La Liseuse
Only one way to say 'You' in English

Most languages have two or more words for 'you', or other grammatical ways to differentiate between talking to friends and family and talking to older people and strangers.

What I'd like to know is this: For you as a learner of English, how do you feel about the fact that we can't do this in English?

Did it seem strange to you when you first learnt that English only has one word for 'you'? 

Does it make you uncomfortable that you can't show respect to people through a choice of pronoun and verb form? Or do you like not having to worry about how to address people?


Jul 13, 2014 9:28 PM
Comments · 22

I find it rather odd that in English, we dumped the old familiar "thou" centuries back and now only use the plural form. I still use the <em>thou</em> form with one of my oldest friends, but admittedly it is a throwback to our Shakespeare studies and performances.


However, I think that the word "respect" is slightly misleading here. My Italian teacher took pains to point out that the formal and informal forms - in Italian at least - have more to do with familiarity, not respect.  While you may respect your family and friends, using formal forms is akin to saying, "I don't really know you".


A Canadian colleage of mine once made the mistake of using formal address (<em>vykanie</em> in Slovak) when speaking to her Slovak uncle. She respected him, so it was OK to use <em>vykanie</em>, right?  Her uncle was quite upset at what he heard - it probably sounded as if his niece had disowned him!


It can be a minefield crossing between formal and informal register, so in a way we don't have to worry so much in English. Still, I feel that some English learners mistake the apparent informality of English and end up being too informal when writing to strangers - something they would never do in their native languages. We still use "polite address", even if it's not as obvious as <em>vous</em>, <em>Lei</em>, <em>vy</em> and so on.

July 13, 2014

Where I live in the Ozarks, there is the informal 'ya' and the formal 'you'.  


How're ya doin? 

How are you doing? 


Seriously though, I think that using a local accent with someone generally does serve the purpose of indicating closeness and familiarity.  Using a more 'neutral' accent is an important aspect of code switching and is necessary when speaking to someone in a professional situation, for instance.

July 16, 2014

I think that devices like "your highness" or "your grace" or "your excellence" have the same result.


When we started learning French , we were a bit surprised when the teacher told us that "Vous" which is used to address a group of people, is also used to address someone with whom you should talk with respect. Teachers later on in our studies may get angry at you if you use "Tu" instead of "vous", even if you didn't do it on purpose.


In Arabic we have the word "antum" that we use to address a group of people, but it is used also when talking to a very highly important person, and even then only when the one speaking is being an ass-kisser.


So I would say that it is really not a very big difference, in mho. Cultural shock avoided :)

July 13, 2014

I don't like it, I wish there was another one and I'm a native speaker :P


Actually some people make the mistake of thinking 'you' is the equivalent of 'tu' in latin languages but really 'you' is the formal way and way of addressing more than one person. 'Thou' was used as the informal way. I think there are different theories of why it went away. One is that it became almost impolite to use it, which is interesting.

July 18, 2014


In my opinion you don't need two words for show respect older people. Maybe the most important is the ' entonation' or manner. 

In Spain we use two words for it, but sometimes it sounds rude if you are grumpy. So, a simple smile. and nice words,while you have a dicuss is the best. ;) 

(sorry for my English writing,I'm not native English). 

Have a brilliant day ;)

July 13, 2014
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