The history of Old English and its development

               The history of Old English and its development.

      In 409 AD the last Roman legion left  British  shores,  and  in  fifty
years the  Islands  became  a  victim  of  invaders.  Germanic  tribes  from
Southern  Scandinavia  and  Northern  Germany,  pushed  from  their  densely
populated homelands, looked for a new land  to  settle.  At  that  time  the
British Isles were inhabited by the Celts  and  remaining  Roman  colonists,
who failed to organize any resistance against  Germanic  intruders,  and  so
had to let them settle here. This is how the Old English language was  born.

      Celtic tribes crossed the Channel and starting to  settle  in  Britain
already in the 7th century BC. The very word "Britain" seems to be the  name
given by the pre-Celtic inhabitants of the island, accepted by  first  Indo-
Europeans. The Celts quickly spread over the island, and only in  the  north
still existed non-Indo-European peoples which are sometimes  called  "Picts"
(the name given by Romans). Picts lived in Scotland and on Shetland  Islands
and represented the most ancient population of  the  Isles,  the  origin  of
which is unknown. Picts do not seem to leave any features of their  language
to Indo-European population of Britain - the famous Irish and Welsh  initial
mutations of consonants can be the only  sign  of  the  substratum  left  by
unknown nations of Britain. At the  time  the  Celts  reached  Britain  they
spoke the common language, close to  Gaulish  in  France.  But  later,  when
Celtic tribes occupied Ireland, Northern England, Wales, their tongues  were
divided according to tribal divisions. These  languages  will  later  become
Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Cornish, but from that time no signs remained,  because
the Celts did  not  invent  writing  yet.  Not  much  is  left  from  Celtic
languages in English. Though many place  names  and  names  for  rivers  are
surely Celtic (like Usk - from Celtic *usce "water", or Avon  -  from  *awin
"river"),  the  morphology  and  phonetics  are  untouched  by  the   Celtic
influence. Some linguists state that the word down comes  from  Celtic  *dn
"down";  other  examples  of  Celtic  influence  in  place  names  are   tne

      cothair (a fortress) - Carnarvon

      uisge (water) - Exe, Usk, Esk

      dun, dum (a hill) - Dumbarton, Dumfries, Dunedin

      llan (church) - Llandaff, Llandovery, Llandudno

      coil (forest) - Kilbrook, Killiemore

      kil (church) - Kilbride, Kilmacolm

      ceann (cape) - Kebadre, Kingussie

      inis (island) - Innisfail

      inver (mountain) - Inverness, Inverurie

      bail (house) - Ballantrae, Ballyshannon,

      and, certainly, the word whiskey which means the same as Irish uisge
      "water". But this borrowing took place much later.

      In the 1st century AD first Roman  colonists  begin  to  penetrate  in
Britain; Roman legions built roads, camps, founded towns  and  castles.  But
still they did not manage to assimilate the Celts, maybe because they  lived
apart from each other and did not  mix.  Tens  of  Latin  words  in  Britain
together with many towns, places and hills  named  by  Romans  make  up  the
Roman heritage in the Old English. Such cities  as  Dorchester,  Winchester,
Lancaster, words like camp, castra, many terms  of  the  Christian  religion
and several words denoting armaments were borrowed at that time by  Britons,
and automatically were transferred into  the  Old  English,  or  Anglo-Saxon
language already when there was no Romans in the country.
      In 449 the legendary leaders  of  two  Germanic  tribes,  Hengist  and
Horsa, achieved British shores on their  ships.  The  Anglo-Saxon  conquest,
however,  lasted  for  several  centuries,  and  all  this   period   Celtic
aborigines moved farther and farther to the west of the  island  until  they
manage to fortify in mountainous Wales,  in  Corwall,  and  preserved  their
kingdoms in Scotland. Germanic tribes killed  Celtic  population,  destroyed
Celtic and former Roman towns and roads. In the 5th century such  cities  as
Durovern in Kent, Virocon, Trimontii, Camulodunum,  were  abandoned  by  the
      Angles  settled  around  the  present-day  Noridge,  and  in  Northern
England; Saxons, the most numerous  of  the  tribes,  occupied  all  Central
England, the south of the island and settled in  London  (Londinii  at  that
time). Jutes and Frises, who probably came to Britain a bit  later,  settled
on the island of White and in what is now Kent - the word Kent derives  from
the name of the Celtic tribe Cantii. Soon all  these  tribes  founded  their
separate kingdoms, which was united after centuries of struggle only in  878
by Alfred, king of  Wessex.  Before  that  each  of  the  tribes  spoke  its
language, they were similar to each other but had  differences  which  later
became the dialectal peculiarities of Old English.
      Now a little bit about the foreign influence in Old English. From  the
6th  century  Christianity  start  activities  in  Britain,  the  Bible   is
translated into Old English, and quite a lot  of  terms  are  borrowed  from
Latin at that time: many bishops, missionaries  and  Pope's  officials  come
from Rome. The next group of foreign loanwords were taken from  Scandinavian
dialects, after the Vikings occupied much of the country in the 9th  -  11th
centuries. Scandinavian languages were close relatives with Old English,  so
the mutual influence was strong enough  to  develop  also  the  Old  English
morphology,  strengthening  its  analytic  processes.  Many  words  in   the
language were either changed to sound more Scandinavian, or borrowed.
      The Old  English  language,  which  has  quite  a  lot  of  literature
monuments, came to the end after  the  Norman  conquest  in  1066.  The  new
period was called Middle English.

                        The Old English Substantive.

