The history of English

Historical background of the History of English. Assimilative Vowel Changes: Breaking and Diphthongisation. Old English phonetics and grammar. Morphological classification of nouns. Evolution of the grammatical system. Personal and possessive pronouns.


Lecture Classes 1-2 : Old English Phonetics

Historical background.

Pre-Germanic Britain. Celts. Branches of Celtic languages.

Germanic settlement in Britain.

Historical events between 5th and 11th centuries.

The linguistic situation in Britain before and after the Germanic settlement.

Old English (OE) dialects.

OE written records.

Runic inscriptions

OE manuscripts. OE poetry. OE prose.

OE Alphabet and Pronunciation. Word Stress in OE.

Changes of stressed vowels in Early OE. Development of Monophthongs and Diphthongs in OE.

Breaking and Diphthongization.

Palatal Mutation. Changes of Unstressed Vowels in Early OE.

OE Consonants.

Treatment of fricatives. Hardening.


Voicing and devoicing.

West Germanic Gemination of Consonants. Velar Consonants in Early OE. Loss of consonants in some positions.

Lecture Classes 3-4: Old English grammar.

The Noun in OE

Grammatical categories of the noun. The use of cases.

Morphological classification of nouns. Declensions.

The Pronoun in OE.

Personal pronouns. Declension of personal pronouns.

Demonstrative pronouns. Declension of demonstrative pronouns.

Other classes of Pronouns.

The Adjective.

Grammatical categories.

Weak and strong declension.

Degrees of Comparison.

The Verb.

Grammatical categories of the Finite Verb.

Conjugation of Verbs in OE.

Morphological Classification of Verbs. Strong Verbs.

Morphological Classification of Verbs. Weak Verbs. Minor Groups of Verbs.

Grammatical categories of the Verbal.

The Infinitive

The Participle


The Simple Sentence

Compound and Complex Sentences

Word Order

Lecture Classes 5-6: Development of the Grammatical System (11th -18th centuries)

The Noun

Decay of Noun declensions

Grammatical Categories of the Noun

The Pronoun

Personal and Possessive Pronouns

Demonstrative Pronouns. Development of Articles

Other Classes of Pronouns

The Adjective

Decay of Declensions and Grammatical Categories

Degrees of Comparison

The Verb

Simplifying Changes of the Verb Conjugation

Verbals. The Infinitive and the Participle.

Development of the Gerund.

Changes in the Morphological Classes of Verbs

Strong Verbs

Weak Verbs

Minor groups of Verbs

Growth of New Forms within the Existing Grammatical Categories

The Future Tense

New Forms of the Subjunctive Mood

Interrogative and Negatives Forms with do

Development of New Grammatical Categories

Passive Forms. Category of Voice

Perfect Forms. Category of Time-Correlation

Continuous Forms. Category of Aspect


Pre-Roman Britain

Man lived in what we now call the British Isles long before it broke away from the continent of Europe, long before the great seas covered the land bridge that is now known as the English Channel, that body of water that protected this island for so long, and that by its very nature, was to keep it out of the maelstrom that became medieval Europe. Thus England's peculiar character as an island nation came about through its very isolation. Early man came, settled, farmed and built. His remains tell us much about his lifestyle and his habits. Of course, the land was not then known as England, nor would it be until long after the Romans had departed.

We know of the island's early inhabitants from what they left behind on such sites as Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, and Swanscombe in Kent, gravel pits, the exploration of which opened up a whole new way of seeing our ancient ancestors dating back to the lower Paleolithic (early Stone Age). Here were deposited not only fine tools made of flint, including hand-axes, but also a fossilized skull of a young woman as well as bones of elephants, rhinoceroses, cave-bears, lions, horses, deer, giant oxen, wolves and hares. From the remains, we can assume that man lived at the same time as these animals which have long disappeared from the English landscape.

So we know that a thriving culture existed around 8,000 years ago in the misty, westward islands the Romans were to call Britannia, though some have suggested the occupation was only seasonal, due to the still-cold climate of the glacial period which was slowly coming to an end. As the climate improved, there seems to have been an increase in the number of people moving into Britain from the Continent. They were attracted by its forests, its wild game, abundant rivers and fertile southern plains. An added attraction was its relative isolation, giving protection against the fierce nomadic tribesmen that kept appearing out of the east, forever searching for new hunting grounds and perhaps, people to subjugate and enslave.

The Celts in Britain used a language derived from a branch of Celtic known as either Brythonic, which gave rise to Welsh, Cornish and Breton; or Goidelic, giving rise to Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx. Along with their languages, the Celts brought their religion to Britain, particularly that of the Druids, the guardians of traditions and learning. The Druids glorified the pursuits of war, feasting and horsemanship. They controlled the calendar and the planting of crops and presided over the religious festivals and rituals that honored local deities.

Many of Britain's Celts came from Gaul, driven from their homelands by the Roman armies and Germanic tribes. These were the Belgae, who arrived in great numbers and settled in the southeast around 75 BC. They brought with them a sophisticated plough that revolutionized agriculture in the rich, heavy soils of their new lands. Their society was well-organized in urban settlements, the capitals of the tribal chiefs. Their crafts were highly developed; bronze urns, bowls and torques illustrate their metalworking skills. They also introduced coinage to Britain and conducted a lively export trade with Rome and Gaul, including corn, livestock, metals and slaves.

Of the Celtic lands on the mainland of Britain, Wales and Scotland have received extensive coverage in the pages of Britannia. The largest non-Celtic area, at least linguistically, is now known as England, and it is here that the Roman influence is most strongly felt. It was here that the armies of Rome came to stay, to farm, to mine, to build roads, small cities, and to prosper, but mostly to govern.

The Roman Period

The first Roman invasion of the lands we now call the British Isles took place in 55 B.C. under war leader Julius Caesar, who returned one year later, but these probings did not lead to any significant or permanent occupation. He had some interesting, if biased comments concerning the natives: "All the Britons," he wrote, "paint themselves with woad, which gives their skin a bluish color and makes them look very dreadful in battle." It was not until a hundred years later that permanent settlement of the grain-rich eastern territories began in earnest.

In the year 43 A.D. an expedition was ordered against Britain by the Emperor Claudius, who showed he meant business by sending his general, Aulus Plautius, and an army of 40,000 men. Only three months after Plautius's troops landed on Britain's shores, the Emperor Claudius felt it was safe enough to visit his new province. Establishing their bases in what is now Kent, through a series of battles involving greater discipline, a great element of luck, and general lack of co-ordination between the leaders of the various Celtic tribes, the Romans subdued much of Britain in the short space of forty years. They were to remain for nearly 400 years. The great number of prosperous villas that have been excavated in the southeast and southwest testify to the rapidity by which Britain became Romanized, for they functioned as centers of a settled, peaceful and urban life.

The highlands and moorlands of the northern and western regions, present-day Scotland and Wales, were not as easily settled, nor did the Romans particularly wish to settle in these agriculturally poorer, harsh landscapes. They remained the frontier -- areas where military garrisons were strategically placed to guard the extremities of the Empire. The stubborn resistance of tribes in Wales meant that two out of three Roman legions in Britain were stationed on its borders, at Chester and Caerwent.

Major defensive works further north attest to the fierceness of the Pictish and Celtic tribes, Hadrian's Wall in particular reminds us of the need for a peaceful and stable frontier. Built when Hadrian had abandoned his plan of world conquest, settling for a permanent frontier to "divide Rome from the barbarians," the seventy-two mile long wall connecting the Tyne to the Solway was built and rebuilt, garrisoned and re-garrisoned many times, strengthened by stone-built forts as one mile intervals.

For Imperial Rome, the island of Britain was a western breadbasket. Caesar had taken armies there to punish those who were aiding the Gauls on the Continent in their fight to stay free of Roman influence. Claudius invaded to give himself prestige, and his subjugation of eleven British tribes gave him a splendid triumph. Vespasian was a legion commander in Britain before he became Emperor, but it was Agricola who gave us most notice of the heroic struggle of the native Britons through his biographer Tacitus. From him, we get the unforgettable picture of the druids, "ranged in order, with their hands uplifted, invoking the gods and pouring forth horrible imprecations." Agricola also won the decisive victory of Mons Graupius in present-day Scotland in 84 A.D. over Calgacus "the swordsman," that carried Roman arms farther west and north than they had ever before ventured. They called their newly-conquered northern territory Caledonia.

When Rome had to withdraw one of its legions from Britain, the thirty-seven mile long Antonine Wall, connecting the Firths of Forth and Clyde, served temporarily as the northern frontier, beyond which lay Caledonia. The Caledonians, however were not easily contained; they were quick to master the arts of guerilla warfare against the scattered, home-sick Roman legionaries, including those under their ageing commander Severus. The Romans abandoned the Antonine Wall, withdrawing south of the better-built, more easily defended barrier of Hadrian, but by the end of the fourth century, the last remaining outposts in Caledonia were abandoned.

Further south, however, in what is now England, Roman life prospered. Essentially urban, it was able to integrate the native tribes into a town-based governmental system. Agricola succeeded greatly in his aims to accustom the Britons "to a life of peace and quiet by the provision of amenities. He consequently gave private encouragement and official assistance to the building of temples, public squares and good houses." Many of these were built in former military garrisons that became the coloniae, the Roman chartered towns such as Colchester, Gloucester, Lincoln, and York (where Constantine was declared Emperor by his troops in 306 A.D.). Other towns, called municipia, included such foundations as St. Albans (Verulamium).

Chartered towns were governed to a large extent on that of Rome. They were ruled by an ordo of 100 councillors (decurion). who had to be local residents and own a certain amount of property. The ordo was run by two magistrates, rotated annually; they were responsible for collecting taxes, administering justice and undertaking public works. Outside the chartered town, the inhabitants were referred to as peregrini, or non-citizens. they were organized into local government areas known as civitates, largely based on pre-existing chiefdom boundaries. Canterbury and Chelmsford were two of the civitas capitals.

In the countryside, away from the towns, with their metalled, properly drained streets, their forums and other public buildings, bath houses, shops and amphitheatres, were the great villas, such as are found at Bignor, Chedworth and Lullingstone. Many of these seem to have been occupied by native Britons who had acquired land and who had adopted Roman culture and customs.. Developing out of the native and relatively crude farmsteads, the villas gradually added features such as stone walls, multiple rooms, hypocausts (heating systems), mosaics and bath houses. The third and fourth centuries saw a golden age of villa building that further increased their numbers of rooms and added a central courtyard. The elaborate surviving mosaics found in some of these villas show a detailed construction and intensity of labor that only the rich could have afforded; their wealth came from the highly lucrative export of grain.

Roman society in Britain was highly classified. At the top were those people associated with the legions, the provincial administration, the government of towns and the wealthy traders and commercial classes who enjoyed legal privileges not generally accorded to the majority of the population. In 212 AD, the Emperor Caracalla extended citizenship to all free-born inhabitants of the empire, but social and legal distinctions remained rigidly set between the upper rank of citizens known as honestiores and the masses, known as humiliores. At the lowest end of the scale were the slaves, many of whom were able to gain their freedom, and many of whom might occupy important governmental posts. Women were also rigidly circumscribed, not being allowed to hold any public office, and having severely limited property rights.

