He, She, It, Them, and all Their Friends

Dr. Doyle's Blog

English pronouns are a mess, and there’s no getting around the fact.

We’re missing a second-person plural in the standard dialect, which hinders translation into and out of languages that have it.  All the possible alternatives – y’all, youse, yez, yinz and so forth – are strongly marked for region, or social class, or both, and using one of them would inject unintended meanings into the text.

We used to have some dual pronouns to go along with the singular and the plural – pronouns for “the two of you” and “the two of us” – but those were gone by the late Anglo-Saxon period.  (We know English used to have them because they turn up in Beowulf, in the passage where Beowulf and Unferth are having their disagreement about what actually went down during Beowulf’s youthful swimming-match with his friend Breca – Unferth says “the-two-of-you…

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