      The substantive in Indo-European  has  always  three  main  categories
which change its forms: the number, the case, the gender. It ias known  that
the general trend of the Indo-European family is to decrease the  number  of
numbers, cases and genders from  the  Proto-Indo-European  stage  to  modern
languages. Some groups are more conservative and therefore keep many  forms,
preserving archaic language traits;  some  are  more  progressive  and  lose
forms or transform them very quickly. The Old English language, as  well  as
practically all Germanic tongues, is not conservative at all:  it  generated
quite a lot of analytic forms instead of older inflections,  and  lost  many
other of them.
      Of eight Proto-Indo-European cases, Old English keeps just four  which
were inherited from the  Common  Germanic  language.  In  fact,  several  of
original Indo-European noun cases were weak enough to  be  lost  practically
in all branches of the family, coinciding with other,  stronger  cases.  The
ablative case often was assimilated  by  the  genitive  (in  Greek,  Slavic,
Baltic, and Germanic), locative usually merged with dative (Italic,  Celtic,
Greek), and so did the instrumental case. That is how  four  cases  appeared
in Germanic and later in Old English - nominative, genitive, accusative  and
dative. These four were the most ancient and therefore stable in the  system
of the Indo-European morphology.
      The problem of the Old English instrumental case is rather  strange  -
this case arises quite all of a sudden among Germanic tongues  and  in  some
forms is used quite regularly (like in demonstrative  pronouns).  In  Gothic
the traces of instrumental  and  locative  though  can  be  found,  but  are
considered  as  not  more  than  relics.  But  the  Old  English  must  have
"recalled" this archaic instrumental, which existed, however,  not  for  too
long and disappeared already in the 10th century,  even  before  the  Norman
conquest and transformation of the English language into its Middle stage.
As for other cases, here is a little pattern of their usage in the Old
English syntax.
      1. Genitive - expresses the possessive menaing: whose? of what?
      Also after the expression meaning full of , free of , worthy of ,
guilty of,  etc.

      2. Dative - expresses the object towards which the action is directed.
      After the after the verbs like "say to smb", "send smb", "give to
      smb"; "known to smb", "necessary for smth / smb", "close to smb",
      "peculiar for smth".
      Also in the expressions like  from the enemy, against the wind, on the

      3. Accusative - expresses the object immediately affected by the
      action (what?), the direct object.

      Three genders were strong enough, and  only  northern  dialects  could
sometimes lose their distinction. But in fact the lose of genders in  Middle
English happened due to the drop of the case inflections, when  words  could
no longer be distinguished by its endings.  As  for  the  numbers,  the  Old
English noun completely lost the dual, which was preserved only in  personal
pronouns (see later).
      All Old English nouns were divided into strong and weak ones, the same
as verbs in Germanic. While the first had  a  branched  declension,  special
endings  for  different  numbers  and  cases,  the   weak   declension   was
represented by nouns which were already starting to  lose  their  declension
system. The majority of noun stems in Old English should be referred to  the
strong type. Here are the tables for each stems with  some  comments  -  the
best way of explaining the grammar.


Nom. stn (stone)  scip (ship)  bn (bone)  reced (house)  neten (ox)

Gen.  stnes           scipes       bnes           recedes          

Dat.   stne            scipe         bne            recede            

Acc.  stn              scip           bn              reced              


Nom.  stnas         scipu         bn              reced               

Gen.    stna          scipa         bna            receda            

Dat.    stnum        scipum      bnum          recedum          netenum

Acc.   stnas         scipu         bn              reced              
This type of stems derived from masculine and neuter noun o-stems in Proto-
Indo-European. First when I started studying Old English I was irritated
all the time because I couldn't get why normal Indo-European o-stems are
called a-stems in all books on Old English. I found it a silly and
unforgivable mistake until I understood that in Germanic the Indo-European
short o became a, and therefore the stem marker was also changed the same
way. So the first word here, stn, is masculine, the rest are neuter. The
only difference in declension is the plural nominative-accusative, where
neuter words lost their endings or have -u, while masculine preserved -as.
A little peculiarity of those words who have the sound [] in the stem and
say farewell to it in the plural:

          Masculine                         Neuter

     Sing.              Pl.             Sing.               Pl.

N  dg (day) dagas     ft (vessel)  fatu

G  dges       daga       ftes           fata

D  dge         dagum    fte            fatum

A  dg           dagas     ft              fatu
      Examples of a-stems: earm (an arm), eorl, helm (a helmet), hring (a
ring), m (a mouth); neuter ones - dor (a gate), hof (a courtyard), geoc
(a yoke), word, dor (an animal), bearn (a child), gar (a year).



               Masculine                             Neuter

N  hrycg (back)   here (army) ende (end)  cynn (kind)  rce (realm)

G  hrycges           heriges        endes          cynnes        rces

D  hrycge            herige          ende           cynne          rce

A  hrycg              here            ende           cynn            rce


N  hrycgeas        herigeas       endas         cynn            rciu

G  hrycgea          herigea        enda           cynna          rcea

D  hrycgium        herigum       endum        cynnum       rcium

A  hrycgeas        herigeas       endas         cynn            rciu
      Again the descendant of Indo-European jo-stem type, known only in
masculine and neuter. In fact it is a subbranch of o-stems, complicated by
the i before the ending: like Latin lupus and filius. Examples of this
type: masculine - wecg (a wedge), bcere (a scholar), fiscere (a fisher);
neuter - net, bed, wte (a punishment).

               Singular                                Plural

      Masc.        Neut.                    Masc.         Neut.

N  bearu (wood)  bealu (evil)   bearwas      bealu (-o)

G  bearwes           bealwes      bearwa        bealwa

D  bearwe            bealwe        bearwum     bealwum

A  bearu (-o)        bealu (-o)    bearwas      bealu (-o)
Just to mention. This is one more peculiarity of good old a-stems with the
touch of w in declension. Interesting that the majority of this kind of
stems make abstract nouns. Examples: masculine - snw (snow), aw (a
custom); neuter - searu (armour), trow (a tree), cnw (a knee)


N  swau (trace) fr (journey)  tigol (brick)

G  swae            fre               tigole

D  swae            fre               tigole

A  swae            fre               tigole


N  swaa           fra               tigola

G  swaa           fra               tigola

D  swaum        frum             tigolum

A  swaa           fra               tigola
Another major group of Old English nouns consists only  of  feminine  nouns.
Funny but in Indo-European they are  called  a-stems.  But  Germanic  turned
vowels sometimes upside down, and  this  long  a  became  long  o.  However,
practically no word of this type ends in -o, which was lost or  transformed.
The special variants of -stems are jo- and wo-stems which have  practically
the same declension but with the corresponding sounds between the  root  and
the ending.
Examples of -stems: caru (care), sceamu (shame), onswaru (worry), lufu
(love), lr (an instruction), sorg (sorrow), rg (a season), ides (a

Examples of j-stems: sibb (peace), ecg (a blade), secg (a sword), hild (a
fight), x (an axe).

