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I'm looking for a modern translation of the Bible (ideally in the public domain) that retains the distinction between second-person plural and second-person singular. In Early Modern English (the language of the King James Bible) when speaking to a single person, "thou", "thee", "thy", and "thine" were used. When talking to a crowd, "ye", "you", "your", and "yours" were correct. These days the plural form and "ye" are universally replaced with the "you" forms. Since both Greek and Hebrew make this distinction, it's useful to know which form the original language used. (A rule of thumb is that the plural is nearly always used in the New Testament letters.) We lost something when English simplified to "you".

I know that the ASV was pretty strict about using the right number for second-person pronouns. But it was published before the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls and uses lots of other archaic language, so I'd like to find something newer. Many of the more modern versions either do not use the archaic forms or only use them for addressing God. So they aren't useful for my purpose.

Is there any modern English translation that does distinguish between singular and plural second-person pronouns?


Why I ask

My pastor has been been talking about the importance of community in the Bible and a few weeks ago he pointed out this deficiency in Modern English. He's from Florida (via Kentucky) and pointed out that Southern American English has a solution to this problem: "y'all". As a semi-serious joke, I'd like to produce a version of the Bible that I will call the Southern American Version™ or SAV for short. It turns out that I can mechanically produce this from the ASV. Here's 1st Peter 2:9-10 (SAV) as an example:

9 But y'all are a elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that y'all may show forth the excellencies of him who called y'all out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

That comes out ok, but other passages just sound outdated and strange. 2nd Corinthians 3:1-3 (SAV):

1 Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? or need we, as do some, epistles of commendation to y'all or from y'all? 2 Y'all are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men; 3 being made manifest that y'all are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh.

Y'all got any suggestions?

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    Working on this project has taught be more English grammar than I imaged I'd ever need to know after leaving elementary school. Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 1:40
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    This sounds kinda like the Cotton Patch Gospel. Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 6:52
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    NWT uses small block caps to indicate plurality. Not perfect, but it does the job. Here in the Irish midlands, ye would be the preferred plural form. In Dublin, Northern Ireland, and parts of Scotland, youse is normal. In parts of Northern England, singular thou is still used.
    – TRiG
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 19:03
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    My father, who is a linguist, claims that the theologians overwork the importance of the number of the second person pronoun. The community/individual dialectic is certainly a critical one in Scripture, but it is easy to go to far in studying it in the details of the pronouns.
    – Kazark
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 15:26
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    – Ruminator
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 4:32

7 Answers 7

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I would take a look at the NRSV. Depending on which version you get (there is a Catholic NRSV as well) you will commonly find a "you all" or "all of you" instead of simply "you." Although rather than being a "word-for-word" or "thought-for-thought" translation, it is somewhere in between. It does a fairly good job of making grammatical distinctions where important and providing the theological or historical idea where that is more important.

Also... the NKJV does a lot of what you might be looking for as well.

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  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics—Stack Exchange! Thanks for the answer, but I don't think either one does the second-person plural regularly, at least not for my test passages. (See 2nd Corinthians 3:1-3: NKJV. The NRSV does better, with "you yourselves" but it's not enough in my opinion.) Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 16:04
  • You yourselves is actually because of the grammar in the Greek, not specifically because it is plural, but because of the construction, so I see what you're saying. Are you getting your comparisons for test passages directly from the KJV?
    – iesou
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 18:40
  • Nevermind... I see you used the ASV
    – iesou
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 18:52
  • I'm doing a naive conversion of "you" => "y'all" and "thou" => "you" from the ASV. But then I have to figure out how to deal with a whole mess of outdated words like "begat" and "guideth". It's a fun, goofy little project for me that, I hope, will end in a unique gift for my pastor. Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 18:57
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Different languages have different distinctions. The idea that something is "lost" is not entirely true. As another person commented, the purported "loss" is solved by context. All languages use redundancy, e.g. agreement, which makes sure that the message gets across.

Your pastor is right to note the importance of community in the Bible, and the lack of it in modern, North American culture, including the church. But that is a problem of such scope that it cannot possibly be solved, or even helped much, by a focus on pronouns, especially when there are explicit texts in the NT which address the issue very clearly and in which nothing is lost to the lack of a plural second person pronoun in English.

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    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Thanks for the reminder that we don't always have to go back to the original language in order to understand Bible passage. I wanted to note here that my question was motivated less by a desire to understand the Bible and more by the desire to have a little fun with my pastor. It's also an interesting project to fool around with. ;-) Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 17:07
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The New World Translation of The Holy Scriptures uses the capitalized YOU and YOUR convention to distinguish the second person plural. It's also, in my personal opinion, an excellent translation because it strives to convey the original thought accurately, rather than by paraphrase. It also disguishes between a number of tenses more accurately for example "Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom" (NW) versus "But seek first the kingdom" (NIV) at Matthew 6:33.

