I've always wondered this. Yes, it means "you" but it must directly translate into a more formal "you," correct?

  • 4
    "thou" was the singular form in English, not the plural. Also related.
    – user508
    Sep 14, 2011 at 17:25
  • 1
    While originally thou was informal, it is now used almost exclusively in religion and has therefore taken on an air of formality. So nowadays ... it would probably be simplest to say that an English equivalent of Sie doesn't exist. Tolkien used thou to represent both intimacy and formality at different times in The Lord of the Rings.
    – TRiG
    Aug 3, 2014 at 21:16

2 Answers 2


Originally, "thou" was used if you were addressing a single person, whereas "you" was used for addressing more people. Thou was saved only for intimate or disrespectful uses. So really it was more like "thou" was the same as "du", and "you" was the same as "ihr."

Sources: Wikipedia's article about Thou


Thou, thee, thine= Du, dich, dein. You can almost see the resemblance.

  • 5
    I think, thou didst mean "Thou can almost see the resemblance."
    – musiKk
    Sep 14, 2011 at 17:09
  • What I see here is a sound shift. early Old High German thou/thu → classical OHG dū, du (English thou, Icelandic þú : Low German dü, German du)
    – feeela
    Sep 14, 2011 at 21:19
  • 4
    @musiKk: Shouldn't that be "thou canst"? Which, again, has a strong resemblance to "du kannst".
    – Martin B
    Sep 23, 2011 at 20:50

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