Examples of w-stems: beadu (a battle), nearu (need), ls (a beam).

        Masc.                          Neut.


N  sige (victory) hyll (hill)  sife (sieve)

G  siges              hylles     sifes

D  sige               hylle       sife

A  sige               hyll         sife


N  sigeas           hyllas      sifu

G  sigea            hylla        sifa

D  sigum           hyllum     sifum

A  sigeas          hyllas       sifu
The tribes and nations were usually of this very type, and were used always
in plural: Engle (the Angles), Seaxe (the Saxons), Mierce (the Mercians),
Norymbre (the Northumbrians), Dene (the Danish)

N Dene

G Dena (Miercna, Seaxna)

D Denum

A Dene

        Sg.            Pl.

N  hyd (hide)   hde, hda

G  hde           hda

D  hde           hdum

A  hd             hde, hda
This kind of stems included all three genders and derived from the same
type of Indo-European stems, frequent also in other branches and languages
of the family.
Examples: masculine - mere (a sea), mete (food), dl (a part), giest (a
guest), drync (a drink); neuter - spere (a spear); feminine - cwn (a
woman), wiht (a thing).

          Masc.                       Fem.


N  sunu (son)feld (field)  duru (door) hand (hand)

G  suna         felda          dura           handa

D  suna         felda          dura           handa

A  sunu         feld            duru           hand


N  suna         felda          dura           handa

G  suna         felda          dura           handa

D  sunum      feldum       durum         handum

A  suna         felda          dura           handa
      They can be either masculine or feminine. Here it is seen clearly  how
Old English lost its final -s in  endings:  Gothic  had  sunus  and  handus,
while Old English has already sunu and hand respectively.  Interesting  that
dropping final consonants is also  a  general  trend  of  almost  all  Indo-
European languages. Ancient tongues still  keep  them  everywhere  -  Greek,
Latin, Gothic, Old Prussian, Sanskrit,  Old  Irish;  but  later,  no  matter
where a  language  is  situated  and  what  processes  it  undergoes,  final
consonants (namely -s, -t, often -m, -n) disappear, remaining nowadays  only
in the two Baltic languages and in New Greek.
Examples:  masculine - wudu (wood), medu (honey), weald (forest), sumor (a
summer); fem. - nosu (a nose), flr (a floor).
      The other type of nouns according to their declension was the group of
Weak nouns, derived from n-nouns is Common  Germanic.  Their  declension  is
simple and stable, having special endings:
      Masc.            Fem.                  Neut.


N  nama (name) cwene (woman)  age (eye)

G  naman           cwenan               agan

D  naman           cwenan               agan

A  naman           cwenan               age


N  naman          cwenan               agan

G  namena        cwenena             agena

D  namum         cwenum              agum

A  naman          cwenan               agan
Examples: masc. - guma (a man), wita (a wizard), steorra (a star), mna
(the Moon), dma (a judge); fem. - eore (Earth), heorte (a heart), sunne
(Sun); neut. - are (an ear).
      And now the last one which is interesting due to its special Germanic
structure. I am speaking about the root-stems which according to Germanic
laws of Ablaut, change the root vowel during the declension. In Modern
English such words still exist, and we all know them: goose - geese, tooth
- teeth, foot - feet, mouse - mice etc. At school they were a nightmare for
me, now they are an Old English grammar. Besides, in Old English time they
were far more numerous in the language.
           Masc.                                           Fem.


N  mann      ft (foot) t (tooth)  | hnutu (nut)  bc (book)  gs
(goose)  ms (mouse) burg (burg)

G  mannes   ftes       tes          | hnute          bce           
gse             mse            burge

D  menn      ft           t             | hnyte         
bc              gs               ms              byrig

A  mann      ft          t             | hnutu          bk             
gs               ms              burg


N  menn      ft          t              | hnyte          bc            
gs               ms              byrig

G  manna    fta        ta            | hnuta          bca           
gsa            msa             burga

D  mannum ftum     tum          | hnutum       bcum        
gsum          msum          burgum

A  menn      ft          t              | hnyte          bc            
gs               ms               byrig
      The general rule is the so-called i-mutation, which changes the vowel.
The conversion table looks as follows and never fails - it is universally
right both for verbs and nouns. The table of i-mutation changes remains


Examples: fem. - wfman (a woman), c (an oak), gt (a goat), brc
(breeches), wlh (seam), dung (a dungeon), furh (a furrow), sulh (a
plough), grut (gruel), ls (a louse), rul (a basket), a (water), niht (a
night),  m'g (a girl), scrd (clothes).
      There are still some other types of declension, but not too  important
fro understanding the  general  image.  For  example,  r-stems  denoted  the
family  relatives  (dohtor  'a  daughter',  mdor  'a  mother'  and  several
others), es-stems usually meant children and cubs (cild 'a child', cealf  'a
calf'). The most intriguing question that arises from  the  picture  of  the
Old English declension is "How to  define  which  words  is  which  kind  of
stems?". I am sure you are always thinking of this question, the same  as  I
thought myself when first studying Old  English.  The  answer  is  "I  don't
know"; because of the loss of  many  endings  all  genders,  all  stems  and
therefore all nouns mixed in the language, and one has just to learn how  to
decline this or that word.  This  mixture  was  the  decisive  step  of  the
following transfer of English to the analytic language -  when  endings  are
not used, people forget genders and cases. In any solid dictionary you  will
be given a noun with its gender and  kind  of  stem.  But  in  general,  the
declension is similar for all stems. One of the most stable  differences  of
masculine and feminine is the -es (masc.) or -e in genitive singular of  the
Strong declension.
      Now I am giving another table, the general declension system of Old
English nouns. Here '-' means a zero ending.