One of the greatest achievements of the Roman Empire was its system of roads, in Britain no less than elsewhere. When the legions arrived in a country with virtually no roads at all, as Britain was in the first century A.D., their first task was to build a system to link not only their military headquarters but also their isolated forts. Vital for trade, the roads were also of paramount important in the speedy movement of troops, munitions and supplies from one strategic center to another. They also allowed the movement of agricultural products from farm to market. London was the chief administrative centre, and from it, roads spread out to all parts of the province. They included Ermine Street, to Lincoln; Watling Street, to Wroxeter and then to Chester, all the way in the northwest on the Welsh frontier; and the Fosse Way, from Exeter to Lincoln, the first frontier of the province of Britain.

The Romans built their roads carefully and they built them well. They followed proper surveying, they took account of contours in the land, avoided wherever possible the fen, bog and marsh so typical in much of the land, and stayed clear of the impenetrable forests. They also utilized bridges, an innovation that the Romans introduced to Britain in place of the hazardous fords at many river crossings. An advantage of good roads was that communications with all parts of the country could be effected. They carried the cursus publicus, or imperial post. A road book used by messengers that lists all the main routes in Britain, the principal towns and forts they pass through, and the distances between them has survived: the Antonine Itinerary.. In addition, the same information, in map form, is found in the Peutinger Table. It tells us that mansions were places at various intervals along the road to change horses and take lodgings.

The Roman armies did not have it all their own way in their battles with the native tribesmen, some of whom, in their inter-tribal squabbles, saw them as deliverers, not conquerors. Heroic and often prolonged resistance came from such leaders as Caratacus of the Ordovices, betrayed to the Romans by the Queen of the Brigantes. And there was Queen Boudicca (Boadicea) of the Iceni, whose revolt nearly succeeded in driving the Romans out of Britain. Her people, incensed by their brutal treatment at the hands of Roman officials, burned Colchester, London, and St. Albans, destroying many armies ranged against them. It took a determined effort and thousands of fresh troops sent from Italy to reinforce governor Suetonius Paulinus in A.D. 61 to defeat the British Queen, who took poison rather than submit.

Apart from the villas and fortified settlements, the great mass of the British people did not seem to have become Romanized. The influence of Roman thought survived in Britain only through the Church. Christianity had thoroughly replaced the old Celtic gods by the close of the 4th Century, as the history of Pelagius and St. Patrick testify, but Romanization was not successful in other areas. For example, the Latin tongue did not replace Brittonic as the language of the general population. Today's visitors to Wales, however, cannot fail to notice some of the Latin words that were borrowed into the British language, such as pysg (fish), braich (arm), caer (fort), foss (ditch), pont (bridge), eglwys (church), llyfr (book), ysgrif (writing), ffenestr (window), pared (wall or partition), and ystafell (room).

The disintegration of Roman Britain began with the revolt of Magnus Maximus in A.D. 383. After living in Britain as military commander for twelve years, he had been hailed as Emperor by his troops. He began his campaigns to dethrone Gratian as Emperor in the West, taking a large part of the Roman garrison in Britain with him to the Continent, and though he succeeded Gratian, he himself was killed by the Emperor Thedosius in 388. Some Welsh historians, and modern political figures, see Magnus Maximus as the father of the Welsh nation, for he opened the way for independent political organizations to develop among the Welsh people by his acknowledgement of the role of the leaders of the Britons in 383 (before departing on his military mission to the Continent) The enigmatic figure has remained a hero to the Welsh as Macsen Wledig, celebrated in poetry and song.

The Roman legions began to withdraw from Britain at the end of the fourth century. Those who stayed behind were to become the Romanized Britons who organized local defences against the onslaught of the Saxon hordes. The famous letter of A.D. 410 from the Emperor Honorius told the cities of Britain to look to their own defences from that time on. As part of the east coast defences, a command had been established under the Count of the Saxon Shore, and a fleet had been organized to control the Channel and the North Sea. All this showed a tremendous effort to hold the outlying province of Britain, but eventually, it was decided to abandon the whole project. In any case, the communication from Honorius was a little late: the Saxon influence had already begun in earnest.

The Dark Ages

From the time that the Romans more or less abandoned Britain, to the arrival of Augustine at Kent to convert the Saxons, the period has been known as the Dark Ages. Written evidence concerning the period is scanty, but we do know that the most significant events were the gradual division of Britain into a Brythonic west, a Teutonic east and a Gaelic north; the formation of the Welsh, English and Scottish nations; and the conversion of much of the west to Christianity.

By 410, Britain had become self-governing in three parts, the North (which already included people of mixed British and Angle stock); the West (including Britons, Irish, and Angles); and the South East (mainly Angles). With the departure of the Roman legions, the old enemies began their onslaughts upon the native Britons once more. The Picts and Scots to the north and west (the Scots coming in from Ireland had not yet made their homes in what was to become later known as Scotland), and the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes to the south and east.

The two centuries that followed the collapse of Roman Britain happen to be among the worst recorded times in British history, certainly the most obscure. Three main sources for our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon permeation of Britain come from the 6th century monk Gildas, the 8th century historian Bede, and the 9th century historian Nennius.

The heritage of the British people cannot simply be called Anglo-Saxon; it is based on such a mixture as took place in the Holy Land, that complex mosaic of cultures, ideologies and economies. The Celts were not driven out of what came to be known as England. More than one modern historian has pointed out that such an extraordinary success as an Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain "by bands of bold adventurers" could hardly have passed without notice by the historians of the Roman Empire, yet only Prosper Tyro and Procopius notice this great event, and only in terms that are not always consistent with the received accounts.

In the Gallic Chronicle of 452, Tyro had written that the Britons in 443 were reduced "in dicionen Saxonum" (under the jurisdiction of the English). He used the Roman term Saxons for all the English-speaking peoples resident in Britain: it comes from the Welsh appellation Saeson). The Roman historians had been using the term to describe all the continental folk who had been directing their activities towards the eastern and southern coasts of Britain from as early as the 3rd Century. By the mid 6th Century, these peoples were calling themselves Angles and Frisians, and not Saxons.

In the account given by Procopius in the middle of the 6th Century (the Gothic War, Book IV, cap 20), he writes of the island of Britain being possessed by three very populous nations: the Angili, the Frisians, and the Britons. "And so numerous are these nations that every year, great numbers migrate to the Franks." There is no suggestion here that these peoples existed in a state of warfare or enmity, nor that the British people had been vanquished or made to flee westwards. We have to assume, therefore, that the Gallic Chronicle of 452 refers only to a small part of Britain, and that it does not signify conquest by the Saxons.

The Anglo Saxon Period

To answer the question how did the small number of invaders come to master the larger part of Britain? John Davies gives us part of the answer: the regions seized by the newcomers were mainly those that had been most thoroughly Romanized, regions where traditions of political and military self-help were at their weakest. Those who chafed at the administration of Rome could only have welcomed the arrival of the English in such areas as Kent and Sussex, in the southeast.

Another reason cited by Davies is the emergence in Britain of the great plague of the sixth century from Egypt that was particularly devastating to the Britons who had been in close contact with peoples of the Mediterranean. Be that as it may, the emergence of England as a nation did not begin as a result of a quick, decisive victory over the native Britons, but a result of hundreds of years of settlement and growth, more settlement and growth, sometimes peaceful, sometimes not. If it is pointed out that the native Celts were constantly warring among themselves, it should also be noted that so were the tribes we now collectively term the English, for different kingdoms developed in England that constantly sought domination through conquest. Even Bede could pick out half a dozen rulers able to impose some kind of authority upon their contemporaries.

So we see the rise and fall of successive English kingdoms during the seventh and eighth centuries: Kent, Northumbria, Mercia, and Wessex. Before looking at political developments, however, it is important to notice the religious conversion of the people we commonly call Anglo-Saxons. It began in the late sixth century and created an institution that not only transcended political boundaries, but created a new concept of unity among the various tribal regions that overrode individual loyalties.

During the centuries of inter-tribal warfare, the Saxons had not thought of defending their coasts. The Norsemen, attracted by the wealth of the religious settlements, often placed near the sea, were free to embark upon their voyages of plunder.

The first recorded visit of the Vikings in the West Saxon Annals had stated that a small raiding party slew those who came to meet them at Dorchester in 789. It was the North, however, at such places as Lindisfarne, the holiest city in England, lavishly endowed with treasures at its monastery and religious settlement that constituted the main target. Before dealing with the onslaught of the Norsemen, however, it is time to briefly review the accomplishments of the people collectively known as the Anglo-Saxons, especially in the rule of law.

By the year 878 there was every possibility that before the end of the year Wessex would have been divided among the Danish army. That this turn of events did not come to pass was due to Alfred. Leaving aside the political events of the period, we can praise his laws as the first selective code of Anglo-Saxon England, though the fundamentals remained unchanged, those who didn't please him, were amended or discarded. They remain comments on the law, mere statements of established custom.

In 896, Alfred occupied London, giving the first indication that the lands which had lately passed under Danish control might be reclaimed. It made him the obvious leader of all those who, in any part of the country, wished for a reversal of the disasters, and it was immediately followed by a general recognition of his lordship. In the words of the Chronicle, "all the English people submitted to Alfred except those who were under the power of the Danes."

Around 890 the Vikings (also known as Norsemen or Danes) came as hostile raiders to the shores of Britain. Their invasions were thus different from those of the earlier Saxons who had originally come to defend the British people and then to settle. Though they did settle eventually in their newly conquered lands, the Vikings were more intent on looting and pillaging; their armies marched inland destroying and burning until half of England had been taken. However, just as an earlier British leader, perhaps the one known in legend as Arthur had stopped the Saxon advance into the Western regions at Mount Badon in 496, so a later leader stopped the advance of the Norsemen at Edington in 878.

But this time, instead of sailing home with their booty, the Danish seamen and soldiers stayed the winter on the Isle of Thanet on the Thames where the men of Hengist had come ashore centuries earlier. Like their Saxon predecessors, the Danes showed that they had come to stay.

It was not too long before the Danes had become firmly entrenched seemingly everywhere they chose in England (many of the invaders came from Norway and Sweden as well as Denmark). They had begun their deprivations with the devastation of Lindisfarne in 793, and the next hundred years saw army after army crossing the North Sea, first to find treasure, and then to take over good, productive farm lands upon which to raise their families. Outside Wessex, their ships were able to penetrate far inland; and founded their communities wherever the rivers met the sea.

Chaos and confusion were quick to return to England after Cnut's death, and the ground was prepared for the coming of the Normans, a new set of invaders no less ruthless than those who had come before. Cnut had precipitated problems by leaving his youngest, bastard son Harold, unprovided for. He had intended to give Denmark and England to Hardacnut and Norway to Swein. In 1035, Hardacnut could not come to England from Denmark without leaving Magnus of Norway a free hand in Scandinavia.

Although the two hundred years of Danish invasions and settlement had an enormous effect on Britain, bringing over from the continent as many people as had the Anglo-Saxon invasions, the effects on the language and customs of the English were not as catastrophic as the earlier invasions had been on the native British. The Anglo-Saxons were a Germanic race; their homelands had been in northern Europe, many of them coming, if not from Denmark itself, then from lands bordering that little country. They shared many common traditions and customs with the people of Scandinavia, and they spoke a related language.

There are over 1040 place names in England of Scandinavian origin, most occurring in the north and east, the area of settlement known as the Danelaw. The evidence shows extensive peaceable settlement by farmers who intermarried their English cousins, adopted many of their customs and entered into the everyday life of the community. Though the Danes who came to England preserved many of their own customs, they readily adapted to the ways of the English whose language they could understand without too much difficulty. There are more than 600 place names that end with the Scandinavian -by, (farm or town); some three hundred contain the Scandinavian word thorp (village), and the same number with thwaite (an isolated piece of land). Thousands of words of Scandinavian origin remain in the everyday speech of people in the north and east of England.