The text is available online here: http://www.watchtower.org/e/bible/index.htm

And some background information is available here: http://www.watchtower.org/e/20080501a/article_01.htm

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    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics.SE! Do you know what license governs making copies and changing the NWT? A public domain translation has the advantage of being free from copyright restrictions. Also, there are some potential problems with that translation's accuracy. But otherwise, this is a helpful suggestion. (+1) Commented May 1, 2012 at 19:17
  • Jon, you point to John 1:1 "The word was God" (KJV). Granted, this is the traditional rendering of the verse but that does not mean it is the correct rendering. NW is not the only translation that renders John 1:1 that way. Please see: watchtower.org/e/ti/article_08.htm#john1 for other examples. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania holds the copyright but they distribute hardcopies free of charge (the printing is supported by voluntary donations). Thanks for the +1!
    – John
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 20:11
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    I encourage you to take a shot at answering the question I linked to. Comments aren't really the best place to sort through such questions. (Also, I see the only answer is pretty one-sided and it would be great to have the opposite viewpoint represented.) Commented May 1, 2012 at 20:35
  • @JonEricson. For some reason, none of the Watchtower Society's stuff is available under free-content licenses.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 12, 2012 at 22:33
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    @John Ironically your example "Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom" lacks the pronoun indicating the second person plural. The KJV has "seek ye". But yes, the NWT you/YOU feature, while visually odd does do the trick in a lot of situations.
    – user10231
    Commented May 8, 2016 at 19:40
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The lack of second person plural is one of the least significant differences between Hebrew and English. It almost never leads to confusion, since context resolves the referent in nearly all cases. The suggestion of using y'all is no good, as y'all has backwoods connotations in English that the plural you doesn't have in Hebrew (or Greek).

Douglas Hofstadter has considered this issue regarding translation from French, where the second person plural "vous" and the second person singular "tu" are similarly distinguished, and further have a formal/informal connotation. His solution was to use a capitalized you, "You", for the second person plural.

This solution works for Hebrew. In reading aloud, a tonal difference can indicate the initial capital. So "You" would be pronounced "YOU" with high-tone (stress), while "you" is pronounced in the normal tone.

While doing the Wikisource translation, I will try to consistently use this convention for the Hebrew from this point on. I'll fix up the translated Hebrew to follow this convention also.

EDIT: The confusion brought up here with the capitalization convention regarding God is giving me second thoughts about this--- people will get confused. I think it is somewhat better to italicize plural you, youf,you, youf, to give the four forms: singular/plural generic-masculine/femininef. Further, the "f" subscript need only be used when there is confusion (as in the handful of feminine God references in the uncorrected Masoretic).

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    @GoneQuiet: Oh, good point! I did not consistently do the capitalization thing in regard to God, because there are some places where you aren't sure about whether the pronoun refers to God or not, and I wanted to preserve the ambiguity.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 17:37
  • @GoneQuiet: One could use you (italics) for God consistently, and this might be ok. I am wary of this because of the two or three places where the pronoun is not for sure God.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 17:48
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    @GoneQuiet: It will bother you, I'll make up a passage: The Amorites have risen, and Israel's daughters are taken captive, their tears upon their hem. Their tears like water down a stream. Their eyes redden, and they call to God: God, awaken from your slumber and release us from captivity. Our hopes have faded. And God answered them, saying "I have heard y'all, and I shall release yous's chains".
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 17:17
  • And you have to eliminate anachronistic punctuation if favor of inclusios, colophons, etc. And drop any meaning based on vowel points which were added circa 5-600 AD. There is a great value in retaining the original ambiguity.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 14:05
  • @BobJones: That's ridiculous. The text was in continuous reading use, and people knew the pronounciation of everything. They just wrote it down. There is not a huge amount of vowel ambiguity anyway, a dozen words per book at most.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 0:18
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I've recently created a Google Chrome plugin that does this on a few bible websites: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/texan-bible-2nd-person-pl/hecahobcfkfdpifomfgoikegbeeiolmd

It's also an option here: http://biblewebapp.com/app/

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  • Open up the options panel (gear) and click the Texas icon :) Note, it's just NT for now, but I'll get the OT in there in a few days.
    – John Dyer
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 19:33
  • Wow! That's awesome. I'm giving you a big ol' +1 for your works which is exactly what I was looking for! I'd love to accept and make a big deal your answer... but it's not really a full answer. Maybe you could copy-n-paste the details text you wrote up for the app. But even better would be if you explained how you managed it. Did you learn something new about the Biblical languages? I'd love to hear more. In any case, a hearty "Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics to you!" Commented May 24, 2013 at 23:17
  • This is so funny- I remembered this from your blog, and was going to mention it. Major shout out here: If you haven't read Dyer's book "From the Garden to The City," you are missing out. This dude is one of the coolest people out the right now! Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 3:07
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Try this web site which shows each English word and its Greek equivalent: https://www.abarim-publications.com/Interlinear-New-Testament/1-Corinthians/1-Corinthians-3-parsed.html

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  • Hello, Craig White. This is considered a "link-only" answer. It would be helpful for future visitors to this question if you would edit in a summary of that page. Links can become broken or outdated so a summary would still provide the necessary information.
    – agarza
    Commented Jun 16 at 2:53
  • While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. - From Review
    – Jason_
    Commented Jun 16 at 20:53
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I partition translations into two categories: Analytic and Synthetic. These two categories describe the intended use of the translation.

