In this comment, Samana Johann wrote,

worthy to raise a question on it and it's perfect training to use only 3-person and no calling of names, adressing just proper positions

The topic is, using "3rd person" modes of speech -- instead of personal pronouns like "I" and "you" and "we".

I think that means, in English, that instead of saying for example:

Would you like a glass of water?

... or more politely ...

May I fetch you a glass of water?

... you might ask instead ...

Would the Venerable accept a glass of water?

Similarly perhaps the venerable might refer to himself in the third person -- so perhaps, for example, "This person will...", instead of, "I will...".

And perhaps you're expected to refer to yourself by your own "title" too ...

Would the venerable allow "this person" (instead of "allow me") to fetch a glass of water?

... or instead of "this person", perhaps "this novice" or "this householder" or whatever your "proper position" is, instead of "I"?

What can you tell me about this topic? What are the social conventions -- how does that vary, from person to person, from one society to another, from one context to another (e.g. online or in person), from one language to another (e.g. English or otherwise)?

The little I've gathered online is that it's polite -- and proper, i.e. good training -- to use a phrase like "Bhante" instead of a person's name, when addressing them directly (i.e. in the second person) ...

  • Would you like a glass of water, Bhante?
  • Bhante, would you like a glass of water?
  • Would Bhante like a glass of water?

The last (the third) of these sounds very (excessively) formal to my ear -- and archaic, it disappeared from the English language when "people" stopped having personal servants, who might have said, "Would Sir like a cup of tea?" -- or addressing your parents by their title, "Would Mother like a cup of tea?"

Because it's so old-fashioned (I never hear it) it sounds unnatural to me -- formal but an "affectation" -- and therefore, to be avoided! Unless it is conventional, still?

I guess I most specifically want to know how to address people (Venerables) online, especially on this site, and in English -- though understanding how to talk in person could be useful too -- and especially about when using English (or other European languages, or North American).

I don't think I've seen a site online, where people avoid the 2nd person altogether.

Is it something which varies from one monk to another? If there are three options ...

  • Informal -- "Would you like...?"
  • Deferential -- "Bhante, would you accept...?"
  • Ultra-formal -- "Would Bhante accept...?

... will some monks prefer one and some another? Should I vary what I say (or how I say it) depending on the feedback I get from the specific person? Is there any safe default, which can always be considered not-impolite?

  • Perhaps I was wrong to say the 3rd-person form is obsolete in English and unheard of. I asked on English Language and Usage -- someone there pointed out that the third person is still used by some customer services workers -- for example, "Would madam like to register?" -- it's not entirely far-fetched. – ChrisW Aug 27 '20 at 21:33

What does good householders, considering his own good prepared samples, think: Which way requires the most sacrifices, mindfulness, patient, skill in many regards and earn the highest merits of them? This will then easy answer good householders question fast and doing well and is only convention for insider, a matter of Sila, and for outsiders place for merits in the sphere of Dana.

And in regard of meritorious deeds it's actually, different when after trade, not importand of what another might prefer.

Of course, a wise monk would fast think "a learned with pleasing behaviour" if good householder speaks in best manners, but whether on likes to use possibilities for merits or for gains, that wouldn't touch a wise monk much aside of possible not seeing ways given to teach.

As for usual monks good householder usually would/could meet, they are not used to representing a field of merits, are merely ashamed and might be high confused if speaking in skilled and venerating manner, as most are actually former followers of marxism, where such seech is regarded as unproductive and time and effort feeding, strong objected toward gains in the world.

"'Please', may my person ask good householder, whether good householder would be able to consider further and deeper on this matter of topic by him, if my person would give further into it in possible more supportive enviroment for such?"

niccam vuddhapacayino
cattaro dhamma vaddhanti
ayu vanno sukham balam.

[Note that this isn't given for stacks, exchange or what ever else world-binding trade but for escape from this wheel]


Personal pronouns are very language and culture dependent.

For e.g. German has "du" and "Sie", but English only has "you". Other languages also have formal and informal second person pronouns, for example Hindi ("aap", "tum", "tu").

Thai and Burmese, being strongly influenced by Buddhism for centuries, have special pronouns to use when talking to monks that is not normally used for conversations between lay people. This applies to second person pronouns but maybe also first person pronouns - I'm not sure.

In some languages, there is the informal "you" but the formal second person pronoun is a title. For e.g. in Malay or Indonesian, if a person is a doctor or a professor or a captain, then one could say "Would doctor like a drink?" or "would professor like a drink?" or "would Captain like a drink?"

However, in the English language, we only have "I" and "you". We may address a person with their title, but we always use "you" thereafter for e.g. "Captain, would you like to have your drink now?" I would say "Would Captain like to have his drink now?" is incorrect in English.

In my opinion, it is not right to apply the linguistic rules of one language to another. So, asking "Bhante, would you like to have your meal now?" is correct in English. But, asking "Would Bhante like to have his meal now?" would be incorrect in English.

  • 1
    "Would 'the Captain' like" would be correct, kind of ... it's only incorrect in that it's archaic or forced, or used only in contexts which we are not personally very acquainted with: see Illeism: In everyday speech. It may confuse the hearer -- if I referred to myself as "he" people might well wonder who I'm talking about -- and (in my opinion) they might see that as affected, eccentric, attention-seeking behaviour. – ChrisW Aug 27 '20 at 14:45
  • The one time I have ever heard anyone talk like that (i.e. referring to themselves in the 3rd person) in real life or in my personal experience, was when they were in a mental hospital. Communicating with a mental patient, I have taken it as good, professional advice that I should speak conventionally -- avoiding Folie à deux -- that's a bit off-topic here, though. – ChrisW Aug 27 '20 at 14:48
  • Anyway I'm motivated to learn what's considered polite and appropriate -- perhaps respectful but not obsequious, a middle way if that's correct -- in a given society. With the people on discourse.suttacentral.com -- and with Ven. Yuttadhammo when he posted here -- people seemed to use what I called the "deferential" not the "ultra-formal" or "frozen" registers. That is (these two online sites are) kind of a limited sample though, and not necessarily orthodox, hence the question. – ChrisW Aug 27 '20 at 14:57
  • 1
    Anyway, "it is not right to apply the linguistic rules of one language to another" seems to be your answer, and is clear enough. Also there is a "thou" in English with its own rich history of meaning. – ChrisW Aug 27 '20 at 15:08
  • @ChrisW Indeed, that's my answer - "it is not right to apply the linguistic rules of one language to another". Yes. I agree with the use of the "deferential" for communication with monks in English. – ruben2020 Aug 27 '20 at 16:29

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