There was another very important feature of the Scandinavian settlement which cannot be overlooked. The Saxon people had not maintained contact with their orginal homelands; in England they had become an island race. The Scandinavians, however, kept their contacts with their kinsman on the continent. Under Cnut, England was part of a Scandinavian empire; its people began to extend their outlook and become less insular. The process was hastened by the coming of another host of Norsemen: the Norman Conquest was about to begin.

William of Normandy with his huge host of fighting men, landed unopposed in the south. Harold had to march southwards with his tired, weakened army and did not wait for reinforcements before he awaited the charge of William's mounted knights at Hastings. The only standing army in England had been defeated in an-all day battle in which the outcome was in doubt until the undisciplined English had broken ranks to pursue the Normans' feigning retreat. The story is too well-known to be repeated here, but when William took his army to London, where young Edgar the Atheling had been proclaimed king in Harold's place, English indecision in gathering together a formidable opposition forced the supporters of Edgar to negotiate for peace. They had no choice. William was duly crowned King of England at Westminster on Christmas Day, 1066.

William's victory also linked England with France and not Scandinavia from now on. Within six months of his coronation, William felt secure enough to visit Normandy. The sporadic outbreaks at rebellion against his rule had one important repercussion, however: it meant that threats to his security prevented him from undertaking any attempt to cooperate with the native aristocracy in the administration of England.

By the time of William's death in 1087, English society had been profoundly changed. For one thing, the great Saxon earldoms were split: Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and other ancient kingdoms were abolished forever. The great estates of England were given to Norman and Breton landowners, carefully prevented from building up their estates by having them separated by the holdings of others.

The majority of Old English manuscripts are scattered throughout the libraries of England. The two largest collections belong to the British Library and the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. While these documents are national treasures and should be accessible to anyone, they obviously need to be protected; hence, heightened powers of persuasion notwithstanding, it is unlikely that an individual without an academic position or recommendation will be allowed access. Fortunately, many of these documents are on public display.

Most of the existing Old English manuscripts were made in the scriptoria of monasteries by members of the clergy. Anyone who has ever visited the remnants of such a monastery can imagine how difficult this must have been, with such little comfort, light and warmth in winter. It only goes to show the skill of monastic scribes in rendering their words so beautifully.

Anglo-Saxon manuscripts were written exclusively on parchment or vellum. While in modern times we know these media as semi-transparent writing papers used for tracing and sketching, they were originally made out of calf, goat or pig skins which had been stretched, shaved and treated. The result of this process was a thin membrane with one completely smooth side and another with a thin layer of leftover hair. Hundreds of animal skins were required to make a single book. This meant that the cost of creating literature during the Anglo-Saxon period was staggering - and hence the value of the finished product.

After the skins had been treated, they were folded into page-size squares (one fold created a folio, two folds a quarto, four folds an octavo, and so on - denoting the number of pages created by the folds). The result was a "quire," or section of pages. This process permitted the scribe to prick small holes through the pages of each quire, which could then be ruled, making uniformly straight lines of text on each page. Finally the quires would be bound together and covered. Unfortunately, we have few decent examples of what these covers looked like; one notable exception is the small Gospel book found in St. Cuthbert's tomb, now on display at the British Library. This method of book production meant that manuscripts could be easily unbound, permitting portions of texts to become separated, swapped or lost. For this reason, and because medieval writers frequently wrote wherever they could fit text (in blank spaces, on flyleaves, etc.), many manuscripts contain a wide assortment of different documents.

The dominant script of the Old English manuscripts is Anglo-Saxon (also called Insular, a Latin word meaning "island"; in this context, the term means "from England or Ireland"). It stemmed from the Uncial script brought to England by Augustine and his fellow missionaries, and incorporated the initially Irish Roman Half-Uncial. The Anglo-Saxon hand was generally miniscule (a calligraphic term meaning smaller, lower-case letters), reserving majuscule characters (larger, upper-case letters) for the beginnings of text segments or important words (this developed into the norm for modern writing - beginning sentences and "important" words with capital letters). These fonts are perfect for calligraphers who want to work on their hand or experiment with page layouts before writing. They may also be useful for those who are unfamiliar with the slight variations between the appearances of Old English and modern English characters.

The most popular element of medieval manuscripts in general is illumination - the decoration of text with drawings. Latin texts were more often illuminated than were Old English texts. But there are some spectacular examples of Old English illumination, including the stark line drawings, the biblical illustrations of Cotton Claudius, the mysterious Sphere of Apuleius in Cotton Tiberius, the Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton Nero - one of the few manuscripts that approaches the Book of Kells), and so on.

Why would someone want to read a manuscript facsimile of an Old English text rather than a printed edition? A couple answers come to mind. First of all, Old English manuscripts are, by and large, beautiful. Second, you never know exactly what you're getting when you read a printed edition (maybe this is a slight exaggeration, but still only a slight one). Some printed texts are "normalized," reducing the natural variation in spelling, conjugation, declension, etc., common in Old English works (most medieval writers were not nearly as concerned with consistency of spelling as modern writers). Furthermore, some printed texts collate or "average" between multiple manuscripts of the same work, offering a composite text which, while perhaps more representative of that work, loses the qualities which make a manuscript unique. Naturally, this process can thwart anyone trying to make deductions about the dialectical, calligraphic or interlinear aspects of a particular manuscript (sometimes the most interesting aspects).


OE is so far removed from Mod E that one may take it for an entirely different language; this is largely due to the peculiarities of its pronunciation.

The survey of OE phonetics deals with word accentuation, the systems of vowels and consonants and their origins. The OE sound system developed from the PG system. It underwent multiple changes in the pre-written periods of history, especially in Early OE. The diachronic description of phonetics in those early periods will show the specifically English tendencies of development and the immediate sources of the sounds in the age of writing.

Word Stress

The system of word accentuation inherited from PG underwent no changes in Early OE.

In OE a syllable was made prominent by an increase in the force of articulation; in other words, a dynamic or a force stress was employed. In disyllabic and polysyllabic words the accent fell on the root-morpheme or on the first syllable. Word stress was fixed; it remained on the same syllable in different grammatical forms of the word and, as a rule, did not shift in word-building either. The forms of the Dat. case of the nouns hlaforde ['xla:vorde], cyninge ['kyninge] used in the text and the Nom. case of the same nouns: hlaford ['xla:vord], cyning ['kyning]. Polysyllabic words, especially compounds, may have had two stresses, chief and secondary, the chief stress being fixed on the first root-morpheme, e.g. the compound noun Norðmonna from the same extract, received the chief stress upon its first component and the secondary stress on the second component; the grammatical ending -a (Gen. pl) was unaccented. In words with prefixes the position of the stress varied: verb prefixes were unaccented, while in nouns and adjectives the stress was commonly thrown on to the prefix.

Cf: a'risan – arise v., 'toweard – toward adj., 'misdæd – misdeed n.

If the words were derived from the same root, word stress, together with other means, served to distinguish the noun from the verb, cf:

Changes of Stressed Vowels in Early Old English

Sound changes, particularly vowel changes, took place in English at every period of history.

The development of vowels in Early OE consisted of the modification of separate vowels, and also of the modification of entire sets of vowels.

It should be borne in mind that the mechanism of all phonetic changes strictly conforms with the general pattern. The change begins with growing variation in pronunciation, which manifests itself in the appearance of numerous allophones: after the stage of increased variation, some allophones prevail over the others and a replacement takes place. It may result in the splitting of phonemes and their numerical growth, which fills in the "empty boxes" of the system or introduces new distinctive features. It may also lead to the merging of old phonemes, as their new prevailing allophones can fall together. Most frequently the change will involve both types of replacement, splitting and merging, so that we have to deal both with the rise of new phonemes and with the redistribution of new allophones among the existing phonemes. For the sake of brevity, the description of most changes below is restricted to the initial and final stages.

Independent Changes. Development of Monophthongs

The PG short [a] and the long [a:], which had arisen in West and North Germanic, underwent similar alterations in Early OE they were fronted and, in the process of fronting, they split into several sounds.

The principal regular direction of the change - [a]>[æ] and [a:]>[æ:] – is often referred to as the fronting or palatalisation of [a, a:]. The other directions can be interpreted as positional deviations or restrictions to this trend: short [a] could change to [o]or [a] and long [a:] became [o:] before a nasal; the preservation (or, perhaps, the restoration) of the short [a ] was caused by a back vowel in the next syllable— see the examples in Table 1 (sometimes [a] occurs in other positions as well, e.g. OE macian, land, NE make, land).

Table 1

Splitting of [a] and [a:] in Early Old English

Change illustrated Examples
PG OE other OG languages OE NE



Gt ðata

O Icel dagr





a o Gt mann(a) mon man
O Icel land land land
a Gt magan magan may
Gt dagos dagas days




OHG dâr

OHG slâfen

OHG mâno







OI cel mánaðr mōnað month

Development of Diphthongs

The PG diphthongs (or sequences of monophthongs) [ei, ai, iu, eu, au] — uderwent regular independent changes in Early OE; they took place in all phonetic conditions irrespective of environment. The diphthongs with i-glide were monophthongised into [i:] and [a:], respectively; the diphthongs in u-glide were reflected_a&_long__diphthongs [io:], [eo:] and [au] >[ea:].

If the sounds in PG were not diphthongs but sequences of two separate phonemes, the changes should be defined as phonologisation of vowel sequences. This will mean that these changes increased the number of vowel phonemes in the language. Moreover, they introduced new distinctive features into the vowel system by setting up vowels with diphthongal glides; henceforth, monophthongs were opposed to diphthongs.

All the changes described above were interconnected. Their independence has been interpreted in different ways.

The changes may have started with the fronting of [a] (that is the change of [a] to [æ]), which caused a similar development in the long vowels: [a:]>[æ:], and could also bring about the fronting of [a] in the biphonemic vowel sequence [a + u], which became [æa:], or more precisely [æ: :], with the second element weakened. This weakening as well as the monophthongisation of the sequences in [-i] may have been favoured by the heavy stress on the first sound.

According to other explanations the appearance of the long [a:] from the sequence [a+i] may have stimulated the fronting of long [a:], for this latter change helped to preserve the distinction between two phonemes; cf. OE rod (NE road) and OE ræd('advice') which had not fallen together because while [ai] became [a:] in rad, the original [a:] was narrowed to [æ:] in the word ræd . In this case the fronting of [a:] to [æ:] caused a similar development in the set of short vowels: [a] > [æ], which reinforced the symmetrical pattern of the vowel system.

Another theory connects the transformation of the Early OE vowel system with the rise of nasalised long vowels out of short vowels before nasals and fricative consonants ([a, i, u] plus [m] or [n] plus [x, f, 0 or s]), and the subsequent growth of symmetrical oppositions in the sets of long and short vowels .

Assimilative Vowel Changes: Breaking and Diphthongisation

The tendency to assimilative vowel change, characteristic of later PG and of the OG languages, accounts for many modifications of vowels in Early OE. Under the influence of succeeding and preceding consonants some Early OE monophthongs developed into diphthongs. If a front vowel stood before a velar consonant there developed a short glide between them, as the organs of speech prepared themselves for the transition from one sound to the other. The glide, together with the original monophthong formed a diphthong.

