Before the Hallow E’en entries, I said I’d say more about “ye” because I was taking a shortcut by only talking about the form “you”. OK, bear with me a little here.
You know how you can only say “I, we, he, she, they” when they’re the subject of a sentence, and otherwise you have to say “me, us, him, her, them”? Well, if you get that, then you’ll get this!
In the old days, “ye” could only be used for the subject of a sentence, and “you” could only be used as the object. Back then, it would have sounded weird to say to a group of people, “Can you see the king?” That would have sounded just like someone today asking, “Can us get closer to see the king?” The right way to ask the first question was, “Can ye see the king?”
So the relationship of “ye” to “you” was just like “we – us”, and “they – them”. Are you with me?
Now when someone was talking to just one person, remember, the word was “thou”, but “thou” could also only be used as the subject of a sentence. Otherwise, you had to say “thee”. So to use our same questions above, if you wanted to ask your friend if he could see the king, you’d ask, “Canst thou see the king?” [Uh, don’t worry about that “-st” on “can” for now.] Easy, right? It would have sounded weird to have asked, “Canst thee see the king?”; that would be like asking, “Can him see the king?”.
Here’s a quick summary of how things stood:
I see the king.
Thou seest the king. [again, skip that “-st” for now]
He sees the king.
She sees the king.
We see the king.
Ye see the king.
They see the king.
The king sees me.
The king sees thee.
The king sees him.
The king sees her.
The king sees us.
The king sees you.
The king sees them.
This system was as clear-cut and as normal as ours is now, and it lasted for a long time. But, language changes. . .