             Strong declension (a, ja, wa, , j, w, i -stems).

|         |Masculine           |Neutral             |Feminine            |
|         |Singular |Plural   |Singular |Plural   |Singular |Plural   |
|Nominativ|-        |-as      |-        |-u (-)   |-        |-a       |
|e        |         |         |         |         |         |         |
|Genitive |-es      |-a       |-es      |-a       |-e       |-a       |
|Dative   |-e       |-um      |-e       |-um      |-e       |-um      |
|Accustive|-        |-as      |-        |-u (-)   |-e       |-a       |

|             |Weak declension             |u-stems                     |
|             |Singular     |Plural       |Singular     |Plural       |
|Nominative   |-            |-an          |-            |-a           |
|Genitive     |-an          |-ena         |-a           |-a           |
|Dative       |-an          |-um          |-a           |-um          |
|Accustive    |-an          |-an          |-            |-a           |

                         The Old English Adjective.
      In  all  historical   Indo-European   languages   adjectives   possess
practically the same morphological features as the nouns, the  the  sequence
of these two  parts  of  speech  is  an  ordinary  thing  in  Indo-European.
However,  the  Nostratic  theory  (the  one  which  unites  Altaic,  Uralic,
Semitic, Dravidian and Indo-European language families  into  one  Nostratic
super-family, once speaking a common Proto-Nostratic  language)  represented
by Illych-Svitych and many other famous linguists,  states  that  adjectives
in this Proto-Nostratic tongue were  morphologically  closer  to  the  verbs
than to the nouns.
      This theory is quite interesting, because even in Proto-Indo-European,
a language which was spoken much later than Proto-Nostratic, there are  some
proofs of the former  predicative  function  of  the  adjectives.  In  other
families of the super-family  this  function  is  even  more  clear.      In
Altaic languages, and also in Korean  and  Japanese,  which  are  originally
Altaic, the adjective plays the part of the predicate, and  in  Korean,  for
example, the majority of adjectives are predicative. It  means  that  though
they always denote the quality of the noun, they act the same way  as  verbs
which denote action. Adjective "red" is actually  translated  from  Japanese
as "to be red", and the sentence Bara-wa utsukusii will mean  "the  rose  is
beautiful", while bara is "a  rose",  -wa  is  the  nominative  marker,  and
utsukusii is "to be beautiful". So no verb here,  and  the  adjective  is  a
predicate.  This  structure  is  typical  for  many  Altaic  languages,  and
probably was normal for Proto-Nostratic as well.
      The Proto-Indo-European language gives us some stems which are hard to
denote whether they used  to  mean  an  adjective  or  a  verb.  Some  later
branches reflect such stems as verbs, but other made them adjectives. So  it
was the Proto-Indo-European epoch where adjectives as  the  part  of  speech
began to transform from a verbal  one  to  a  nominal  one.  And  all  Indo-
European branches already show the close  similarity  of  the  structure  of
adjectives and nouns in the language. So  does  the  Old  English  language,
where adjective is one of the nominal parts of speech.
As well as the noun, the adjective can  be  declined  in  case,  gender  and
number. Moreover, the instrumental  case  which  was  discussed  before  was
preserved in adjectives much stronger than in nouns. Adjectives must  follow
sequence with nouns which they define - thet is why the same  adjective  can
be  masculine,  neuter  and  feminine  and  therefore  be  declined  in  two
different types: one for  masculine  and  neuter,  the  other  for  feminine
nouns. The declension is more  or  less  simple,  it  looks  much  like  the
nominal  system  of  declension,  though   there   are   several   important
differences.   Interesting   to   know    that    one-syllable    adjectives
("monosyllabic")  have   different   declension   than   two-syllable   ones
("disyllabic"). See for yourselves:

Strong Declension

 a, -stems



        Masc.     Neut.         Fem.

N blc (black) blc        blacu

G blaces          blaces      blcre

D blacum        blacum      blcre

A blcne        blc         blace

I  blace           blace         -


N  blace         blacu         blaca

G  blacra        blacra        blacra

D  blacum      blacum      blacum

A  blace         blacu         blaca

Here "I" means that very instrumental case, answering the question (by
what? with whom? with the help of what?).

        Masc.     Neut.                Fem.


N  adig (happy) adig        adigu

G  adiges           adiges     adigre

D  adigum          adigum   adigre

A  adigne           adig        adige

I   adige             adige


N  adige            adigu      adiga

G  adigra           adigra     adigra

D  adigum          adigum   adigum

A  adige            adigu       adigu

      So not many new endings: for accusative singular we have -ne, and  for
genitive plural -ra, which cannot be met in the  declension  of  nouns.  The
difference between monosyllabic and  disyllabic  is  the  accusative  plural
feminine ending -a / -u. That's all.

ja, j-stems (swte - sweet)

                 Sg.                                                Pl.

      Masc.      Neut.        Fem.      Masc.     Neut.         Fem.

N  swte       swte      swtu     swte     swtu      swta

G  swtes      swtes    swtre    swtra    swtra    swtra

D  swtum     swtum   swtre   swtum   swtum  swtum

A  swtne      swte     swte     swte     swtu      swta

I    swte       swte        -
wa, w-stems


        Masc.         Neut.              Fem.

N  nearu (narrow) nearu           nearu

G  nearwes           nearwes       nearore

D  nearwum          nearwum      nearore

A  nearone            nearu           nearwe

I  nearwe              nearwe


N  nearwe           nearu            nearwa

G  nearora           nearora        nearora

D  nearwum         nearwum     nearwum

A  nearwe            nearu           nearwa

      Actually, some can just omit  all  those  examples  -  the  adjectival
declension is the same as a whole for all  stems,  as  concerns  the  strong
type. In general,  the  endings  look  the  following  way,  with  very  few
varieties (note that "-" means the null ending):

      As for weak adjectives, they also exist in the language. The thing  is
that one need not learn by heart which adjective is which type -  strong  or
weak, as you should do with the  nouns.  If  you  have  a  weak  noun  as  a
subject, its attributive adjective will be weak  as  well.  So  -  a  strong
adjective for a strong noun, a weak adjective for a weak noun, the  rule  is
as simple as that.
Thus if you say "a black tree" that will be  blc  trow  (strong),  and  "a
black eye" will sound blace  age.  Here  is  the  weak  declension  example
(blaca - black):
         Sg.                                            Pl.

     Masc.       Neut.        Fem.