The front vowels [i], [e] and the newly developed [æ], changed into diphthongs with a back glide when they stood before [h], before long (doubled) [ll] or [l] plus another consonant, and before [r] plus other consonants, e.g.: [e]>[eo] in OE deorc, NE dark. The change is known as breaking or fracture. Breaking is dated in Early OE, for in OE texts we find the process already completed: yet it must have taken place later than the vowel changes described above as the new vowel [æ], which appeared some time during the 5th c., could be subjected to breaking under the conditions described.

Breaking produced a new set of vowels in OE – the short diphthongs [ea] and [eo]; they could enter the system as counterparts of the long [ea:], [eo:], which had developed from PG prototypes.

Breaking was unevenly spread among the OE dialects: it was more characteristic of West Saxon than of the Anglian dialects (Mercian and Northumbrian); consequently, in many words, which contain a short diphthong in West Saxon, Anglian dialects have a short monophthong, cf. WS tealde, Mercian talde (NE told).

Diphthongisation of vowels could also be caused by preceding consonants: a glide arose after * palatal consonants as a sort of transition to the succeeding vowel.

After the palatal consonants [k‘], [sk‘] and [j] short and long [e] and [æ] turned into diphthongs with a more front close vowel as their first element, e.g. Early OE * scæmu>OE sceamu (NE shame). In the resulting diphthong the initial [i] or [e] must have been unstressed but later the stress shifted to the first element, which turned into the nucleus of the diphthong, to conform with the structure of OE diphthongs (all of them were falling diphthongs). This process known as "diphthongisation after palatal consonants" occurred some time in the 6th c.

Breaking and diphthongisation are the main sources of short diphthongs in OE. They are of special interest to the historians of English, for OE short diphthongs have no parallels in other OG languages and constitute a specifically OE feature.

The status of short diphthongs in the OE vowel system has aroused much discussion and controversy. On the one hand, short diphthongs are always phonetically conditioned as the)' are found only in certain phonetic environments and appear as positional allophones of respective monophthongs (namely, of those vowels from which they have originated). On the other hand, however, they are similar in quality to the long diphthongs, and their phonemic status is supported by the symmetrical arrangement of the vowel system. Their very growth can be accounted for by the urge of the system to have all its empty positions filled. However, their phonemic status cannot be confirmed by the contrast of minimal pairs: [ea], [æ], [a] as well as [eo] and [e] occur only in complementary distribution, never in identical phonetic conditions to distinguish morphemes; they also occur as variants in different dialects. On these grounds it seems likely that short diphthongs, together with other vowels, make up sets of allophones representing certain phonemes: [a, æ, ea] and [e, eo]. Perhaps the rise of short diphthongs merely reveals a tendency to a symmetrical arrangement of diphthongs in the vowel system, which was never fully realised at the phonemic level.

Palatal Mutation

The OE tendency to positional vowel change is most apparent in the process termed "mutation". Mutation is the change of one vowel to another through the influence of a vowel in the succeeding syllable.

This kind of change occurred in PG when [e] was raised to [i] and [u] could alternate with [o] under the influence of succeeding sounds.

In Early OE, mutations affected numerous vowels and brought about profound changes in the system and use of vowels.

The most important series of vowel mutations, shared in varying degrees by all OE languages (except Gothic), is known as "i-Umlaut" or "palatal mutation". Palatal mutation is the fronting and raising of vowels through the influence of [i] or [j] (the non-syllabic [i]) in the immediately following syllable. The vowel was fronted and made narrower so as to approach the articulation of [i]. Cf. OE an (NE one) with a back vowel in the root and OE ænig(NE any) derived from the same root with the root vowel mutated to a narrower and more front sound under the influence of [i] in the suffix: [a:]>[æ:].

Since the sounds [i] and [j] were common in suffixes and endings, palatal mutation was of very frequent occurrence. Practically all Early OE monophthongs, as well as diphthongs except the closest front vowels [e] and [i] were palatalised in these phonetic conditions.

Due to the reduction of final syllables the conditions, which caused palatal mutation, that is [i] or [j], had disappeared in most words by the age of writing; these sounds were weakened to [e] or were altogether lost (this is seen in all the examples above except ænig).

Of all the vowel changes described, palatal mutation was certainly the most comprehensive process, as it could affect most OE vowels, both long and short, diphthongs and monophthongs. It led to the appearance of new vowels and to numerous instances of merging and splitting of phonemes.

The labialised front vowels [y] and [y:] arose through palatal mutation from [u] and [u:], respectively, and turned into new phonemes, when the conditions that caused them had disappeared. Cf. mus and mys (from the earlier *mysi, where [y:] was an allophone of [u:] before [i]). The diphthongs [ie, ie:] (which could also appear from diphthongisation after palatal consonants) were largely due to palatal mutation and became phonemic in the same way, though soon they were confused with [y, y:]. Other mutated vowels fell together with the existing phonemes, e.g. [oe] from [o] merged with [e, æ:], which arose through palatal mutation, merged with [æ:] from splitting.

Palatal mutation led to the growth of new vowel interchanges and to the increased variability of the root-morphemes: "owing to palatal mutation many related words and grammatical forms acquired new root-vowel interchanges. Cf., e.g. two related words: OE gemot n 'meeting' and OE metan (NE meet), a verb derived from the noun-stem with the help of the suffix -j- (its earlier form was *motjan; -j- was then lost but the root acquired two variants: mot'/met-). Likewise we find variants of morphemes with an interchange of root-vowels in the grammatical forms mus, mys (NE mouse, mice), boc, bec (NE book, books), since the plural was originally built by adding -iz. (Traces of palatal mutation are preserved in many modern words and forms, e.g. mouse — mice, foot—feet, tale tell, blood— bleed; despite later phonetic changes, the original cause of the inner change is t-umlaut or palatal mutation.)

The dating, mechanism and causes of palatal mutation have been a matter of research and discussion over the last hundred years.

Palatal mutation in OE had already been completed by the time of the earliest written records; it must have taken place during the 7th c., though later than all the Early OE changes described above. This relative dating is confirmed by the fact that vowels resulting from other changes could be subjected to palatal mutation, e. g. OE ieldra (NE elder) had developed from *ealdira by palatal mutation which occurred when the diphthong [ea] had already been formed from [æ] by breaking (in its turn [æ] was the result of the fronting of Germanic [a]). The successive stages of the change can be shown as follows: fronting - breaking - palatal mutation [a] > [æ] > [ea] > [ie] The generally accepted phonetic explanation of palatal mutation is that the sounds [i] or [j] palatalised the preceding consonant, and that this consonant, in its turn, fronted and raised the root-vowel. This "mechanistic" theory is based on the assumed workings of the speech organs. . An alternative explanation, sometimes called "psychological" or "mentalistic", is that the speaker unconsciously anticipates the [i] and [j] in pronouncing the root-syllable – and through anticipation adds an. i-glide to the root-vowel. The process is thus subdivided into several stages, e.g. *domjan >*doimjan >*doemjan>*deman (NE deem). It has been found that some OE spellings appear to support both these theories, e.g. OE secgan has a palatalised consonant [gg‘] shown by the digraph cg; Coinwulf, a name in BEOWULF, occurring beside another spelling Cenwulf, shows the stage [oi:] in the transition from PG [o:] to OE [oe:], and [e:]: OE cen 'bold'. The diphthongoids resulting from palatal mutation developed in conformity with the general tendency of the vowel system: in Early OE diphthongal glides were used as relevant phonemic distinctive features. In later OE the diphthongs showed the first signs of contraction (or monophthongisation) as other distinctive features began to predominate: labialisation and vowel length. (The merging of [ie, ie:] and [y, y:] mentioned above, can also be regarded as an instance of monophthongisation of diphthongs.)

Changes of Unstressed Vowels in Early Old English

All the changes described above affected accented vowels. The development of vowels in unstressed syllables, final syllables in particular, was basically different. Whereas in stressed position the number of vowels had grown (as compared with the PG system), due to the appearance of new qualitative differences, the number of vowels distinguished in unstressed position had been reduced. In unaccented syllables, especially final, long vowels were shortened, and thus the opposition of vowels – long to short – was neutralised. Cf. OE nama (NE name) to the earlier *namon. It must also be mentioned that some short vowels in final unaccented syllables were dropped. After long syllables, that is syllables containing a long vowel, or a short vowel followed by more than one consonant, the vowels [i] and [u] were lost. Cf. the following pairs, which illustrate the retention of [u] and [i] after a short syllable, and their loss after a long one: OE scipu and sceap (NE ships, sheep, pl from *skeapu); OE weriandemon (NE wear, deem; cf. Gt domjan).

Old English Vowel System (9th-10th c.)

The vowels shown in parentheses were unstable and soon fused with resembling sounds: [a] with [a] or [o], [ie, ie:] with [y, y:].

The vowels are arranged in two lines in accordance with the chief phonemic opposition: they were contrasted through quantity as long to short and were further distinguished within these sets through qualitative differences as monophthongs and diphthongs, open and close, front and back, labialised and non-labialised. Cf. some minimal pairs showing the phonemic opposition of short and long vowels:

OE dæl — dæl (NE dale, 'part') is — īs (NE is, ice)) col — cōl (NE coal, cool).

The following examples confirm the phonemic relevance of some qualitative differences:

OE ræd — rād — rēad (NE 'advice', road, red) , sē — sēo 'that' Masc. and Fern. mā — mē (NE

more, me)

The OE vowel system displayed an obvious tendency towards a symmetrical, balanced arrangement since almost every long vowel had a corresponding short counterpart. However, it was not quite symmetrical: the existence of the nasalised [a] in the set of short vowels and the debatable phonemic status of short diphthongs appear to break the balance.

All the vowels listed in the table could occur in stressed position. In unstressed syllables we find only five monophthongs, and even these five vowels could not be used for phonemic contrast:

i – ænig (NE any)

e – stāne, Dat. sg of stān as opposed to

a – stānaGen. pl of the same noun (NE stone)

o – bæron Past pl Ind (of beran as opposed to bæren. Subj. (NE bear)

u — talu (NE tale), Nom. sg as opposed to tale in other cases

The examples show that [e] was not contrasted to [i], and [o] was not contrasted to [u]. The system of phonemes appearing in unstressed syllables consists of three units: e/i a o/u

Consonant Changes in Pre-Written Periods

On the whole, consonants were historically more stable than vowels, though certain changes took place in all historical periods.

It may seem hat being a typical OG language OE ought to contain all the consonants that arose in PG under Grimm's and Verner's Law. Yet it appears that very few noise consonants in OE correspond to the same sounds in PG; for in the intervening period most consonants underwent diverse changes: qualitative and quantitative, independent and positional.

Some of the consonant changes dated in pre-written periods are referred to as "West Germanic" (WG) as they are shared by all the languages of the WG subgroup; WG changes may have taken place at the transitional stage from PG to Early OE prior to the Germanic settlement of Britain.

Treatment of Fricatives. Hardening. Rhotacism. Voicing and Devoicing

After the changes under Grimm's Law and Verner's Law PG had the following two sets of fricative consonants-voiceless [f, 0, x, s] and voiced [v, ð, y , z].

In WG and in Early OE the difference between the two groups was supported by new features. PG voiced fricatives tended to be hardened to corresponding plosives while voiceless fricatives, being contrasted to them primarily as fricatives to plosives, developed new voiced allophones.

The PG voiced [ð] (due to Verner's Law or to the third act of the shift) was always hardened to [d] in OE and other WG languages, cf., for instance, Gt goþs, godai [ð],OIcel goðr and OE god (NE good), The two other fricatives, [v] and [y ]were hardened to [b] and [g] initially and after nasals, otherwise they remained fricatives.

