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Article - 'Using Archaic Language – Intro' by terrafire

An item about Game Design posted on Aug 10, 2004


A rather extensive and excellent article on using Archaic Language. It’s pretty in-depth and worth a read, especially if you’re planning on having characters in your game speak in Olde English.


After the success of my first submission, I decided to have another stab at enlightening your dull lives. Who know, this could even become a feature...

After much thought, I worked out the secret to fame, glory and general all-round adulation. Don’t write tutorials. Who reads them? Boring little people who want to make games. I mean, let’s face it, who here actually uses RPG Maker any more? When was the last time YOU used that lovely little program? Exactly. With articles, however, I can write what I like, knowing it will be of interest to everybody!

I cast around for an all-inclusive topic that would enthrall, and duly found it - How To Conjugate Verbs in the Archaic Second Person. Don’t all jump forward at once.

To start off, a little bit of linguistics is required to understand what I am talking about here. I’m sure you all know the verb “to be”. This verb is in its infinitive, which is basically its simplest form in which it expresses an action, and nothing else.

What we can do with that verb is conjugate it. When you conjugate a verb you expand the verb and make it usable. This chart will help explain:


I am
You are
He is
She is
It is
We are
They are

I’m sure you all know what the above mean. All of the people described are currently in the act of “being”, therefore the verb has been conjugated in the present tense. It has been conjugated in all persons - what this means is all forms of the verb have been expanded. Each line above is a form of the verb, and each one belongs to a “person”, e.g.


1st person - I am
We are
2nd person - You are
3rd person - He is
She is
It is
They are

Work this out. All first person forms talk about the speaker, second person refers to the person the speaker is talking to, while the 3rd person deals with everyone else.

These forms can all be split up into either singular or plural, e.g. whether they talk about more than one object or not. The first person has a singular form - “I am” - and a plural form - “We are”. So too does the third person - in fact it has several singular forms - “He is”; “she is”; “it is” - because of the system of referring to objects as either masculine, feminine or neutral, even though in English we do this only for people - and one plural form - “They are”.

The second person, however, has just one form, which is used when speaking to any group of people about that group of people - “You are”. This is both singular and plural. However, the conjugation “are” looks distinctly plural (“We are”; “They are”). Why could this be?

Imagine the second person had two forms. Dredge your memory, and come up with another form you might have heard, frequently in the Bible and other old works of literature such as Shakespeare. You should come up with:

Thou art

English used to have a singular second person pronoun - thou - and technically, still does, although if you went up to anybody in the street and said - “Thou art an idiot and I shall hit thee” - your meaning would probably be lost amidst the laughter.

Let’s try another verb:


I have /\
PLUS Thou hast |
She has |
It has \/
We have /\
You have PLURAL
They have /\

You see I have added the archaic “thou” form, and thus relegated “you” to the plural area where it belongs. Note the similarity between the English “thou hast” and the German “du hast”. It is easy to see where our language inherits much of its grammar.

You want to delve deeper? Change all the “has” above into “hath” and watch the mediaeval goodness flow!

I’m writing this without an English grammar in front of me, and I have not studied grammar, so excuse
me for not knowing some of the terminology for what comes next.

A pronoun is an abbreviation of a noun - We say “He hit the ball” instead of “Bob hit the ball”. Nouns have cases, rather like verbs have tenses. You don’t need to know too much about cases, just enough to know that pronouns change depending on their position in a sentence.

English has three cases (really four, but two are exactly the same and behave the same way, so we ignore their difference).

First up, the nominative case (I found my grammar guide :) ). This is very simple, and you all use it easily. It is what I described earlier. In fact, all previous pronouns in the table have been in the nominative case; that is to say they are all referring to the person doing the action.

The nominative form of the second person singular pronoun is : thou (which you knew).

Examples of the nominative case (in capitals): I jump, THOU helpest, HE flies, SHE goes, IT follows, WE remember, YOU laugh, THEY play.

Next up, the accusative/dative case. These are two cases that, in English at least, behave the same. They describe the person that the verb is being done to.

The accusative and dative form of the second person singular pronoun is : thee

Examples of the accusative and dative cases (in capitals): They help ME, I follow THEE, thou rememberest HIM, he swallows HER, she kicks IT, it fights US, we slash YOU, you terrorise THEM.