N  blaca        blace         blace         blacan

G  blacan       blacan       blacan       blcra

D  blacan       blacan       blacan       blacum

A  blacan       blace         blacan       blacan
      Weak declension has a single plural for all genders, which is pleasant
for those who don't want to remeber too many forms. In general, the weak
declension is much easier.
      The last thing to be said about the adjectives is the degrees of
comparison. Again, the traditional Indo-European structure is preserved
here: three degrees (absolutive, comparative, superlative) - though some
languages also had the so-called "equalitative" grade; the special suffices
for forming comparatives and absolutives; suppletive stems for several
certain adjectives.
      The suffices we are used to see in Modern English, those -er and -est
in weak, weaker, the weakest, are the direct descendants of the Old English
ones. At that time they sounded as -ra and -est. See the examples:
earm (poor) - earmra - earmost

blc (black) - blcra - blacost
Many adjectives changed the root vowel - another example of the Germanic
eald (old) - ieldra - ieldest

strong - strengra - strengest

long - lengra - lengest

geong (young) - gingra - gingest

      The most widespread and widely used adjectives always had their
degrees formed from another stem, which is called "suppletive" in
linguistics. Many of them are still seen in today's English:
gd (good) - betera - betst (or slra - slest)

yfel (bad) - wiersa - wierest

micel (much) - mra - mst

ltel (little) - l'ssa - l'st

fear (far) - fierra - fierrest, fyrrest

nah (near) - narra - nehst, nhst

'r (early) - 'rra - 'rest

fore (before) - furra - fyrest (first)

      Now you see what the word "first" means - just the superlative degree
from the adjective "before, forward". The same is with nehst from nah
(near) which is now "next".

      Old English affixation for adjectives:
  1. -ede (group "adjective stem + substantive stem") - micelhafdede

  2. -ihte (from substantives with mutation) - irnihte (thorny)

  3. -ig (from substantives with mutation) - hlig (holy), mistig (misty)

  4. -en, -in (with mutation) - gylden (golden), wyllen (wllen)

  5. -isc (nationality) - Englisc, Welisc, mennisc (human)

  6. -sum (from stems of verbs, adjectives, substantives) - sibbsum
(peaceful), hersum (obedient)

  7. -feald (from stems of numerals, adjectives) - refeald (threefold)

  8. -full (from abstract substantive stems) - sorgfull (sorrowful)

  9. -ls (from verbal and nominal stems) - slpls (sleepless)

  10. -lc (from substantive and adjective stems) - eorlc (earthly)

  11. -weard (from adjective, substantive, adverb stems) - inneweard
(internal), hmweard (homeward)

                          The Old English Pronoun.
Pronouns were the only part of speech in Old English which preserved the
dual number in declension, but only this makes them more archaic than the
rest parts of speech. Most of pronouns are declined in numnber, case and
gender, in plural the majority have only one form for all genders.
We will touch each group of Old English pronouns and comment on them.
1.Personal pronouns

      Through the last 1500 years mn became mine, g turned into you (ye as
a colloquial variant). But changes are still significant: the 2nd person
singular pronouns disappeared from the language, remaining only in poetic
speech and in some dialects in the north of England. This is really a
strange feature - I can hardly recall any other Indo-European language
which lacks the special pronoun for the 2nd person singular (French tu,
German du, Russian ty etc.). The polite form replaced the colloquial one,
maybe due to the English traditional "ladies and gentlemen" customs.
Another extreme exists in Irish Gaelic, which has no polite form of
personal pronoun, and you turn to your close friend the same way as you
spoke with a prime minister - the familiar word, translated into French as
tu. It can sound normal for English, but really funny for Slavic, Baltic,
German people who make a thorough distinction between speaking to a friend
and to a stranger

2. Demonstrative pronouns ('I' means the instrumental case)
3. Interrogative pronouns
N  hw      hwt

G  hws    hws

D  hw'm  hw'm

A  hwone   hwt

I    -           hw, hw
      These pronouns, which actually mean the masculine and the neuter
varieties of the same pronoun, derive from Proto-Indo-European *kwis, with
*kw becoming hw in Germanic languages. In Gothic the combination hw was
considered as one sound which is another proof that the Indo-European the
labiovelar sound kw was a single sound with some specific articulation.
      Later Germanic languages changed the sound in a different way: in
Norwegian it remained as hv, in German turned into w (as in wer 'who', was
'what'), in English finally changed into wh pronounced in most cases [w],
but somewhere also like [h] or [hw].
Interesting that the instrumental of the word hwt, once being a pronoun
form, later became the word why in English. So 'why?' is originally an
instrumental case of the interrogative pronoun.
      Other interrogative pronouns, or adverbs, as they are sometimes
called, include the following, all beginning with hw:
hwilc 'which?' - is declined as the strong adjective (see adjectives above)

hwonne 'when?' - this and following are not declined, naturally

hw'r 'where?'

hwider 'whither?'

hwonan 'whence?'
4. Other kinds of pronouns
They include definite, indefinite, negative and relative, all typical for
Indo-European languages. All of them still exist in Modern English, and all
of them are given here:
a) definite

  gehw (every) - declined the same way as hw

  gehwilc (each),

  ger (either),

  'lc (each),

  swilc (such) - all declined like strong adjectives

  s ylca (the same) - declined like a weak adjective
b) indefinite

  sum (some),

  'nig (any) - both behave the same way as strong adjectives
c) negative

  nn, n'nig (no, none) - declined like strong adjectives
d) relative

  e (which, that)

  se (which, that) - they are not declined
In Proto-Indo-European and in many ancient Indo-European languages there
was a special kind of declension calleed pronominal, using only by pronouns
and opposed to the one used by nouns, adjectives and numerals. Old English
lost it, and its pronouns use all the same endings as the nouns and
adjectives. Maybe the only inflection which remembers the Proto-language
times, is the neuter nominative -t in hwt and t, the ancient ending for
inanimate (inactive) nouns and pronouns.

                          The Old English Numeral.

      It is obvious that all Indo-European languages have the general trend
      of transformation
from the synthetic (or inflectional) stage to the analytic one. At least
for the latest 1,000 years this trend could be observed in all branches of
the family. The level of this analitization process in each single language
can be estimated by several features, their presence or absence in the
language. One of them is for sure the declension of the numerals. In Proto-
Indo-European all numerals, both cardinal and ordinal, were declined, as
they derived on a very ancient stage from nouns or adjectives, originally
being a declined part of speech. There are still language groups within the
family with decline their numerals: among them, Slavic and Baltic are the
most typical samples. They practically did not suffer any influence of the
analytic processes. But all other groups seem to have been influenced
somehow. Ancient Italic and Hellenic languages left the declension only for
the first four cardinal pronouns (from 1 to 4), the same with ancient
      The Old English language preserves this system of declension only for
three numerals. It is therefore much easier to learn, though not for
English speakers I guess - Modern English lacks declension at all.
Here is the list of the cardinal numerals:

Ordinal numerals  use the suffix -ta or -a, etymologically a common Indo-
European one (*-to-).