PG [z] underwent a phonetic modification through the stage of [ж] into [r] and thus became a sonorant, which ultimately merged with the older IE [r]. Cf. Gt. wasjan, 0 Icel verja and OE werian (NE wear). This process, termed rhotacism, is characteristic not only of WG but also of NG.

In the meantime or somewhat later the PG set of voiceless fricatives [f, 0, x, s] and also those of the voiced fricatives which had not turned into plosives, that is, [v] and [y], were subjected to a new process of voicing and devoicing. In Early OE they became or remained voiced mtervocally and between vowels, sonorants and voiced consonants; they remained or became voiceless in other environments, namely, initially, finally and next to other voiceless consonants Cf. Gt qiþian, qaþi with [0] in both forms, and OE cweðan [ð] between vowels and cwæð [0] at the end of the word (NE arch, quoth 'say').

The mutually exclusive phonetic conditions for voiced and voiceless fricatives prove that in OE they were not phonemes, but allophones.

West Germanic Gemination of Consonants

In all WG languages, at an early stage of their independent history, most consonants were lengthened after a short vowel before [j]. This process is known as WG "gemination" or "doubling" of consonants, as the resulting long consonants are indicated by means of double letters, e.g.: *fuljan > OE fyllan (NE fill); * sætjanOE > settan (NE set), cf. Gt satjan.

During the process, or some time later, [j] was lost, so that the long consonants ceased to be phonetically conditioned. When the long and short consonants began to occur in identical phonetic conditions, namely between vowels, their distinction became phonemic.

The change did not affect the sonorant [r], e.g. OE werian (NE wear); nor did it operate if the consonant was preceded by a long vowel, e. g. OE demon, metan (NE deem, meet) — the earlier forms of these words contained [j], which had caused palatal mutation but had not led to the lengthening of consonants (the reconstruction of pre-written forms *motjan and *domjan is confirmed by OS motion and Gt domjan).

Velar Consonants in Early Old English. Growth of New Phonemes

In Early OE velar consonants split into two distinct sets of sounds, which eventually led to the growth of new phonemes.

The velar consonants [k, g, x, y ] were palatalised before a front vowel, and sometimes also after a front vowel, unless followed by a back vowel. Thus in OE cild (NE child) the velar consonant [k] was softened to [k'] as it stood before the front vowel [i]: [*kild]>[k'ild]; similarly [k] became [k'] in OE spræc (NE speech) after a front vowel but not in OE sprecan ("NE speak) where [k] was followed by the back vowel [a]. In the absence of these phonetic conditions the consonants did not change, with the result that lingual consonants split into two sets, palatal and velar. The difference between them became phonemic when, a short time later, velar and palatal consonants began to occur in similar phonetic conditions; cf. OE cild [k'ild], ciest [k'iest] (NE child, chest) with palatal [k'] and ceald, cepan (NE cold, keep) with hard, velar [k] — both before front vowels.

Though the difference between velar and palatal consonants was not shown in the spellings of the OE period, the two sets were undoubtedly differentiated since a very early date. In the course of time the phonetic difference between them grew and towards the end of the period the palatal consonants developed into sibilants and affricates: [k']>[tſ], [g']>[dz]; in ME texts they were indicated by means of special digraphs and letter sequences.

The date of the palatalisation can be fixed with considerable precision in relation to other Early OE sound changes. It must have taken place after the appearance of [æ, æ:] (referred to the 5th c.) but prior to palatal mutation (late 6th or 7th c.); for [æ, æ:] could bring about the palatalisation of consonants (recall OE spræc , NE speech), while the front vowels which arose by palatal mutation could not. In OE cepan. (from *kopjan) and OE cyning (with [e:] and [y] through palatal mutation) the consonant [k] was not softened, which is confirmed by their modern descendants, keep and king. The front vowels [y] and [e:] in these and similar words must have appeared only when the splitting of velar consonants was well under way. Yet it is their appearance that transformed the two sets of positional allophones into phonemes, for a velar and a palatal consonant could now occur before a front vowel, that is, in identical phonetic conditions: cf. OE cyning and cyse (NE king, cheese).

Loss of Consonants in Some Positions

Comparison with other OG languages, especially Gothic and O Icel, has revealed certain instances of the loss of consonants in WG and Early OE.

Nasal sonorants were regularly lost before fricative consonants; in the process the preceding vowel was probably nasalised and lengthened. Cf.:

Gt fimf, 0 Icel fim , OHG fimf — OE fif (NE five)

Gt uns, OHG uns — OE ūs (NE us)

Fricative consonants could be dropped between vowels and before some plosive consonants; these losses were accompanied by a compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel or the fusion of the preceding and succeeding vowel into a diphthong, cf. OE sēon, which corresponds to Gt saihwan, OE slēan (NE slay), Gt slahan, G. schlagen, OE sægde and sæde (NE said).

We should also mention the loss of semi-vowels and consonants in unstressed final syllables, [j] was regularly dropped in suffixes after producing various changes in the root: palatal mutation of vowels, lengthening of consonants after short vowels. The loss of [w] is seen in some case forms of nouns: Norn, treo, Dat. treowe (NE tree);

Nom. sæ, Dat. sæwe (NE sea), cf. Gt triwa, saiws.


Preliminary Remarks

OE was a synthetic, or inflected type of language; it showed the relations between words and expressed other grammatical meanings mainly with the help of simple (synthetic) grammatical forms. In building grammatical forms OE employed grammatical endings, sound interchanges in the root, grammatical prefixes, and suppletive formation.

Grammatical endings, or inflections, were certainly the principal form-building means used: they were found in all the parts of speech that could change their form; they were usually used alone but could also occur in combination with other means.

Sound interchanges were employed on a more limited scale and were often combined with other form-building means, especially endings. Vowel interchanges were more common than interchanges of consonants.

The use of prefixes in grammatical forms was rare and was confined to verbs. Suppletive forms were restricted to several pronouns, a few adjectives and a couple of verbs.

The parts of speech to be distinguished in OE are as follows: the noun, the adjective, the pronoun, the numeral (all referred to as nominal parts of speech or nominal, the verb, the adverb, the preposition, the conjunction, and the interjection. Inflected parts of speech possessed certain grammatical categories displayed in formal and semantic correlations and oppositions of grammatical forms. Grammatical categories are usually subdivided into nominal categories, found in nominal parts of speech and verbal categories found chiefly in the finite verb.

We shall assume that there were five nominal grammatical categories in OE: number, case, gender, degrees of comparison, and the category of definiteness / indefiniteness. Each part of speech had its own peculiarities in the inventory of categories and the number of members within the category (categorial forms). The noun had only two grammatical categories proper: number and case. The adjective had the maximum number of categories — five. The number of members in the same grammatical categories in different parts of speech did not necessarily coincide: thus the noun had four cases. Nominative, Genitive, Dative, and Accusative, whereas the adjective had five (the same four cases plus the Instrumental case). The personal pronouns of the 1st and 2nd p., unlike other parts of speech, distinguished three numbers — Singular, Plural and Dual. Cf.

sg OE ic (NE I), dual wit 'we two', pl we (NE we)

OE stān (NE stone) — stānas (NE stones).

Verbal grammatical categories were not numerous: tense and mood — verbal categories proper — and number and person, showing agreement between the verb-predicate and the subject of the sentence.

The distinction of categorial forms by the noun and the verb was to a large extent determined by their division into morphological classes: declensions and conjugations.

In OE there were with the following parts of speech: the noun, the adjective, the pronoun, and the verb.

The OE grammatical system is described synchronically as appearing in the texts of the 9th and 10th c. (mainly WS); facts of earlier, prewritten, history will sometimes be mentioned to account for the features of written OE and to explain their origin.

The noun. Grammatical Categories. The Use of Cases

The OE noun had two grammatical or morphological categories: number and case. In addition, nouns distinguished three genders, but this distinction was not a grammatical category; it was merely a classifying feature accounting, alongside other features, for the division of nouns into morphological classes.

The category of number consisted of two members, singular and plural. As will be seen below, they were well distinguished formally in all the declensions, there being very few homonymous forms.

The noun had four cases: Nominative, Genitive, Dative and Accusative. In most declensions two, or even three, forms were homonymous, so that the formal distinction of cases was less consistent than that of numbers.

Before considering the declension of nouns, we shall briefly touch upon the meaning and use of cases. The functions of cases in OE require little explanation for the Russian student, since they are those, which ought to be expected in a language with a well-developed case system.

The Nom. can be loosely defined as the case of the active agent, for it was the case of the subject mainly used with verbs denoting activity; the Nom. could also indicate the subject characterised by a certain quality or state; could serve as a predicative and as the case of address, there being no special Vocative case, e. g.:

ðæt flod weox ðā and ābær upp ðone arc — subject, active agent ('that flood increased then and bore up the arc')

wearð ðā ælc ðing cwices ādrenct — subject, recipient of an action or state ('was then everything alive drowned')

Hē wæs swiðe spēdig man — predicative ('He was a very rich man')

Sunu mīn, hlyste minre lāre — address ('My son, listen to my teaching').

The Gen. case was primarily the case of nouns and pronouns serving as attributes to other nouns. The meanings of the Gen. were very complex and can only roughly be grouped under the headings "Subjective" and "Objective" Gen. Subjective Gen. is associated with the possessive meaning and the meaning of origin, e. g.:

Beowulf gēata 'Beowulf of the Geats'. hiora scipu "their ships"

Objective Gen. is seen in such instances as ðæs landes sceawung 'surveying of the land'; and is associated with what is termed "partitive meaning" as in sum hund scipa 'a hundred of ships', hūsa sēlest 'best of the houses'. The use of the Gen. as an object to verbs and adjectives was not infrequent, though the verbs which regularly took a Gen. object often interchanged it with other cases, cf.: hē bād ... westanwindes 'he waited for the west wind'

frige menn ne mōtan wealdan heora sylfra - 'free men could not control themselves' (also with the Acc. wealdan hie .).

Dat. was the chief case used with prepositions, e. g.: on morgenne 'in the morning' from ðæm here 'from the army', ða sende sē cyning tōðæm here and him cyðan hēt 'then sent the king to the army and ordered (him) to inform them'.

The last example illustrates another frequent use of the Dat.: an indirect personal object. The OE Dat. case could convey an instrumental meaning, indicating the means or manner of an action: hit hagolade stānum 'it hailed (with) stones', worhte AElfred cyning lytle werede geweorc 'King Alfred built defense works with a small troop'.

Alongside the Acc., Dat. could indicate the passive subject of a state expressed by impersonal verbs and some verbs of emotion:

him gelicode heora ðēawas 'he liked their customs' (lit. 'him pleased their customs').

The Acc. case was the form that indicated a relationship to a verb. Being a direct object it denoted the recipient of an action, the result of the action and other meanings:

se wulf nimð and tōdælð ðā scēap 'the wolf takes and scatters the sheep'. (Its use as an object of impersonal verbs, similar to the use of Dat., is illustrated by hine nānes ðinges ne lyste 'nothing pleased him').

It is important to note that there was considerable fluctuation in the use of cases in OE. One and the same verb could be construed with different cases without any noticeable change of meaning. The semantic functions of the Gen., Dat. and Acc. as objects commonly overlapped and required further specification by means of prepositions. The vague meaning of cases was of great consequence for the subsequent changes of the case system.