Literal translations are good examples of the Analytic category. Thought for thought translations, as they exist today, are adequate examples of the Synthetic one.

Analytic translations are designed to support analysis of the text, nearly always from an original language perspective. Synthetic translations are designed for compositional comprehension of the original author's thoughts.

Few people have grasped the amount of education needed to do really good analysis of a English-fied original language text. These, pretty much by definition, are rendered in a language that doesn't exist. So, the interpretive load is huge. Sometimes, words like Greekish (Greek + English) or Hebrish are used to name the language. Greek and Hebrew (some Aramaic) needs to be learned, discourse structures of the original languages, history, cultural dynamics,etc., I could go on. Come to think of it, StackExchange-Biblical Hermeneutics needs to exist (a good thing!). And there are tools, lots of tools, though the tools are sometimes misused. I've read discussions among Greek experts--professors, for example--that accuse themselves of misusing Lexicons for their glosses. That's not what they're designed for.

But, let me say to balance this somewhat, that each gain of a knowledge category moves one forward. Exercise makes one grow stronger. We all need to "run the race" and make it our own. Snapping a straight line with the Word of God takes refined skill, so we should all strive for the same thing Timothy was charged with.

Such texts, Analytic translations, are needed!

Synthetic translations suffer from translation decisions being invisible. This is often called, "adding interpretation" (a phrase I find odd since 'interpretation' is a process, not an artifact. You can't add interpretation to a text. In fact, you're doing it exactly right now! In English! I'm not writing interpretation! You're doing it! Gotcha! LOL). However, it's important to accept that the reader doesn't know the labyrinth of expertise the translator walked. And, it's somewhat of a perverse irony that because synthetic translations are much clearer, the meaning is more easily attacked, even though it might be well supported by research. The problem is the research is typically invisible. Like... how many of the books in a well stocked theological seminary have you read? Well, me, too! Not to mention the significant progress that has been made in the last 50 years in archeology and linguistics, and the cross-over between the two. Seminary professors haven't caught up with the explosion of new insight, in many cases, they're not allowed to. (!!)

Now, I say all that to say, the answer to your question is, it depends. It depends on who is going to use the translation. Is it for analysis? Or is it for compositional comprehension?

If the translation is what I call Analytic, then a formal mechanism should be adopted. A bolding, you, or YOU, whatever works. As long as the one using such a text knows to interpret the formal mechanism, it will work.

If the translation is what I call Synthetic, then the text should be rendered in the destination language (eg English). It should be the way we would say it. In other words, let's take Luke 22:31-32a:

Σίμων Σίμων, ἰδοὺ ὁ Σατανᾶς ἐξῃτήσατο ὑμᾶς τοῦ σινιάσαι ὡς τὸν σῖτον· ἐγὼ δὲ ἐδεήθην περὶ σοῦ...

O! Simon! You need to take note that the Satan demanded to sift you men like wheat. But, I myself have prayed for you. Simon, ...

An Analytic translation could be:

Simon, Simon! Note this: The Satan demanded to sift you as the wheat. But, *I* prayed for you...

*I* indicates emphasis. An Analytic translation could more easily expose chiastic structures for better analysis.

So, it depends on the audience of the translation.

But, a better way would be a translation using today's technology. The technology provides a rich set of tools to display the entire web of cohesive data that went into the decisions, and with drill-through capability. It would be a Synthetic translation that fully exposed all the translation decisions. The NET translation is a move in that direction.

I would learn lots of the details behind the decisions so that the formality wouldn't be needed--I'd have plain English, but I'd also have translator accountability. I'd learn things like old men would never, ever shamefully run through a town, see Luke 15:20; and the silence of a piece of information left out from a rehearsed statement is loud (compare Luke 15:18-19 and 15:21)--why did he drop the "just make me an employee"? Perhaps, "Father, you've just did all the work yourself that I would have tried to do!"

And then, maybe a technology like StackExchange -- which would expose a lot of the translator discussions around those decisions, filling in a lot of the spaces. I know...I know...pie in the sky dreamer! But, then again, "We got to get to Mars before I die," Elon Musk.

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