                           The Old English Adverb.
      Adverbs can be either primary (original adverbs) or derive from the
adjectives. In fact, adverbs appeared in the language rather late, and
eraly Proto-Indo-European did not use them, but later some auxiliary nouns
and pronouns losing their declension started to play the role of adverbial
modifiers. That's how thew primary adverbs emerged.
In Old English the basic primary adverbs were the following ones:

a (then)

onne (then)

'r (there)

ider (thither)

n (now)

hr (here)

hider (hither)

heonan (hence)

sna (soon)

oft (often)

eft (again)

sw (so)

hwlum (sometimes).

      Secondary adverbs originated from the instrumental singular of the
neuter adjectives of strong declension. They all add the suffix -e: wide
(widely), dope (deeply), fste (fast), hearde (hard). Another major
sugroup of them used the suffixes -lc, -lce from more complexed
adjectives: bealdlce (boldly), freondlce (in a friendly way).
Adverbs, as well as adjectives, had their degrees of comparison:
wde - wdor - wdost (widely - more widely - most widely)

long - leng (long - longer)

feorr (far) - fierr

sfte (softly) - sft

ae (easily) - e

wel (well) - betre - best

yfele (badly) - wiers, wyrs - wierst

micele (much) - mre - m'st

                            The Old English Verb.
      Old English system had strong and weak verbs: the ones which used the
ancient Germanic type of conjugation (the Ablaut), and the ones which just
added endings to their past and participle forms. Strong verbs make the
clear majority. According to the traditional division, which is taken form
Gothic and is accepted by modern linguistics, all strong verbs are
distinguished between seven classes, each having its peculiarities in
conjugation and in the stem structure. It is easy to define which verb is
which class, so you will not swear trying to identify the type of
conjugation of this or that verb (unlike the situation with the
Here is the table which is composed for you to see the root vowels of all
strong verb classes. Except the VII class, they all have exact stem vowels
for all four main forms:
      Now let us see what Old English strong verbs of all those seven
classes looked like and what were their main four forms. I should mention
that besides the vowel changes in the stem, verbal forms also changed stem
consonants very often. The rule of such changes is not mentioned
practically in any books on the Old English language, though there is some.
See for yourselves this little chart where the samples of strong verb
classes are given with their four forms:
Infinitive, Past singular, Past plural, Participle II (or Past Participle)

                        Class I

wrtan (to write), wrt, writon, writen

snpan (to cut), sn, snidon, sniden

    Other examples: belfan (stay), clfan (cling), ygrpan (clutch), btan
(bite), sltan (slit), besmtan (dirty), gewtan (go), blcan (glitter),
scan (sigh), stgan (mount), scnan (shine), rsan (arise), lan (go).
                         Class II

bodan (to offer), bad, budon, boden

cosan (to choose), cas, curon, coren

    Other examples: cropan (creep), clofan (cleave), flotan (fleet),
gotan (pour), grotan (weep), notan (enjoy), scotan (shoot), logan
(lie), browan (brew), drosan (fall), frosan (freeze), forlosan (lose).
                         Class III

                  III a) a nasal consonant

drincan (to drink), dranc, druncon, druncen

    Other: swindan (vanish), onginnan (begin), sinnan (reflect), winnan
(work), gelimpan (happen), swimman (swim).

                  III b) l + a consonant

helpan (to help), healp, hulpon, holpen

    Other: delfan (delve), swelgan (swallow), sweltan (die), bellan (bark),
melcan (milk).

                  III c) r, h + a consonant

steorfan (to die), stearf, sturfon, storfen

weoran (to become), wear, wurdon, worden

feohtan (to fight), feaht, fuhton, fohten

    More: ceorfan (carve), hweorfan (turn), weorpan (throw), beorgan
(conceal), beorcan (bark).
                         Class IV

stelan (to steal), st'l, st'lon, stolen

beran (to bear), b'r, b'ron, boren

    More: cwelan (die), helan (conceal), teran (tear), brecan (break).
                         Class V

tredan (to tread), tr'd,  tr'don, treden

cwean (to say), cw',  cw'don, cweden

    More: metan (measure), swefan (sleep), wefan (weave), sprecan (to
speak), wrecan (persecute), lesan (gather), etan (eat), wesan (be).
                         Class VI

faran (to go), fr, fron, faren

    More: galan (sing), grafan (dig), hladan (lade), wadan (walk), dragan
(drag), gnagan (gnaw), bacan (bake), scacan (shake), wascan (wash).
                         Class VII

htan (to call), ht, hton, hten

feallan (to fall), feoll, feollon, feallen

cnawan (to know), cnow, cnowon, cnwen

    More: blondan (blend), ondr'dan (fear), lcan (jump), scadan (divide),
fealdan (fold), healdan (hold), sponnan (span), batan (beat), blwan
(flourish), hlwan (low), spwan (flourish), mwan (mow), swan (sow),
rwan (turn).
So the rule from the table above is observed carefully. The VII class was
made especially for those verbs which did not fit into any of the six
classes. In fact the verbs of the VII class are irregular and cannot be
explained by a certain exact rule, though they are quite numerous in the
      Examining verbs of Old English comparing to those of Modern English it
is easy to catch the point of transformation. Not only the ending -an in
the infinitive has dropped, but the stems were subject to many changes some
of which are not hard to find. For example, the long  in the stem gives i
with an open syllable in the modern language (wrtan > write, scnan >
shine). The same can be said about a, which nowadays is a in open syllables
pronounced [] (hladan > lade). The initial combination sc turns to sh; the
open e was transformed into ea practically everywhere (sprecan > speak,
tredan > tread, etc.). Such laws of transformation which you can gather
into a small table help to recreate the Old word from a Modern English one
in case you do not have a dictionary in hand, and therefore are important
for reconstruction of the languages.
Weak verbs in Old English (today's English regular verbs) were conjugated
in a simpler way than the strong ones, and did not use the ablaut
interchanges of the vowel stems. Weak verbs are divided into three classes
which had only slight differences though. They did have the three forms -
the infinitive, the past tense, the participle II. Here is the table.
                         Class I

