. The history of Old English and its development

(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

: 1, 2, 3