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The Old English Pronoun

The Old English Noun.

The Old English Morphology

Lecture 6

Source New OE ME Meaning

The Formation of Middle English Diphthongs

This phenomenon involves changes in the consonants as well, as the glides [w] and [j] and the voiced velar fricative develop into the second member of the new diphthongs.

Nouns in Old English had the categories of number, gender, and case.

Gender in OE is grammatical, not logical or natural. This means that nouns and pronouns followed different patterns of declension as a function of linguistic characteristics of the words. Thus wif ‘wife’ is a neuter noun and mann ‘man’ is a masculine noun, and wifmann ‘woman’ is therefore masculine also, as dictated by the second element of the compound. The switch to logical gender occurred partly because of the attrition of the system of inflections, though it actually began in the OE period and was complete by the end of Middle English. It has been suggested on the basis of recent work in corpus linguistics that feminine nouns kept their gender longer than masculine or neuter nouns, and this is perhaps the reason why in Modern English ‘she’ is occasionally still used to refer to inanimate nouns such as names of countries, ships and the like.

There are two numbers: singular and plural.

There are four cases in the noun systems depending on the grammatical function of the noun. The nominativecase was used primarily for subjects, the accusativecase for direct objects, the genitivecase for possessives; and the dativecase was used primarily for indirect objects, but had other functions as well.

Nouns in OE are divided into either vocalic or consonantal stems, depending on the element in which the noun-stem originally ended. There are four vocalic stem -a, -o, -u and -i, though the vowel itself was often lost in OE, the declension being actually inherited from an earlier form of Germanic. The i-stems, e.g., wine ‘friend’, for the most part joined the masculine a-nouns and the two are therefore treated together below. The largest group of consonantal stems was marked by the presence of n in Indo-European; other minor groups of nouns included r- and nd- stems. Among vocalic stems, masculines consist of a-stems (and old i-stems), neuters of a-stems and feminines of o-stems, while u-stems were either masculine or feminine. Consonant stems could be any of the three genders.


There are several types of pronouns in OE: personal, possessive, demonstrative, interrogative, definite, indefinite, negative, and relative.

In OE, as in Gothic, there are besides singular and plural personal pronouns, also dual pronouns for the 1st and 2nd persons, which are used to refer to a pair of people, e.g. a married couple. All three persons and genders are preserved in the singular. OE has also four cases in the pronouns, still distinguishing the dative and accusative forms, which fell together by Middle English, producing what is in Modern English often referred to as the ‘objective case’.


As for possessive pronouns, these are derived from the genitive case of the personal pronouns of all persons and numbers. The possessive pronouns min, þin, uncer, incer, ure, eower are declined in the same way as strong adjectives. The possessive pronouns his, hire, and hiera are unchanged. Besides, there is the reflexive possessive pronoun sin, which is also declined in the way of strong adjectives.

There are two demonstrative pronouns in OE: se ‘that’ and þes ‘this’. The meaning of this pronoun is often weakened, so that it approaches the status of an article, e.g. se mann ‘the man’, seo sæ ‘the sea’, þæt lond ‘the land’.

The interrogative pronouns hwa ‘who’ and hwæt ‘what’ have only singular forms. The interrogative pronoun hwilc ‘which’ is declined as a strong adjective.

As for definite pronouns, here we find the pronouns gehwa ‘every’, gehwilc ‘each’, ægþer ‘either’, ælc ‘each’, swilc ‘such’ and se ilca ‘the same’.

The negative pronouns nan and nænig, both meaning ‘no’, ‘none’, are also declined as strong adjectives.


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