Friday 29 April 2011

April A to Z blogging challenge Ye

I expect many, if not all of you have seen signs like ‘Ye Olde Curiositie Shoppe’. ‘Ye’ was pronounced ‘the’.

The y in this ye was never pronounced (y) but was rather the result of improvisation by early printers. In Old English and early Middle English, the sound (Description: was represented by the letter thorn (þ). When printing presses were first set up in England in the 1470s, the type and the typesetters all came from Continental Europe, where this letter was not in use. The letter y was used instead because in the handwriting of the day the thorn was very similar to y. Thus we see such spellings as ye for the, yt or yat for that, and so on well into the 19th century.
Nonetheless, I suppose most of us will continue to say ‘Ye’ rather than ‘The’ – it sounds so quaint!

‘Ye’ is also the archaic second person plural, though sometimes used in the second person singular.

It is well known from Robert Herrick’s ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’ –

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day,
Tomorrow will be dying.

It is seen frequently in the Authorized King James Bible as in ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28)  


  1. How different they would sound without 'ye'.

  2. Fascinating fact about the pronunciation of 'ye.' But, yes, I am sure people / we / I will continue to say 'ye' rather than 'the.'

  3. Everybody always blames the printers. O well, we're used to it, those of us who remain, that is.
    Very interesting post, Janice, with some familiar quotations. Good work!
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  4. I had no idea ye was pronounced the. It does explain the shop signs!


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