Guide to Writing With Formal English

World of Storm and Fury: Guides: Guide to Writing With Formal English

The following information on Formal English is presented for those who may wish to add a more 'historic' feel to their writing. In addition, since this is the language of the Aristocracy of Lys, the information may be of use to those who read those storylines.

--For formal speech, the first person subject pronoun is 'ye' and the object pronoun is 'you.' Confusingly, the informal first person subject pronoun is 'thou' and the informal first person is 'thee' and so the subject pronouns do not rhyme! Formal speech would be used generally between nobles, to a superiour, and in polite situations even where there might be a gap in social rank. The informal would be used by a noble to servants, often to children (even noble children), and sometimes between nobles of approximately equal rank in a private setting (for a thought on this, consider that into the 1950s, upper class husband and wife would call each other Mr. and Mrs. with their last name in public settings). Generally the collective pronouns (i.e., when speaking to more than one person) would be 'ye' and 'you.' Exceptions to this rule could be a monarch speaking to his subjects (in the sense they are all his children), or a noble speaking to very low ranking commoners or servants. Until the recent practice of everyone using first names in almost all situations, a guide would have been that first names, as used with children, servants and really close aquaintences would get the informal (thou/thee) pronoun. (Though more modern language, a good guide is 'Sherlock Holmes.' Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meticulously transcripted conversations, and although thou/thee was no longer in use in Victorian England, note that even though they become very close friends, Dr. Watson never calls the detective 'Sherlock.' It is always at least 'Holmes,' and of course 'Mr. Holmes' in a formal situation. And in one particularly difficult moment where it appears Holmes is going to die, he does actually call the doctor 'John,' but outside that one time, it is always 'Watson' or 'Dr. Watson.')

--The pronoun 'ye' generally has the verb conjugate as in modern language with 'you.' An exception is the verb 'to be' was often conjugated as 'ye be' (or even 'I be') rather than are, is, etc. The pronoun 'thou' usually has a verb conjugation which ends in 't' or 'st.' So one would say 'ye shall' but 'thou shalt,' 'ye may' but 'thou mayest.' Similarly, third person subject pronouns often conjugate with a verb which ends in 'h.' These rules do not always hold, continuing the previous examples, 'he shall' and 'he may' are probably correct. But, 'ye do,' 'thou dost,' 'he doth.' And, 'ye have,' 'thou hast,' 'he hath.'

--The habit of changing an 'f' at the end of a word to 'ves' when making the word plural appears to have evolved from a printing convention where a character similar to the 'f' but without the cross was used to replace an 's' other than at the beginning or end of a word, since the 's' was a particularly delicate piece in the typeset and prone to breakage. Thus, one might have printed 'Sit where you pleafe' with the cross eliminated from that 'f' in please. To eliminate confusion, a 'v' would be used to replace an 'f.' So for example, 'half' became 'halves' instead of a word which would look like 'halff.' Since this historical change need not have happened, in Lys, such words would be written 'halfs,' 'elfs,' and so on, just as though the 'f' came after a vowel.

--Posessive form using 's was not frequently used historically, instead of 'Amanda's Room,' one said 'the Room of Amanda.' Contractions were relatively rare, even if spoken they were not often written, other than in plays where it was the intention of the playwright to have the words spoken a certain way--so one writes 'cannot' instead of 'can't.' On this theme, historical wording was generally more verbose than is our modern norm, people frequently used long and flowery phrasing, there was little desire to be short and pithy in speech or writing.

--Just as in modern language, 'a' becomes 'an' before a vowel, and this rule is more widely used with most pronouns. For example, one would say, 'To thy self be true,' but 'To thine own self be true' since the 'n' sounds better before the vowel. Or, 'Such was my meaning,' but 'Such was mine intent.' Of course, these forms also occur as object posessive pronouns, 'This be mine, that be thine.'

Confused? Worry not! These rules might be cloesly followed by university-educated city-bred nobles, though even they might make mistakes. And a rich merchant would probably seek to emulate these speech and writing patterns, certainly a scholar would speak so precisely. On the other hand, provincial nobility, soldiers and the like would probably be less precise in their speech. And townsmen might well butcher the language completely, saying 'ya' instead of 'ye' and not following the proper forms at all. As to the relatively illiterate peasants, well, that is why there are pictures of the name of the tavern (The Rusty Axe Tavern would naturally have a rusty axe suspended over the door!), people who do not read are certainly not going to have any use for proper grammar!

But in general, the way a character expresses speech and thought in a post can have a profound impact on the way other readers interpret that character. And, I think even the writer will treat a character with formal speech differently from a baseborn peasant who can often barely make himself understood.
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