                          Regular verbs

      Inf.            Past             PP

dman (to judge), dmde, dmed

heran (to hear), herde, hered

nerian (to save), nerede, nered

styrian (to stir), styrede, styred

fremman (to commit), fremede, fremed

cnyssan (to push), cnysede, cnysed
  When the suffix is preceded by a voiceless consonant the ending changes a
little bit:

cpan (to keep), cpte, cpt / cped

grtan (to greet), grtte, grt / grted
  If the verb stem ends in consonant plus d or t:

sendan (to send), sende, send / sended

restan (to rest), reste, rest / rested

sellan (to give), sealde, seald

tellan (to tell), tealde, teald

cwellan (to kill), cwealde, cweald

t'can (to teach), thte, tht

r'can (to reach), rhte, rht

bycgan (to buy), bohte, boht

scan (to seek), shte, sht

wyrcan (to work), worhte, worht

encan (to think), hte, ht

bringan (to bring), brhte, brht
Other examples of the I class weak verbs just for your interest: berian
(beat), derian (harm), erian (plough), ferian (go), herian (praise),
gremman (be angry), wennan (accustom), clynnan (sound), dynnan (resound),
hlynnan (roar), hrissan (tremble), scean (harm), wecgean (move), fran
(go), l'ran (teach), drfan (drive), fsan (hurry), drgean (dry), hepan
(heap), mtan (to meet), wscean (wish), byldan (build), wendan (turn),
efstan (hurry). All these are regular.
                           Class II

macian (to make), macode, macod

lufian (to love), lufode, lufod

hopian (to hope), hopode, hopod
Tis class makes quite a small group of verbs, all of them having -o- before
the past endings. Other samples: lofian (praise), stician (pierce), eardian
(dwell), scawian (look), weorian (honour), wundrian (wonder), fstnian
(fasten), mrsian (glorify).
                           Class III

habban (to have), hfde, hfd

libban (to live), lifde, lifd

secgan (to say), sgde, sgd

hycgan (to think), hogde, hogod

ragan (to threaten), rade, rad

smagan (to think), smade, smad

frogan (to free), frode, frod

fogan (to hate), fode, fod
      Old English verbs are conjugated having two tenses - the Present tense
and the Past tense, and three moods - indicative, subjunctive, and
imperative. Of these, only the subjunctive mood has disappeared in the
English language, acquiring an analytic construction instead of
inflections; and the imperative mood has coincided with the infinitive form
(to write - write!). In the Old English period they all looked different.
      The common table of the verb conjugation is given below. Here you
should notice that the Present tense has the conjugation for all three
moods, while the Past tense - for only two moods (no imperative in the Past
tense, naturally). Some more explanation should be given about the stem
      In fact all verbal forms were generated in Old English from three verb
stems, and each verb had its own three ones: the Infinitive stem, the Past
Singular stem, the Past Plural stem. For the verb wrtan, for example,
those three stems are: wrt- (infinitive without the ending -an), wrt-
(the Past singular), writ- (the Past plural without the ending -on). The
table below explains where to use this or that stem.

      Additionally, the participles (Participle I and Participle II) are
formed by the suffix -ende to the Infinitive stem (participle I), or the
prefix ge- + the Past Plural stem + the ending -en (Participle II).
Tired of the theory? Here is the preactice. We give several examples of the
typical verbs - first strong, then weak, then irregular.
     Class I strong - wrtan (to write)

       Pres.                                     Past

       Ind.       Subj.      Imper.      Ind.          Subj.

Sg. 1 wrte                  -             wrt

     2 wrtest  wrte    wrt           write         } wrte

     3 wrte               -               wrt

Pl.  wrta   wrten  2 wrta       writon        writen
        Infinitive               Participle

   wrtan                   I wrtende   II gewriten
     Class II weak - lufian (to love)

         Pres.                                Past

    Ind.         Subj.       Imp.         Ind.        Subj.

Sg. 1 lufie                  -             lufode

      2 lufast }lufie       lufa          lufodest } lufode

      3 lufa                 -             lufode

Pl.   lufia    lufien    2 lufia      lufodon    lufoden


   I lufiende  II gelufod
     Class III strong - bindan (to bind)

       Pres.                                           Past

      Ind.          Subj.      Imp.         Ind.              Subj.

Sg. 1 binde                      -          band, bond

      2 bindest } binde     bind        bunde        } bunde

     3 binde                     -          band, bond

Pl.    binda   binden     binda     bundon         bunden
            Inf.            Part.

  bindan               I bindende  II gebunden
     Class V strong - son (to see)

         Pres.                                        Past

    Ind.         Subj.       Imp.         Ind.          Subj.

Sg.1 so                    -              seah

    2 sehst   } so      seoh         swe      } swe,

    3 seh                  -               seah           sge

Pl.   so     son    2 so        sawon       swen


  I sonde  II gesewen, gesegen
     Class VII strong - fn (to catch)

         Pres.                                Past

    Ind.         Subj.       Imp.      Ind.         Subj.

Sg. 1 f                     -            feng

     2 fhst  } f         fh         fenge     } fenge

     3 fh                  -            feng

Pl.   f       fn      2 f        fengon      fengen


  I fnde  II gefangen, gefongen
     Class III weak - secgan (to say)

         Pres.                                      Past

       Ind.         Subj.       Imp.         Ind.        Subj.

Sg.1 secge                   -              sgde

     2 sgst  }secge      sge        sgdest  }sgde

     3 sg                  -               sgde

Pl.  secga    secgen   2 secga   sgdon     sgden


   I secgende  II gesgd
     Class III weak - libban (to live)

         Pres.                                Past

    Ind.          Subj.       Imp.         Ind.        Subj.