Morphological Classification of Nouns. Declensions

The most remarkable feature of OE nouns was their elaborate system of declensions, which was a sort of morphological classification. The total number of declensions, including both the major and minor types, exceeded twenty-five. All in all there were only ten distinct endings (plus some phonetic variants of these endings) and a few relevant root-vowel interchanges used in the noun paradigms; yet every morphological class had either its own specific endings or a specific succession of markers. Historically, the OE system of declensions was based on a number of distinctions: the stem-suffix, the gender of nouns, the phonetic structure of the word, phonetic changes in the final syllables.

In the first place, the morphological classification of OE nouns rested upon the most ancient (IE) grouping of nouns according to the stem-suffixes. Stem-suffixes could consist of vowels (vocalic stems, e. g. a-stems, i-stems), of consonants (consonantal stems, e. g. n-stems), of sound sequences, e. g. -ja-stems, -nd-stems. Some groups of nouns had no stem-forming suffix or had a "zero-suffix"; they are usually termed "root-stems" and are grouped together with consonantal stems, as their roots ended in consonants, e. g. OE man, bōc (NE man, book).

The loss of stem-suffixes as distinct component parts had led to the formation of different sets of grammatical endings. The merging of the stem-suffix with the original grammatical ending and their phonetic weakening could result in the survival of the former stem-suffix in a new function, as a grammatical ending; thus n-stems had many forms ending in -an (from the earlier -*eni, -*enaz, etc.); u-stems had the inflection -u in some forms.

Sometimes both elements — the stem-suffix and the original ending — were shortened or even dropped (e. g. the ending of the Dat. sg -e from the earlier -*ai, Nom. and Acc. pl -as from the earlier -os; the zero-ending in the Nom. and Acc. sg) in a-stems.

Another reason, which accounts for the division of nouns into numerous declensions is their grouping according to gender. OE nouns distinguished three genders: Masc., Fem. and Neut. Though originally a semantic division, gender in OE was not always associated with the meaning of nouns. Sometimes a derivational suffix referred a noun to a certain gender and placed it into a certain semantic group, e. g. abstract nouns built with the help of the suffix -ðu were Fern. — OE lenðu, hyhðu (NE length, height), nomina agentis with the suffix -ere were Masc. — OE fiscere, bōcere (NE fisher, 'learned man'). The following nouns denoting human beings show, however, that grammatical gender did not necessarily correspond to sex: alongside Masc. and Fem. nouns denoting males and females there were nouns with "unjustified" gender, cf:

OE widuwa , Masc. ('widower') — OE widow , Fem. (NE widow);

OE spinnere , Masc. (NE spinner) — OE spinnestre . Fem. ('female spinner'; note NE spinster with a shift of meaning) and nouns like OE wīf , Neut. (NE wife). OE mægden, Neut. (NE maiden, maid), OE wīfman , Masc. (NE woman, originally a compound word whose second component -man was Masc.).

In OE gender was primarily a grammatical distinction; Masc., Fem. and Neut. nouns could have different forms, even if they belonged to the same stem (type of declension).

The division into genders was in a certain way connected with the division into stems, though there was no direct correspondence between them: some stems were represented by nouns of one particular gender, e. g. o-stems were always Fem., others embraced nouns of two or three genders.

Other reasons accounting for the division into declensions were structural and phonetic: monosyllabic nouns had certain peculiarities as compared to polysyllabic;

monosyllables with a long root-syllable (that is, containing a long vowel plus a consonant or a short vowel plus two consonants — also called "long-stemmed" nouns) differed in some forms from nouns with a short syllable (short-stemmed nouns).

The majority of OE nouns belonged to the a-stems, o-stems and n-stems. Special attention should also be paid to the root-stems which displayed specific peculiarities in their forms and have left noticeable traces in Mod E.

a-stems included Masc. and Neut. nouns. About one third of OE nouns were Masc. a-stems, e. g. cniht (NE knight), hām (NE home), mūð (NE mouth); examples of Neut. nouns are:

lim (NE limb), hūs (NE house), ðing (NE thing). (Disyllabic nouns, e. g. finger , differed from monosyllables in that they could drop their second vowel in the oblique cases: Nom, sg finger , Gen. fingres , Dat. fingre , NE finger.

The forms in the a-stem declension were distinguished through grammatical endings (including the zero-ending). In some words inflections were accompanied by sound interchanges: nouns with the vowel [æ] in the root had an interchange [æ>a], since in some forms the ending contained a back vowel, e. g. Nom. sg dæge Gen. dæges — Nom. and Gen. pl dagas, daga. If a noun ended in a fricative consonant, it became voiced in the intervocal position, cf. Nom. sg muð, wulf— [0], [f] — and Nom. pl muðas, wulfas — [o], [v]. (Note that their modem descendants have retained the interchange: NE mouth — mouths [0>ð], wolf-wolves, also house—houses and others.) These interchanges were not peculiar of a-stems alone and are of no significance as grammatical markers; they are easily accountable by phonetic reasons.

Declension of nouns: a-stem*











Nom. fisc

Gen. fisces

Dat. fisce

Acc. fisc


















Nom. fiscas

Gen. fisca

Dat. fiscum

Acc. fiscas

(NE fish)





(NE ship)





(NE deer)





(NE) end


cnēowa cnēowum cnēo(w)

(NE knee)

*For more examples, consult “History of English” by Rastorguyeva, pp.98-99

Neut. a-stems differed from Masc. in the pl of the Nom. and Acc. cases. Instead of-as they took -u for short stems (that is nouns with a short root-syllable) and did not add any inflection in the long-stemmed variant — see Nom. and Acc. pl of scip and dēor in the table. Consequently, long-stemmed Neuters had homonymous sg and pl forms: dēor — dēor, likewise sceap—sceap, ðing - ðing, hus—hus. This peculiarity of Neut. a-stems goes back to some phonetic changes in final unaccented syllables which have given rise to an important grammatical feature: an instance of regular homonymy or neutralisation of number distinctions in the noun paradigm. (Traces of this group of a-stems have survived as irregular pl forms in Mod E: sheep, deer, swine.)

wa - and ja-stems differed from pure a-stems in some forms, as their endings contained traces of the elements -j- and -w-. Nom. and Acc. sg could end in -e which had developed from the weakened -j-, though in some nouns with a doubled final consonant it was lost — cf. OE bridd (NE bird); in some forms -j- is reflected as -i- or -ig- e.g. Nom. here , Dat. herie , herige or herge ('army'). Short-stemmed wa-stems had -u in the Nom. and Acc. sg which had developed from the element -w- but was lost after a long syllable (in the same way as the plural ending of neuter a-stems described above); cf. OE bearu (NE bear) and cnēo ; -w- is optional but appears regularly before the endings of the oblique cases (see the declension of cnēo in Table 2).

o-stems were all Fem., so there was no further subdivision according to gender. The variants with -j- and -w- decline like pure o-stems except that -w- appears before some endings, e.g. Nom. sceadu , the other cases — sceadwe (NE shadow). The difference between short-and long-stemmed o-stems is similar to that between respective a-stems: after a short syllable the ending -u is retained, after a long syllable it is dropped: wund, talu . Disyllabic o-stems, like a-stems, lost their second vowel in some case forms: Nom. ceaster , the other cases ceastre ('camp'), NE -caster, -Chester—a component of place-names). Like other nouns, o-stems could have an interchange of voiced and voiceless fricative consonants as allophones in intervocal and final position: glof—glofe [f>v] (NE glove). Among the forms of o-stems there occurred some variant forms with weakened endings or with endings borrowed from the weak declension — with the element -n - wundena alongside wunda . Variation increased towards the end of the OE period.

The other vocalic stems, i-stems and u-stems, include nouns of different genders. Division into genders breaks up i-stems into three declensions, but is irrelevant for u-stems: Masc. and Fem. u-stems decline alike, e.g. Fem. duru (NE door) had the same forms as Masc. sunu shown in the table. The length of the root-syllable is important for both stems; it accounts for the endings in the Nom. and Acc. in the same way as in other classes: the endings -e , -u are usually preserved in short-stemmed nouns and lost in long-stemmed.

Comparison of the i-stems with a-stems reveals many similarities. Neut. i-stems are declined like Neut. ja-stems; the inflection of the Gen. for Masc. and Neut. i-stems is the same as in a-stems -es ; alongside pl forms in -e we find new variant forms of Masc. nouns in -as, e. g. Nom., Acc. pl —winas 'friends' (among Masc. i-stems only names of peoples regularly formed their pl in the old way: Dene, Engle , NE Danes, Angles). It appears that Masc. i-stems adopted some forms from Masc. a-stems, while Neut. i-stems were more likely to follow the pattern of Neut. a-stems; as for Fem. i-stems, they resembled o-stems, except that the Acc. and Nom. were not distinguished as with other i-stems.

The most numerous group of the consonantal stems were n-stems or the weak declension, n-stems had only two distinct forms in the sg: one form for the Nom. case and the other for the three oblique cases; the element -n- in the inflections of the weak declension was a direct descendant of the old stem suffix -n , which had acquired a new, grammatical function, n-stems included many Masc. nouns, such as boga, cnotta, steorra (NE bow, knot, star), many Fem. nouns, e. g. cirice, eorðe, heorte , hlæfdige (NE church, earth, heart, lady) and only a few Neut. nouns: ēaga (NE eye).

The pronoun

OE pronouns fell roughly under the same main classes as modem pronouns: personal, demonstrative, interrogative and indefinite. As for the other groups — relative, possessive and reflexive — they were as yet not fully developed and were not always distinctly separated from the four main classes. The grammatical categories of the pronouns were either similar to those of nouns (in "noun-pronouns") or corresponded to those of adjectives (in "adjective pronouns"). Some features of pronouns were peculiar to them alone.

Personal Pronouns*

OE personal pronouns had three persons, three numbers in the 1st and 2nd p. (two numbers—in the 3rd) and three genders in the 3rd p. The pronouns of the 1st and 2nd p. had suppletive forms like their parallels in other IE languages. The pronouns of the 3rd p., having originated from demonstrative pronouns, had many affinities with the latter.

In OE, while nouns consistently distinguished between four cases, personal pronouns began to lose some of their case distinctions: the forms of the Dat. case of the pronouns of the 1st and 2nd p. were frequently used instead of the Acc.; in fact the fusion of these two cases in the pi was completed in the WS dialect already in Early OE: Acc. eowic and usic were replaced by Dat. eow, us ; in the sg usage was variable, but variant forms revealed the same tendency to generalise the form of the Dat. for both case's. This is seen in the following quotation:

Se ðe me gehælde, se cwæð tō me 'He who healed me, he said to me' — the first me, though Dat. in form, serves as an Acc. (direct object); the second me is a real Dat.

*See a table of personal pronouns declension at p.103 in “History of English” by Rastorguyeva.

Demonstrative Pronouns

There were two demonstrative pronouns in OE: the prototype of NE that, which distinguished three genders in the sg and had one form for all the genders in the pi. and the prototype of this with the same subdivisions: ðes Masc., ðeos Fem., ðis Neut. and ðas pl. They were declined like adjectives according to a five-case system:

Nom., Gen., Dat., Acc., and Instr. (the latter having a special form only in the Masc.,

Declension of sē, sēo, ðæt

Case Singular Plural
M N F All genders
Norn. sē, se ðæt sēo ða
Gen. ðæs ðæs ðære ðāra, ðæra
Dat. ðæm, ðām ðæm, ðām ðære ðām, ðæm
Acc. ðone ðæt ðā ðā
Instr. ðy, ðon ðy, ðon ðære ðæm, ðām

The paradigm of the demonstrative pronoun se contained many homonymous forms. Some case endings resembled those of personal pronouns, e.g. –m – Dat. Masc. and Neut. and Dat. pl;

the element -r - in the Dat. and Gen. sg Fem. and in the Gen. pl. These case endings, which do not occur in the noun paradigms, are often referred to as "pronominal" endings (-m, -r-, -t).

