William Shakespeare
Image credit: John Taylor [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

April 23, 2018 is William Shakespeare’s 454th birthday! That makes it Talk Like Shakespeare Day, when we can all say things like, “Hi, my name is Bill, and I’m really irritated that for centuries people have been claiming that somebody else wrote my stuff. You have no idea how that hurts my feelings!” I kid. What most people seem to mean is switching into 16th-century English, which I suppose is cool if that’s your thing. But for heaven’s sake, get it right; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard bad “Shakespearean” English, and it sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Quick tips:

  • Thou is second-person singular nominative pronoun; thee is second person singular accusative. So, you could say “Thou art a scoundrel” or “She hast smitten thee,” but not “Thee art a scoundrel” or “She hast smitten thou.” The possessive second-person singular pronoun can be either thy or thine.
  • Ye is the second-person plural nominative pronoun; you is second person singular accusative, same as today.
  • Some forms of “to be” and “to have” are different. For example, second-person singular of “are” is art (“Thou art cursed”); second-person singular of “have” is hast (“Thou hast a grave countenance”), while third-person singular (as well as first- and third-person plural) is hath (“He hath half a brain”).
  • Mirroring the hath/hast endings, present-tense verbs often end with -eth when the subject is third-person singular, or second- or third-person plural (“She giveth thee a foul stare”) or -est when the subject is second-person singular (“Thou reekest.”) For first-person singular subjects and second-person plural subjects, the verbs don’t change.