The History of Y.O.U.

Too much Y.O.U.

In my opinion, the word “you” is overused in English and can cause confusion. Why? Well, because in modern English “you” is both a singular (You are a nice person) and plural (You are nice people) subject pronoun. Also, modern English doesn’t have a formal “usted” version of “you”. So, we can translate “you” to Spanish in many ways: tú, vos, usted, ustedes, vosotros. But English wasn’t always this way.

A little history

400 years ago, English had two second-person pronouns: Thou and Ye. “Thou” was the singular form—similar to vos in Nicaragua. So, “De dónde sos vos was ”Where art thou from?”. “Ye” was the plural form, similar to usted and ustedes in Nicaragua (“De dónde son ustedes” → “Where are ye from?”). “You” was not a subject at all! It was an object pronoun (e.g., I like you) as it still is today. See the table below for the different forms of these archaic pronouns.

second-person subject object possessive reflexive
Archaic singular Thou Thee Thy/Thine Thyself
Archaic plural Ye You Your/Yours Yourselves
Modern singular & plural You You Your/Yours Yourself/Yourselves

The change continues

Languages are always changing. For some reason, in the 17th century people started to perceive “thou” as too familiar and “you” gradually replaced both “thou” and “ye”. Today, change in the second-person continues. Many creative dialects of English have invented ways to avoid confusion caused by “you”. For example, in the southern United States, “y’all” is a plural second-person pronoun (“De dónde son ustedes” → “Where are y’all from?”). It is a contraction of “you” and “all”. See the map of the United States below. “Y’all” is more common in the dark areas.

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