The adjective. Grammatical Categories

As stated before, the adjective in OE could change for number, gender and case. Those were dependent grammatical categories or forms of agreement of the adjective with the noun it modified or with the subject of the sentence — if the adjective was a predicative. Like nouns, adjectives had three genders and two numbers. The category of case in adjectives differed from that of nouns: in addition to the four cases of nouns they had one more case, Instr. It was used when the adjective served as an attribute to a noun in the Dat. case expressing an instrumental meaning — e.g.: lytle werede 'with (the help of) a small troop'.

Weak and Strong Declension

As in other OG languages, most adjectives in OE could be declined in two ways: according to the weak and to the strong declension. The formal differences between the declensions, as well as their origin, were similar to those of the noun declensions. The strong and weak declensions arose due to the use of several stem-forming suffixes in PG: vocalic a-, o-, u- and i- and consonantal n-. Accordingly, there developed sets of endings of the strong declension mainly coinciding with the endings of a-stems of nouns for adjectives in the Masc. and Neut. and of o-stems — in the Fem., with some differences between long-and short-stemmed adjectives, variants with j- and w-, monosyllabic and polysyllabic adjectives and some remnants of other stems. Some endings in the strong declension of adjectives have no parallels in the noun paradigms; they are similar to the endings of pronouns: -um for Dat. sg, -ne for Acc. Masc., [r] in some Fem. and pl endings. Therefore the strong declension of adjectives is sometimes called the "pronominal" declension. As for the weak declension, it uses the same markers as (n-stems of nouns except that in the Gen. pl the pronominal ending -ra is often used instead of the weak -ena .

The difference between the strong and the weak declension of adjectives was not only formal but also semantic. Unlike a noun, an adjective did not belong to a certain type of declension. Most adjectives could be declined in both ways. The choice of the declension was determined by a number of factors: the syntactical function of the adjective, the degree of comparison and the presence of noun determiners. The adjective had a strong form when used predicatively and when used attributively without any determiners, e.g.:

ða menn sindon gode 'the men are good'

The weak form was employed when the adjective was preceded by a demonstrative pronoun or the Gen. case of personal pronouns.


Strong (pure a- and o-stems)




Nom. blind blind blind

Gen. blindes blindes blindre

Dat. blindum blindum blindre

Acc. blindne blind blinde

Instr. blinde blinde blindre

blinda blinde blinde

blindan blindan blindan

blindan blindan blindan

blindan blinde blindan

blindan blindan blindan


Nom. blinde blind blinda, -e

Gen. blindra blindra blindra

Dat. blindum blindum blindum

Acc. blinde blind blinda, -e

Instr. blindum blindum blindum

(NE blind)

All genders


blindra, -ena




Some adjectives, however, did not conform with these rules.

Degrees of Comparison

Like adjectives in other languages, most OE adjectives distinguished between three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative and superlative. The regular means used to form the comparative and the superlative from the positive were the suffixes -ra and -est/ost . Sometimes suffixation was accompanied by an interchange of the root-vowel.

The adjective god had suppletive forms. Suppletion was a very old way of building the degrees of comparison

god – bettra – bet(e)st,

lytel – læssa – læst.


The OE verb was characterised by many peculiar features. Though the verb had few grammatical categories, its paradigm had a very complicated structure: verbs fell into numerous morphological classes and employed a variety of form-building means. All the forms of the verb were synthetic, as analytical forms were only beginning to appear. The non-finite forms had little in common with the finite forms but shared many features with the nominal parts of speech.

Grammatical Categories of the Finite Verb

The verb-predicate agreed with the subject of the sentence in two grammatical categories: number and person. Its specifically verbal categories were mood and tense. Thus in OE he bindeð 'he binds' the verb is in the 3rd p. Pres. Tense Ind. Mood; in the sentence Bringaþ me hider þa 'Bring me those (loaves)' bringaþ is in the Imper. Mood pl.

Finite forms regularly distinguished between two numbers: sg and pl. The homonymy of forms in the verb paradigm did not affect number distinctions: opposition through number was never neutralised.

The category of Person was made up of three forms: the 1st, the 2nd and the 3rd. Unlike number, person distinctions were neutralised in many positions. Person was consistently shown only in the Pres. Tense of the Ind. Mood 'In the Past Tense sg of the Ind. Mood the forms of the 1st and 3rd p. coincided and only the 2nd p. had a distinct form. Person was not distinguished in the pl; nor was it shown in the Subj. Mood.

The category of Mood was constituted by the Indicative, Imperative and Subjunctive. There were a few homonymous forms, which eliminated the distinction between the moods: Subj. did not differ from the Ind. in the 1st p. sg Pres. Tense — here, deme — and in the 1st and 3rd p. in the Past. The coincidence of the Imper. and Ind. Moods is seen in the pl — lociaþ, demaþ .

The category of Tense in OE consisted of two categorial forms, Pres. and Past. The tenses were formally distinguished by all the verbs in the Ind. and Subj. Moods, there being practically no instances of neutralisation of the tense opposition.

The use of the Subj. Mood in OE was in many respects different from its use in later ages. Subj. forms conveyed a very general meaning of unreality or supposition. In addition to its use in conditional sentences and other volitional, conjectural and hypothetical contexts Subj. was common in other types of construction: in clauses of time, clauses of result and in clauses presenting reported speech, e.g.:

þa giet he ascode hwæt heora cyning haten wære , and him man andswarode and cwæð þæt he Ælle haten wære . 'and yet he asked what their king was called, and they answered and said that he was called Ælle'. In presenting indirect speech usage was variable: Ind. forms occurred by the side of Subj.

Conjugation of Verbs in Old English

Strong Weak







deman deem



Present tense

Singular 1st




finde fintst

fint findaþ

bere bir(e)stbir(e)þ beraþ deme demst demþ demaþ



locaþ lociaþ

Subjunctive Singular Subjunctive Plural finde finden bere beren deme demen



Imperative Singular find ber dem loca

Imperative Plural

Participle I

findaþ findende beraþ berende demaþ demend lociaþ lociende
Past Singular 1st fond bær demde locode
2nd funde bære demdest locodest
3rd fond bær demde locode
Plural fundon bæron demdon locodon

The meanings of the tense forms were also very general, as compared with later ages and with present-day English. The forms of the Pres. were used to indicate present and future actions. With verbs of perfective meaning or with adverbs of future time the Pres. acquired the meaning of futurity; Cf: þonne þu þa in bringst, he ytt and bletsaþ þe — futurity — 'when you bring them, he will eat and bless you' þu gesihst þæt ic ealdige 'you see that I am getting old' the Pres. tense ealdie indicates a process in the present which is now expressed by the Continuous form. Future happenings could also be expressed by verb phrases with modal verbs:

forþæm ge sculon ... wepan 'therefore you shall weep'.

The Past tense was used in a most general sense to indicate various events in the past (including those which are nowadays expressed by the forms of the Past Continuous, Past Perfect, Present Perfect and other analytical forms). Additional shades of meaning could be attached to it in different contexts, e. g.:

Ond þæs ofer Eastron gefor Æpered cyning; ond he ricsode fīf gear 'and then after Easter died King Aethered, and he had reigned five years' (the Past Tense ricsode indicates a completed action which preceded another past action — in the modem translation it is rendered by had reigned).

Grammatical Categories of the Verbals

In OE there were two non-finite forms of the verb: the Infinitive and the Participle. In many respects they were closer to the nouns and adjectives than to the finite verb; their nominal features were far more obvious than their verbal features, especially at the morphological level. The verbal nature of the Infinitive and the Participle was revealed in some of their functions and in their syntactic "combinability": like finite forms they could take direct objects and be modified by adverbs.

The forms of the two participles were strictly differentiated. P I was formed from the Present tense stem (the Infinitive without the endings -an , -ian ) with the help of the suffix -ende . P II had a stem of its own — in strong verbs it was marked by a certain grade of the root-vowel interchange and by the suffix -en ; with weak verbs it ended in -d /-t . P II was commonly marked by the prefix ge -, though it could also occur without it, especially if the verb had other word-building prefixes.

Infinitive Participle I Participle II (NE bindan bindende gebunden bind)

Morphological Classification of Verbs

The conjugation of verbs shows the means of form-building used in the OE verb system. Most forms were distinguished with the help of inflectional endings or grammatical suffixes; one form — P II — was sometimes marked by a prefix; many verbs made use of vowel interchanges in the root; some verbs used consonant interchanges and a few had suppletive forms. The OE verb is remarkable for its complicated morphological classification which determined the application of form-building means in various groups of verbs. The majority of OE verbs fell into two great divisions: the strong verbs and the weak verbs. Besides these two main groups there were a few verbs which could be put together as "minor" groups. The main difference between the strong and weak verbs lay in the means of forming the principal parts, or the "stems" of the verb. There were also a few other differences in the conjugations.

All the forms of the verb, finite as well as non-finite, were derived from a set of "stems" or principal parts of the verb: the Present tense stem was used in all the Present tense forms, Indicative, Imperative and Subjunctive, and also in the Present Participle and the Infinitive; it is usually shown as the form of the Infinitive; all the forms of the Past tense were derived from the Past tense stems; the Past Participle had a separate stem.

The strong verbs formed their stems by means of vowel gradation (ablaut) and by adding certain suffixes; in some verbs vowel gradation was accompanied by consonant interchanges. The strong verbs had four stems, as they distinguished two stems in the Past Tense – one for the 1 st and 3rd p. Ind. Mood, the other — for the other Past tense forms, Ind. and Subj.

The weak verbs derived their Past tense stem and the stem of Participle II from the Present tense stem with the help of the dental suffix -d- or -t- normally they did not change their root vowel, but in some verbs suffixation was accompanied by a vowel interchange.

The Past tense stem of the weak verbs is the form of the 1st and 3rd p. sg; the pl locodon is formed from the same stem with the help of the plural ending -on). The same ending marks the Past pl of strong verbs.

Both the strong and the weak verbs are further subdivided into a number of morphological classes with some modifications in the main form-building devices.

Minor groups of verbs differed from the weak and strong verbs but were not homogeneous either. Some of them combined certain features of the strong and weak verbs in a peculiar way ("preterite-present" verbs); others were suppletive or altogether anomalous. The following chart gives a general idea of the morphological classification of OE verbs.

Strong Verbs

There were about three hundred strong verbs in OE. They were native words descending from PG with parallels in other OG languages; many of them had a high frequency of occurrence and were basic items of the vocabulary widely used in word derivation and word compounding. The strong verbs in OE (as well as in other OG languages) are usually divided into seven classes.

Classes from 1 to 6 use vowel gradation which goes back to the IE ablaut-series modified in different phonetic conditions in accordance with PG and Early OE sound changes. Class 7 includes reduplicating verbs, which originally built their past forms by means of repeating the root-morpheme; this doubled root gave rise to a specific kind of root-vowel interchange.

The principal forms of all the strong verbs have the same endings irrespective of class: -an for the Infinitive, no ending in the Past sg stem, -on in the form of Past pl, -en for Participle II. Two of these markers – the zero-ending in the second stem and -en in Participle II – are found only in strong verbs and should be noted as their specific characteristics. The classes differ in the series of root-vowels used to distinguish the four stems. Only several classes and subclasses make a distinction between four vowels as marker of the four stems – see Class 2, 3b and c, 4 and 5b; some classes distinguish only three grades of ablaut and consequently have the same root vowel in two stems out of four (Class 1, 3a, 5a); two classes, 6 and 7, use only two vowels in their gradation series.

