, and you'll always use these fun archaic pronouns correctly. One way to make learning these words fun for students might be to have them write some example sentences of their own — Twitter would be perfect for this sort of thing.

How do you teach students to navigate these archaic pronouns? We'd love to hear from you!

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Three keys to writing great free-response prompts

by Derek Spencer

Writing great free-response prompts is tough. If they aren't worded just so, you might get some strange, short, or incomplete answers from students — so creating clear, concise, and complete writing prompts is an essential skill. Here are three tips to help you get the most out of your writing prompts.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A look into the past of grammar criticism

by Derek Spencer

Language changes — this is a fact with which we're all acquainted. It seems also that for as long as humans have used language, humans have decried each subsequent generation's mangling of the written word. Some commentators have discussed the "decline" of the English language in strident tones; others have taken a more measured, thoughtful tack.

As for the question of whether Geoffrey Nunberg is in the former or latter camp, well, we'll leave you to decide. In this sweeping article, written nearly thirty years ago, Nunberg discusses the history of grammatical analysis and compares the approaches taken by prescriptivists (those who insist that grammatical rules are hard and fast) and descriptivists (those who hold that rules depend on practical usage by the speaking and writing population). Here's a link to the article:

The history lesson is probably the most fascinating part of the piece, but also of interest are the author's examples of language misuse from his time. Thirty years is a relatively short time, but some of the uses the author identifies as improper are now firmly cemented within standard English.

What do you think? Do you side more with the linguists who believe that language is flexible and that's fine, or do you place your trust in the prescriptive grammarians?

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.