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I (pronoun)

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Title: I (pronoun)  
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I (pronoun)

I is the first-person singular nominative case personal pronoun in Modern English. It is used to refer to one's self and is capitalized, although other pronouns, such as he or she, are not capitalized. In Australian English, British English and Irish English, me can refer to someone's possessions (see archaic and non-standard forms of English personal pronouns).

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Singular Plural
Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
First I me my mine myself we us our ours ourselves
Second you your yours yourself you your yours yourselves
Third Masculine he him his himself they them their theirs themselves
Feminine she her hers herself
Neuter it its itself
Nonspecific, colloquial they them their theirs themself


English I originates from Old English (OE) ic. Its predecessor ic had in turn originated from the continuation of Proto-Germanic ik, and ek; ek was attested in the Elder Futhark inscriptions (in some cases notably showing the variant eka; see also ek erilaz). Linguists assume ik to have developed from the unstressed variant of ek. Variants of ic were used in various English dialects up until the 1600s.[1]

Germanic cognates are: Old Frisian ik, Old Norse ek (Danish, Norwegian jeg, Swedish jag, Icelandic ég), Old High German ih (German ich) and Gothic ik and in Dutch also "ik".

The Proto-Germanic root came, in turn, from the Proto Indo-European language (PIE). The reconstructed PIE pronoun is *egō, egóm, with cognates including Sanskrit aham, Hittite uk, Latin ego, Greek ἐγώ egō and Old Slavonic azъ, Alviri-Vidari (an Iranian language) اَز (az)

The oblique forms are formed from a stem *me- (English me), the plural from *wei- (English we), the oblique plural from *ns- (English us).


There is no known record of a definitive explanation from around the early period of this capitalisation practice.

It is likely that the capitalization was prompted and spread as a result of one or more of the following:

  • changes specifically in the pronunciation of letters (introduction of long vowel sounds in Middle English, etc.)
  • other linguistic considerations (demarcation of a single-letter word, setting apart a pronoun which is significantly different from others in English, etc.)
  • problems with legibility of the minuscule "i"
  • sociolinguistic factors (establishment of English as the official language, solidification of English identity, etc.)

Other considerations include:

Capitalization was already employed with pronouns in other languages at that time. It was used to denote respect of the addresser or position of the addressed.

There is also the possibility that the first instances of capitalisation may have been happenstance. Either through chance or a sense of correctness, in the practice or the delivery, the capitalisation may have spread.

There are failings of many of these explanations based on other words, but there is the possibility that the factors or factor that prompted and/or spread this change may not have been applied to all similar words or instances.

Me as a subject pronoun

According to traditional grammar, the objective case appears only as the direct object of a verb, the indirect object of a verb, or the object of a proposition. But there are examples which meet with varying degree of acceptance which violate this rule.

  • There are exceptions which appear with several pronouns:
    • it is me, as well as it is us/him/her/them.
    • Me and Bob are (the compound subject with a pronoun). This can be contrasted with the use of the subjective case as the object in to Bob and I
    • as me and than him (as if as and than were being treated as prepositions)
    • These exceptions have their own exception: the objective case whom is never so used.
  • There are idiosyncratic uses restricted to the first person singular pronoun:
    • woe is me (woe is us, for example, never occurs)
    • dear me
    • me too and me neither
  • In Caribbean dialect me can be the subjective case form


Old English pronouns
Nominative IPA Accusative Dative Genitive
1st Singular [ɪtʃ] mec / mē mīn
Dual wit [wɪt] uncit unc uncer
Plural [weː] ūsic ūs ūser / ūre
2nd Singular þū [θuː] þec / þē þē þīn
Dual ġit [jɪt] incit inc incer
Plural ġē [jeː] ēowic ēow ēower
3rd Singular Masculine [heː] hine him his
Neuter hit [hɪt] hit him his
Feminine hēo [heːo] hīe hiere hiere
Plural hīe [hiːə] hīe heom heora
Personal pronouns in Middle English
Singular Plural
Nominative Oblique Genitive Nominative Oblique Genitive
First ik / ich / I me my(n) we us oure
Second þou / thou þee / thee þy(n) / thy(n) ȝe / ye ȝow / you ȝower / your
Third Impersonal hit hit / him his he
þei / they
þem / them
þeir / their
Masculine he him his
Feminine ȝho / scho / sche hire hire
Personal pronouns in Early Modern English
  Nominative Oblique Genitive Possessive
1st person singular I me my/mine[# 1] mine
plural we us our ours
2nd person singular informal thou thee thy/thine[# 1] thine
plural or formal singular ye, you you your yours
3rd person singular he/she/it him/her/it his/her/his (it)[# 2] his/hers/his[# 2]
plural they them their theirs
  1. ^ a b The possessive forms were used as genitives before words beginning with a vowel sound and letter h (e.g. thine eyes, mine heire). Otherwise, "my" and "thy" are attributive (my/thy goods) and "mine" and "thine" are predicative (they are mine/thine).
  2. ^ a b From the early Early Modern English period up until the 17th century, his was the possessive of the third person neuter it as well as of the third person masculine he; however, their has also been documented as the neutral plural possessive. Genitive "it" appears once in the 1611 King James Bible (Leviticus 25:5) as groweth of it owne accord.

See also


  1. ^ [1]

"Etymology of I". Douglas Harper, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2010.

"Etymology of Me". Douglas Harper, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2010.

Halleck, Elaine (editor). "Sum: Pronoun "I" again". LINGUIST List 9.253., n.p., Web. 20 Feb. 1998.

Jacobsen, Martin (editor). "Sum: Pronoun 'I'". LINGUIST List 9.253., n.p., Web. 20 Feb. 1998.

Mahoney, Nicole. "> Language Change". n.p. 12 July 2008. Web. 21 Dec. 2010

Wells, Edward. "Further Elucidation on the Capitalization of 'I' in English". (a paper in progress). n.p., Web. 25 Dec. 2010

Further reading

Wren and Martin English Grammar book for High-schoolers.

External links

  • Video: Saul Kripke, The First Person, January 2006 — an analytic philosophical perspective. 70 minutes, hosted by Google video. [Kripke is sick with bronchitis and doesn't always speak into the microphone.]
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