Those Nasty Thees and Thous

Pastor James Knox
Deland, Florida

The most common complaint raised by those who pick up an Authorized Bible for the first time is the use of "thees," "thous" and similar words.  The reader is frightened by these unfamiliar terms and, all too often, flees for the supposed comfort of a modern translation.

The religious advertisers do not differ at all from secular advertisers, in that both will sacrifice their consciences and lie as often as necessary to make a profit.  Thus, religious television and magazines are filled with sales pitches alleging that the modern language translations are easier to understand.  To convince the reader of this supposed truth, they need only to point to a "ye" or a "thine" in the A.V. text, and the unsuspecting public is convinced.

The whole problem, falsely so called, can be solved in four paragraphs.  Follow closely.

In modern English, if a man addresses fifty people he says, "I am glad you are here today."  If he addresses one person he says, "I am glad you are here today."  A reader, seeing only the statement, does not know if a plurality of listeners, or just one, is being addressed.

In 1611, if King James had been addressing fifty-four translators he would have said, "I am glad you are here to day."  If fifty-three had the day off and one came to visit, the monarch would have said, "I am glad to see thee to day." 

Simply stated, the Authorized Version makes a distinction between the second-person ("you") pronouns and adjectives relating to number.  This distinction is not available to the readers of any other English version.

Where one sees the "t" an individual is being addressed.  Where one sees a "y" two or more persons are being addressed.

The singular forms are:

 nominative:          "thou"

 objective:             "thee"

 possessive adjective:  "thy" 

 possessive pronoun:   "thine"

The plural forms are:

 nominative:           "ye"

 objective:              "you"

 possessive adjective:   "your"

 possessive pronoun:    "yours"

This five-minute lesson in Elizabethan grammar opens up vast areas of truth in the Authorized Version which are closed to readers of today's English versions.


Once the importance of the "thees"and "thous" has been mastered, the next thing to tackle are the seemingly strange endings on so many Bible words.

In Romans 14:7 we read: For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.  One might wonder why we do not revise the Bible to the more broadly understood "No one lives to himself, and no man dies to himself."

As we all know, "s" and "es" are suffixes added to words to make them plural.  One apple is added to one apple to get two apples.  In modern English we have no such suffix to prevent confusion between the rendering of a noun in its plural form and the rendering of a verb in its active and ongoing form.  The old English made this distinction by use of an "eth" or "est" ending.

None of us liveth to himself means that life is ongoing.  Such a one is in the continual process of being alive.  "No man dies to himself" means the act of dying, but this leaves us short of the meaning of the verse.  Dieth tells us that he is in the continual process of dying.

At breakfast one morning, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?

Notice first that Jesus saith.  To revise this to "Jesus said to Simon Peter" results in our losing the vision of the moment.  That would put the episode in the past tense.  In the language of the KJV we are present that morning watching as the conversation takes place.

Then we have the word lovest.  To modernize this to, "Do you love me?" is to miss the whole point.  Jesus doesn't want to know if there are moments when Peter loves Him.  He wants to know if Peter possesses a constant, ongoing love for His redeemer.

"He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee."

Peter's reply is a testimony to his understanding that Jesus' knowledge of his heart was continuous. 

Far from being burdensome, the word endings "est" and "eth" help to make the King James Bible so very meaningful.  They carry the stories we are reading out of the past-tense mode and present them in such a way as to make us eyewitnesses to, yea, partakers of, the action.

It takes only a day or two to teach an elementary school reader the use of "ed" "s" or "ing."  Once these simple rules are learned his enjoyment of reading climbs to new heights.

So the new Christian needs but a day or two to learn this simple rule of grammar and he can trade his past-tense, modern version for an active and exciting KJV.