Savvy? This is pretty heavy going, so don’t worry if you don’t remember the jargon - you don’t need to, it’s the concept that’s important. Lastly, we have the genitive case. This indicates possession. Incidentally, this particular area touches upon one of the areas that native English speakers have the most problems with when writing - showing possession with an apostrophe. The genitive case replaces something like “the woman’s ball” with “her ball”. This case is very necessary for pronouns - of all the awkward things to say or write, stuff like “the man picked up the man’s fork” is pretty near the top of the table.

The genitive form of the second person singular pronoun is : thy

Examples of the genitive case (in capitals): MY dog, THY cat, HIS gerbil, HER rat, ITS cockroach (note NO apostrophe), OUR crocodile, YOUR elephant, THEIR tyrannosaurus-rex.

Confusingly, this case can be abbreviated further. For instance, “It is her goblin” could be “It is hers”. The meaning is NOT the same, as you well know, but its placing in the sentence is the same. I have no idea what this case is called, but it shouldn’t make a difference.

This bizarre form of the second person singular pronoun is : thine

Examples of this bizarre case (in capitals): The wall is MINE, the carpet is THINE, the roof is HIS, the ceiling is HERS, the floor is ITS, the window is OURS, the door is YOURS, the tiles are THEIRS.

thou, thee, thy, thine


I hope you know how to conjugate verbs to fit all of the normal pronouns - if you don’t I advise you to learn English. This article will then make more sense. To conjugate for the second person singular pronoun in the present tense:

1. Take the infinitive e.g “to shrink”
2. CHOP the “to” off it to form the stem e.g. “shrink”
3. Add “est” to the stem to make “shrinkest”
thus “thou shrinkest” should be what you come up with.

This works for all regular verbs. We have already seen two irregular verbs:

to be - thou ART
to have - thou HAST

These have to be learned, and where can you learn them from? Who knows... Here’s a few:

to be able to - thou CANST
to be allowed to - thou MAYST or MAYEST

These forns have not been used for a while and are not in common usage. Get a good (preferably fairly old) dictionary, which may have them, just look up the first person form. If all else fails improvise. As an English speaker, if it sounds natural to you, it is probably right. If you are completely stuck, just bung “st” on to the end of a stem.

A word about the accusative/dative form. If you were to look at this sentence:

He hits YOU
- you would not seeanything wrong with it. However, there is an archaic form of the capitalised “you”. It is YE. You will often see this misused in place of “the”, as in “Ye Olde Pub”. This is incorrect. The word’s actual usage is:

He hits YE.

Understand? Good. Because we’re moving on.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the present tense pretty much covered. If you were to use this language in thy, sorry your, games, you would probably use that tense. However, many things refer to the past. Constructing the past tense in English is hard enough, without stupid archaic constructions getting in the way. Let’s try and conjugate the verb “to be”:


I was
Thou wast
He was
She was
It was
We were
You were (strictly “wert”, if you were really sad)
They were

Thankfully, the cases do not change in the past tense. Let’s see “to have”:


I had
Thou hadst
He had
She had
It had
We had
You had
They had

All the other forms would have been different, but years of misuse have left only the thou form intact.

Generally, the past participle (had, was etc.) remains the same for thou as any other singular pronoun.

Using all of this knowledge you should be able to construct the future tense: “Thou wilt use archaic forms of thy language in that game of thine. Good luck to thee!” etc.etc.

There we go! The only conclusion to be drawn from this whole experience is that the English language’s second person constructions are a complete shambles, with almost no rules. _ Why this is is an interesting article for another day.

To use this in your game, use your imagination. Think Cyan from Final Fantasy VI, but try to go a bit further than just saying Mr. Thou! all the time.

I’ve finally written an article! Articles are accessible to everyone, right? Or have I just defined the “niche article” genre?

This article could not have been written without a bizarre selection of books...

New English Dictionary by Ernest A. Baker, M.A., D.Lit. - March 1932 (!)
Logo 4 Rot by Oliver Gray - 2001 (School German textbook!)

Good night, and god bless!

For the obligatory word count nerds (I’m looking at you TheOnlyMutantPixie) this article contains 1815 words and was written in about two hours excluding breaks.