Sg.1 libbe                   -             lifde

     2 liofast  }libbe     liofa         lifdest    } lifde

     3 liofa                 -              lifde

Pl.   libba    libben    2 libba   lifdon       lifden


   I libbende  II gelifd
    A special group is made by the so-called Present-Preterite verbs, which
are conjugated combining two varieties of the usual verb conjugation:
strong and weak. These verbs, at all not more than seven, are nowadays
called modal verbs in English.
Present-Preterite verbs have their Present tense forms generated from the
Strong Past, and the Past tense, instead, looks like the Present Tense of
the Weak verbs. The verbs we present here are the following: witan (to
know), cunnan (can), urfan (to need), dearan (to dare), munan (to
remember), sculan (shall), magan (may).
              Present  of witan (= strong Past)

        Ind.        Subj.       Imp.

Sg.  1 wt                      -

     2 wast      } wite        wite

     3 wt                         -

Pl.    witon     2 witen      wita

              Past (= Weak)

        Ind.                         Subj.

Sg.1 wisse, wiste

     2 wissest, wistest  } wisse, wiste

     3 wisse, wiste

Pl.    wisson, wiston      wissen, wisten

    Participles: I witende, II witen, gewiten
     cunnan (can)

             Pres.                     Past

    Ind.             Subj.        Ind.         Subj.

Sg. 1 cann                     ce

      2 canst    } cunne     cest   } ce

      3 cann                     ce

Pl.   cunnon     cunnen    con      cen
     urfan (need)

Sg. 1 earf                    orfte

      2 earft  } urfe      orftest   } orfte

      3 earf                    orfte

Pl.    urfon    urfen     orfton      orften
     magan (may)

Sg. 1 mg                    meahte       mihte, mihten

      2 meaht    } mge  meahtest

      3 mg                    meahte

Pl.   magon       mgen  meahton


The main difference of verbs of this type in modern English is their
expressing modality, i.e. possibility, obligation, necessity. They do not
require the particle to before the infinitive which follows them. In Old
English in general no verb requires this particle before the infinitive. In
fact, this to before the infinitive form meant the preposition of
And now finally a few irregular verbs, which used several different stems
for their tenses. These verbs are very important in Old English and are met
very often in the texts: wesan (to be), bon (to be), gn (to go), dn (to
do), willan (will). Mind that there was no Future tense in the Old English
language, and the future action was expressed by the Present forms, just
sometimes using verbs of modality, willan (lit. "to wish to do") or sculan
(lit. "to have to do").
wesan (to be) - has got only the Present tense forms, uses the verb bon in
the Past


        Ind.      Subj.      Imp.

Sg.1 eom     -

     2 eart  }  se, s     wes

     3 is          -

Pl. sind       sen, sn  2 wesa
bon (to be)


        Ind.      Subj.    Imp.

Sg. 1 bo                  -

      2 bist    }bo      bo

      3 bi                   -

Pl.   bo     bon    2 bo


    Ind.              Subj.

Sg. 1 ws

      2 wre    } wre

      3 ws

Pl.   wron     wren

    Participle I is bonde (being).
gn (to go)

      Pres.                                 Past

     Ind.         Subj.    Imp.        Ind.           Subj.

Sg.1 g                      -           ode

     2 g'st  } g         g         odest     } ode

     3 g'                  -           ode

Pl.   g      2 gn      g       odon       oden


  I gnde, gangende    II gegn

      So there were in fact two verbs meaning 'to be', and both were
colloquial. In Middle English, however, the verb wesan replaced fully the
forms of bon, and the words bo (I am), bist (thou art) fell out of use.
The Past tense forms was and were are also derivatives from wesan.
      Syntactically, the language had only two main tenses - the Present and
the Past. No progressive (or Continuous) tenses were used, they were
invented only in the Early Middle English period. Such complex tenses as
modern Future in the Past, Future Perfect Continuous did not exist either.
However, some analytic construction were in use, and first of all the
perfective constructions. The example Hie geweorc geworhten hfdon 'they
have build a fortress' shows the exact Perfect tense, but at that time it
was not the tense really, just a participle construction showing that the
action has been done. Seldom you can also find such Past constructions,
which later became the Past Perfect Tense.
      Verb syntax includes a number of suffices and prefixes which can be
met in Old English texts and especially in poetry:

  1. -s- (from substantive or adjective stems) - m'rsian (to announce;
from m're - famous)

  2. -lc- - nlcan (to approach)

  3. -ett- - bliccettan (to sparkle)



  1. - = out of, from - rsan (arise), wakan (awake), beran (sustain)

  2. be- = over, around, by - begn (go around), beencan (think over),
behafdian (behead)

  3. for- = destruction or loss - fordn (destroy), forweoran (perish)

  4. mis- = negation or bad quality - mislcian (displease)

  5. of- = reinfors - ofslan (kill), ofton (take away)

  6. on- = change or separation - onbindan (unbind), onlcan (unlock)

  7. t- = destruction - tbrecan (break)
                      The Old English Auxiliary Words.

      These traditionally include prepositions, conjunctions, different
      particles and
interjections. All Indo-European languages have this system of auxiliary
parts of speech, though there are languages which lack some of them.
Japanese, for example, has no prepositions, and the service function in the
sentence belongs to postpositive words which have cases, the same as nouns.
Korean does not use any conjunctions, replacing them by about 50 different
kinds of verbal adverbs. As for Chinese, it simply does not make any
distinction in the sentence between basic and auxiliary words.
Most of Old English prepositions are easily recognizable:

Primary: of (of, out of), t (to), fram (from), t (to), wi (against), in,
of, mid (with), on (on, at), be (by, near, to, because of, about), urh
(through), under, ofer (over), fter (after), bufan (above), t (out).

Secondary: beforan (before), btan (without), benoran (north of), etc.

t means 'to' and wi means 'against'. In Germanic all prepositions divided
into those who used nouns in dative, accusative or genitive. But in the Old
English period this distinction begins to disappear, and only some of the
prepositions use dative (mid, btan, sometimes on, in) or genitive (fram,
t, fter).

Conjunctions included the following:
Primary: and / ond (and) , ac (but), gif (if), or.

Secondary: ger ge... ge (both... and..., either ... or...), hwonne
(when), a (when), onne (when),  h (though), tte (that), r (before),
sw... sw... (so... as...).

And a few interjections: i (yes), w (woe!, wow!), hwt (there! what!).

"The history of Old English and its development "