13

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 Jul 9 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 Jul 9 at 9:13
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    It does. Unfortunately it's the same as the singular form, just to confuse people. – RedSonja Jul 9 at 12:39
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    Y'all never heard of "y'all"? ;D – jpmc26 Jul 9 at 12:55
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    @jpmc26 - or "you guys"? – Chris B. Behrens Jul 9 at 17:23
26

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 Jul 10 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 Jul 10 at 2:46
  • @amalloy in many Indo-European languages, the second-person-plural doubles as formal. – OrangeDog Jul 10 at 10:47
  • It really was both! for example Ukrainian and Gaelic do exactly the same thing @amalloy – Wilson Jul 10 at 14:14
  • German manages to take it one step further and uses 3pp. – Carsten S Jul 10 at 16:38
10

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 Jul 9 at 11:35
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    or "you guys" in the Midwest. – live-love Jul 9 at 12:16
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    Also "yous" in Scotland. – CriminallyVulgar Jul 9 at 13:31
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    "You all" is certainly better and more grammatically correct than the Northern "yous guys"!! – RonJohn Jul 9 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 Jul 9 at 19:59

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