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You or Y’all?

Have you ever wondered whether that “you” or “your” in the Bible is referring to one person or multiple people? It’s hard to tell in modern English,* but in Greek and Hebrew it was easy because the form of the words changed depending on whether the reference was singular (i.e., “you”) or plural (i.e., “y’all”). Thankfully, you can answer the “you or y’all” question by looking at the King James Version (available on YouVersion or at Bible Gateway), which preserves older English pronouns that also could differentiate between the singular and plural. Here’s how it works:

  Singular Plural
When the pronoun is a subject Thou; e.g, “Thou seest me” (You; e.g., “You see me”) Ye; e.g., “Ye see me” (You; e.g., “You see me”)
When the pronoun is an object Thee; e.g., “I see thee” (You; e.g., “I see you”) You; e.g., “I see you” (You; e.g., “I see you”)
When the pronoun is possessive Thy/Thine; e.g., “Thy will be done” (Your; e.g., “Your will be done”) Your; e.g., “Your tribes” (Your; e.g., “Your tribes”)

 

The bolded and italicized words in parentheses above are the modern equivalents of the older bolded and italicized pronouns they share a box with. Note that in Elizabethan English, it was obvious from the form of the pronoun whether one or multiple people/things were in view.

Consider John 3:7 as an example: “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (KJV). From the chart above, note that “thee” is a singular form, and “ye” is a plural form. In other words, with the first reference, “thee,” Jesus was referring specifically to one person (in this case, Nicodemus). With the second reference, Jesus was referring to multiple people (perhaps the Pharisees in general).


* In modern English, our ability to distinguish between singular and plural second-person references is entirely dependent on context. An exception is in regional dialects that utilize words like “y’all” for the second-person plural.

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