In Spanish, there are the "vosotros" (only used in Spain) and "ustedes" (formal in Spain) forms for use when talking to a group of people. These also use specific conjugations different different from the regular single "tú" or "usted" (formal) forms. I don't speak it, but I've heard French also has this. However, these are both Romance languages, so it makes sense that they'd be similar in such a fundamental thing.

In standard English, we have no such thing; "you" can be used when talking to one person or to multiple people, with no distinction necessary. Is English unusual? Do more languages have a second person plural form or not?

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    In these case, the other languages you mentioned being Romance happens to be irrelevant: Germanic languages, like English is, do distinguish between 2nd person singular and 2nd person plural (German: du vs ihr, Swedish: du vs ni), and English itself had this distinction until not too long ago, with thou vs you, where thou has the same etimology as du and . If anything, the many varieties of Spanish come close to showing an evolution similar to English, where in some varieties vos (not quite the same as vosotros, but both derive from Latin vos) is now singular.
    – LjL
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 1:47
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    In French, vous is formally plural, and in "intimate" settings contrasts with singular tu; but in general settings vous is used for both singular and plural, so the result is very much like English. (I put "intimate" in quotes, because there isn't really a good English word for the contexts in which French speakers will use tu).
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 9:13
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    Y'all never heard of "y'all"? ;D
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 12:55
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    @jpmc26 - or "you guys"? Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 17:23
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    @jpmc26 and Chris — I said specifically standard English; y'all is used informally in some dialects, but you'd very rarely hear it, say, in Britain. Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 17:43

5 Answers 5


English marks plurality in first and third person pronouns (I vs. we, he/she/it vs. they), but not in the second person (you). (The singular thou did exist in English in the past, but is now considered obsolete.)

According to WALS chapter 35 (paragraph 5.1), about 20% of languages distinguish plurality in either first person or second person but not both. So the partial lack of plurality marking in English is present in a minority of languages, but it isn't incredibly rare.

Among Indo-European languages, I think the lack of plurality marking on pronouns is less common, but I don't have any statistics.

  • Was "thou" vs "you" really a singular/plural distinction? I always thought it was informal/formal.
    – amalloy
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 1:09
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    @amalloy It was a singular/plural distinction doing double duty as formal/informal. Similarly to French, 2pp was used to address single people in a less familiar way.
    – Tashus
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 2:46
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    @amalloy in many Indo-European languages, the second-person-plural doubles as formal.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 10:47
  • It really was both! for example Ukrainian and Gaelic do exactly the same thing @amalloy Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 14:14
  • German manages to take it one step further and uses 3pp.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 16:38

Although largely archaic, in some locations (some parts of Northern England/Cornwall/Ireland, among others) the word "ye" is still used as second-person-plural. It can also be found in some older works, such as the King James Bible:

"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." John 15:16

(Note that here both "ye" and "you" are both being used as plural second person, with "ye" as the Subjective form - vs "thou" as the singular second person Subjective - and "you" as the Objective form - vs "thee" as the singular second person Objective)

This should not be confused with "ye" as a typographical approximation of "þe" (i.e. "the") as in "þe olde shoppe"/"ye olde shoppe", which arose from the similarities between the cursive gothic letter "y" and "þ" (pronounced "thorn") which was not widely available in movable type.

(Alternatively - for those of you living in the Southern States of America, there's always "y'all". *shudder*)

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    +1 for y'all, that was my first thought when reading the question.
    – towe
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 11:35
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    or "you guys" in the Midwest.
    – live-love
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 12:16
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    Also "yous" in Scotland. Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 13:31
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    "You all" is certainly better and more grammatically correct than the Northern "yous guys"!!
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 15:39
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    @towe: Unfortunately, in some parts of Texas and other Southern states, "y'all" has stopped being seen as a contraction for "you all" and has become a replacement word for "you", with all the ambiguity re: singular or plural. Hence the use of the phrase, "all y'all".
    – John Bode
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 19:59

According to The Paradigmatic Structure of Person Marking by Michael Cysouw, the absence of the 2PL form in English pronoun despite having 3PL form is extremely unusual. The only language that has the exact five-way system of 1SG 1PL 2 3SG 3PL paradigm is the Xokleng language in the Amazonian basin.

On the other hand, there is Berik paradigm (1SG 1PL 2 3) and Sierra Populuca paradigm (1EXC 1INC 2 3) that is much more common. Both have only 1 second-person pronoun, but both also have only 1 third-person pronoun. The language that has Berik paradigm includes Berik and Kuman, while the language that has Sierra Populuca paradigm includes Jaqaru and Campa.

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    Most Mayan languages (e.g, Pocomchí) have 1Sg-1Pl, 2(Sg/Pl), 3Sg-3Pl, just like English. Of course these are prefixal ergative languages, so they don't have subject or object pronouns per se, but those are the pronoun categories for all inflections.
    – jlawler
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 23:13
  • @jlawler nice information.
    – Xwtek
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 2:57

In German, in the polite register, the same form is used for 2sg, 2pl, and 3pl ("sie sind"; in 2sg and 2pl it is written "Sie sind", but that is purely a matter of orthography). But in the familiar register the three are different (du bist, ihr seid, sie sind).

A lot of other modern European languages (e.g. French, Russian, modern Greek) neutralise the second person singular/plural distinction in the polite register only.


The English language does have familiar and familiar plural forms; though they are not commonly used. "Thou" is familiar for "you" and "ye" is the familiar plural. Other than in reading scriptures, you probably won't see them in use.

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    What does this answer add to Chronicidal's answers? Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 8:42

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