Early Modern English Inflections, or, How to Speak Like a Right Rakish Dandy

Early Modern English (ca. 1470-1650), the English of Shakespeare, Donne, and the King James Bible, retained several basic verb inflections from its Middle English forebear. These inflections took the form of the endings -est and -eth. It is believed that between approximately 1550 and 1650, a massive influx of immigrants from Norse-influenced northern England migrated south to the area around London and brought with them the ubiquitous modern inflection -(e)s. This purported migration is also believed to have contributed to the Great Vowel Shift.

In the first person (both singular and plural) and the second person formal ("you") verbs were inflected just as in modern English:

  • I speak English.
  • You may leave.
  • We do not agree.

The second person familiar ("Thou") takes the -t, -st, or -est ending:

  • My love thou mayest in me behold.
  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife
  • How dost thou?
The third person singular ("He", "She", "It", "This", "That") takes the "-eth" or "-th" ending:
  • Thy visage doth infect my eyes!
  • He maketh merry of my pain.
  • The mockingbird singeth as sweetly as the robin, but in a different tongue.

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