What I mean is modern English only has "you" for any number of individuals.

French (my native language) has tu that is exclusive to a single person, vous is mostly used for at least two people, but it is sometimes formally used for a single person (especially a stranger, or an elderly person, or a politician such as a monarch/a president/a prime minister/an autocrat/a mayor).

So, are there any real-life languages that do not have T-V distinction, but with two pronouns (one always refers to a single person, the other always refers to a group of people)?

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    As Draconis said, there are many examples. Hebrew has different pronouns for second person depending on number and gender, and using the plural version for a single person just sounds wrong and carries no implication of formality. Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 19:32

1 Answer 1


Sure. Latin has tu and vōs, Swahili has wewe and ninyi, Hittite has zik and sumes, Ancient Greek has and hymeîs, Akkadian has atta/atti and attunu/attina

Outside the Standard Average European sprachbund, it's quite common to have separate singular and plural pronouns, without them being involved in a formality distinction.

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    even within SAE (not even especially peripheral members) you have Spanish (both tu/vosotros in Spain, and tu/vos in voseo areas of Latin America) and German (du/ihr, although I believe in common usage formal Sie is more common than ihr these days). Old & Early Middle English too (þū > thou, ġē > ye > you which only acquired a T-V distinction in Later Middle English)
    – Tristan
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 8:54
  • I wonder, why the Ancient Greek and Hettite are so similar? The both plural versions come from PIE *sumios? I have never heard of this pronoun.
    – Anixx
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 2:41
  • Yiddish (which is a High German dialect, thus a peripheral SAE) has only du and ir (sg/pl). No honorifics in the second person. Of course Jewish life in Europe was not court life.
    – jlawler
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 16:30
  • AFAIK Irish uses and sibh purely to distinguish number, sibh is never used as a polite singular.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 18:59
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    @Anixx PIE pronouns are a minefield, but both forms are generally taken back to a common proto-form *us-u̯é- or *us-mé- (with a secondary plural marker *-s added). The shape of the suffix as *-u̯é- or *-mé- is a tangled mess of disagreements, but the ‘normal’ *us- form of the pronoun itself for both forms is relatively agreed upon. The Greek form is regular (*us-mé-es > *hȳ-méis), while the Hittite form involves either metathesis (*usm- > *sum-) or, as favoured by Katz (1998), aphaeresis + Lindeman variant (*usu̯é > *su̯é > *suu̯é > *sumé). Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 9:42

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