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  • Against Singular 'Ye'

    July 21st, 2013
    gender, ling, they  [html]
    The perversions the youth wreak upon our our shared language grate on the ear and distract from semantic content. While most of their petty acts of verbal vandalism are limited to the realm of vocabulary where they do little lasting damage, it is now the very foundation of our language that is under threat. I speak, of course, of a recent assault on our grammar, that of so-called "singular ye".

    For generations we have said "thou art" in the singular and "ye are" in the plural. Everyone understands this, and it is completely plain, but among some troublemakers it is now the fashion to use "ye" both for the singular and the plural. They even have the gall to claim it as respectful! One of my younger employees might ask of me, "are ye coming?" as if I were a pair of conjoined twins! It goes beyond treating "ye" as singular, however, and extends to matching plural "are" with (falsely) singular "ye". That the subject and the verb must agree in number is fundamental, and these are dangerous matters with which to meddle.

    While I recognize that the reader may hear these words as the complaints of a curmudgeon over the recklessness of todays youth, note that we are losing important distinctions. When I hear "are ye coming?" I do not know whether the message is directed at a group or an individual. This confusion is in direct opposition to the primary purpose of language, that of communication. Let us consider a Biblical example, that of John 3:7:

    Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
    Jesus spoke directly to Nicodemus, using "thee" several times, but in the command to be born again it is clear that He was making a general statement, not one restricted to Nicodemus. Why would we want to give up this ability of expressive subtlety?

    Update 2016-07-04: Apparently this is less fictional than I thought it was when I wrote it: 1826 Retrospective Review.

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