In addition to vowel gradation some verbs with the root ending in -s , -þ or -r employed an interchange of consonants: [s-z-r]; [0-ð-d] and [f-v]. These interchanges were either instances of positional variation of fricative consonants in OE or relics of earlier positional sound changes; they were of no significance as grammatical markers and disappeared due to levelling by analogy towards the end of OE.

The classes of strong verbs – like the morphological classes of nouns – differed in the number of verbs and, consequently, in their role and weight in the language. Classes 1 and 3 were the most numerous of all: about 60 and 80 verbs, respectively; within Class 3 the first group – with a nasal or nasal plus a plosive in the root (findan, rinnan – NE find , run) included almost 40 verbs, which was about as much as the number of verbs in Class 2; the rest of the classes had from 10 to 15 verbs each. In view of the subsequent interinfluence and mixture of classes it is also noteworthy that some classes in OE had similar forms; thus Classes 4 and 5 differed in one form only – the stems of P II; Classes 2, 3b and c and Class 4 had identical vowels in the stem of P II.

The history of the strong verbs traced back through Early OE to PG will reveal the origins of the sound interchanges and of the division into classes; it will also show some features which may help to identify the classes.

The gradation series used in Class 1 through 5 go back to the PIE qualitative ablaut [e–o] and some instances of quantitative ablaut. The grades [e–o] reflected in Germanic as [e/i–a] were used in the first and second stems; they represented the normal grade (a short vowel) and were contrasted to the zero-grade (loss of the gradation vowel) or to the prolonged grade (a long vowel) in the third and fourth stem. The original gradation series split into several series because the gradation vowel was inserted in the root and was combined there with the sounds of the root. Together with them, it was then subjected to regular phonetic changes. Each class of verbs offered a peculiar phonetic environment for the gradation vowels and accordingly transformed the original series into a new gradation series.

In Classes 1 and 2 the root of the verb originally contained [i] and [u] (hence the names i-class and u-class); combination of the gradation vowels with these sounds produced long vowels and diphthongs in the first and second stems. Classes 3, 4 and 5 had no vowels, consequently the first and second forms contain the gradation vowels descending directly from the short [e] and [o]; Class 3 split into subclasses as some of the vowels could be diphthongised under the Early OE breaking. In the third and fourth stems we find the zero-grade or the prolonged grade of ablaut; therefore Class 1 – i-class – has [i]. Class 2— [u] or [o]; in Classes 4 and 5 the Past pl stem has a long vowel [æ]. Class 5 (b) contained [j] following the root in the Inf.; hence the mutated vowel [i] and the lengthening of the consonant: sittan.

In the verbs of Class 6 the original IE gradation was purely quantitative; in PG it was transformed into a quantitative-qualitative series.

Class 7 had acquired its vowel interchange from a different source: originally this was a class of reduplicating verbs, which built their past tense by repeating the root. In OE the roots in the Past tense stems had been contracted and appeared as a single morpheme with a long vowel. The vowels were different with different verbs, as they resulted from the fusion of various root-morphemes, so that Class 7 had no single series of vowel interchanges.

Direct traces of reduplication in OE are rare; they are sometimes found in the Anglian dialects and in poetry as extra consonants appearing in the Past tense forms: Past tense ofhatan — heht alongside het ('call'). Past tense of ondrædan– ondred and ondreord (NE dread).

To account for the interchanges of consonants in the strong verbs one should recall the voicing by Verner's Law and some subsequent changes of voiced and voiceless fricatives. The interchange [s–z] which arose under Verner's Law was transformed into [s–r] due to rhotacism and acquired another interchange [s–z] after the Early OE voicing of fricatives. Consequently, the verbs whose root ended in [s] or [z] could have the following interchange:

ceosan [z] ceos [s] curon [r] coren [r] (NE choose)

Verbs with an interdental fricative have similar variant with voiced and voiceless [0, ð] and the consonant [d], which had developed from [ð] in the process of hardening:

sniþan [ð] snaþ [0] snidon sniden (NE cut) Class 1

Verbs with the root ending in [f/v] displayed the usual OE interchange of the voiced and voiceless positional variants of fricatives:

ceorfan [v] cearf [f] curfon [v] corfen [v] (NE carve) Class 3

Verbs with consonant interchanges could belong to any class, provided that they contained a fricative consonant. That does not mean, however, that every verb with a fricative used consonant interchange, for instance risan, a strong verb of Class 1, alternated [s] with [z] but not with [r]: risan – ras – rison – risen (NE rise). Towards the end of the OE period the consonant interchanges disappeared.

Weak Verbs

The number of weak verbs in OE by far exceeded that of strong verbs. In fact, all the verbs, with the exception of the strong verbs and the minor groups (which make a total of about 320 verbs) were weak. Their number was constantly growing since all new verbs derived from other stems were conjugated weak (except derivatives of strong verbs with prefixes). Among the weak verbs there were many derivatives of OE noun and adjective stems and also derivatives of strong verbs built from one of their stems (usually the second stem — Past sg)

talu n – tellan v (NE tale, tell ) full adj – fyllan v (NE full, fill )

Weak verbs formed their Past and Participle II by means of the dental suffix -d- or -t- (a specifically Germanic trait). In OE the weak verbs are subdivided into three classes differing in the ending of the Infinitive, the sonority of the suffix, and the sounds preceding the suffix. The main differences between the classes were as follows: in Class I the Infinitive ended in -an, seldom -ian (-ian occurs after [r]); the Past form had -de, -ede or -te; Participle II was marked by –d, -ed or -t. Some verbs of Class I had a double consonant in the Infinitive, others had a vowel interchange in the root, used together with suffixation.

Class II had no subdivisions. In Class II the Infinitive ended in -ian and the Past tense stem and P II had [o] before the dental suffix. This was the most numerous and regular of all the classes.

The verbs of Class III had an Infinitive in -an and no vowel before the dental suffix; it included only four verbs with a full conjugation and a few isolated forms of other verbs. Genetically, the division into classes goes back to the differences between the derivational stem-suffixes used to build the verbs or the nominal stems from which they were derived, and all the persons of the sg Subj. (cf. restan—reste, wendan— wende, (NE rest, wend ).

Participle II of most verbs preserved -e- before the dental suffix, though in some groups it was lost.

Minor Groups of Verbs

Several minor groups of verbs can be referred neither to strong nor to weak verbs. The most important group of these verbs were the so-called "preterite-presents" or "past-present" verbs. Originally the Present tense forms of these verbs were Past tense forms (or, more precisely, IE perfect forms, denoting past actions relevant for the "present). Later these forms acquired a present meaning but preserved many formal features of the Past tense. Most of these verbs had new Past Tense forms built with the help of the dental suffix. Some of them also acquired the forms of the verbals: Participles and Infinitives; most verbs did not have a full paradigm and were in this sense "defective".

The verbs were inflected in the Present like the Past tense of strong verbs: the forms of the 1st and 3rd p. sg were identical and had no ending – yet, unlike strong verbs, they had the same root-vowel in all the persons; the pl had a different grade of ablaut similarly with strong verbs (which had two distinct stems for the Past: sg and pl). In the Past the preterite-presents were inflected like weak verbs: the dental suffix plus the endings -e, -est, -e. The new Infinitives sculan, cunnan were derived from the pl form. The interchanges of root-vowels in the sg and pl of the Present tense of preterite-present verbs can be traced to the same gradation series as were used in the strong verbs. Before the shift of meaning and time-reference the would-be preterite-presents were strong verbs. The prototype of can may be referred to Class 3 (with the grades [a–u] in the two Past tense stems); the prototype of sculan — to Class 4, magan — to Class 5, witan, wat 'know' – to Class 1.

In OE there were twelve preterite-present verbs. Six of them have survived in Mod E: OE ag ; cunnan, cann; dear(r), sculan, sceal; magan, mæg, mot (NE owe, ought; can; dare; shall; may; must). Most of the preterite-presents did not indicate actions, but expressed a kind of attitude to an action denoted by another verb, an Infinitive, which followed the preterite-present. In other words, they were used like modal verbs, and eventually developed into modem modal verbs. (In OE some of them could also be used as notional verbs:

þe him aht sceoldon 'what they owed him'.)

Among the verbs of the minor groups there were several anomalous verbs with irregular forms. OE willan was an irregular verb with the meaning of volition and desire; it resembled the preterite-presents in meaning and function, as it indicated an attitude to an action and was often followed by an Infinitive.

þa ðe willað mines forsiðes fægnian 'those who wish to rejoice in my death'

hyt moten habban eall 'all could have it'.

Willan had a Past tense form wolde, built like sceolde, the Past tense of the preterite-present sculan, sceal. Eventually willan became a modal verb, like the surviving preterite-presents, and, together with sculan developed into an auxiliary (NE shall, will, should, would).

Some verbs combined the features of weak and strong verbs. OE don formed a weak Past tense with a vowel interchange: and a Participle in -n: don — dyde – gedon (NE do). OE buan 'live' had a weak Past – bude and P II, ending in -n, gebun like a strong verb.

Two OE verbs were suppletive. OE gan, whose Past tense was built from a different root gan – eode – gegan (NE go) ; and beon (NE be).

Beon is an ancient (IE) suppletive verb. In many languages – Germanic and non-Germanic – its paradigm is made up of several roots. In OE the Present tense forms were different modifications of the roots *wes- and *bhu-, 1st p. sg eom, beo, 2nd p. eart, bist. The Past tense was built from the root *wes-on the pattern of strong verbs of Class 5. Though the Infinitive and Participle II do not occur in the texts, the set of forms can be reconstructed as: *wesan — wæs — wæron — *weren.

OE syntax

The syntactic structure of OE was determined by two major conditions: the nature of OE morphology and the relations between the spoken and the written forms of the language,

OE was largely a synthetic language; it possessed a system of grammatical forms, which could indicate the connection between words; consequently, the functional load of syntactic ways of word connection was relatively small. It was primarily a spoken language, therefore the written forms of the language resembled oral speech – unless the texts were literal translations from Latin or poems with stereotyped constructions. Consequently, the syntax of the sentence was relatively simple; coordination of clauses prevailed over subordination; complicated syntactical constructions were rare.

The syntactic structure of a language can be described at the level of the phrase and at the level of the sentence. In OE texts we find a variety of word phrases (also: word groups or patterns). OE noun patterns, adjective patterns and verb patterns had certain specific features, which are important to note in view of their later changes.

A noun pattern consisted of a noun as the head-word and pronouns, adjectives (including verbal adjectives, or participles), numerals and other nouns as determiners and attributes. Most noun modifiers agreed with the noun in gender, number and case:

on þæm oþrum þrim dagum ... 'in those other three days' – Dat. pl Masc.

Ohthere sæde his hlaforde, Ælfrede cyninge 'Ohthere said to his lord, king Alfred' – the noun in apposition is in the Dat. sg like the head noun.

Nouns, which served as attributes to other nouns, usually had the form of the Gen. case: hwales ban, deora fell 'whale's bone, deer's fell'.

Some numerals governed the nouns they modified so that formally the relations were reversed: tamra deora ... syx hund 'six hundred tame deer'; twentig sceapa 'twenty sheep' (deora, sceapa – Gen. pl).

The following examples show the structure of the simple sentence in OE, its principal and secondary parts:

Soðlice sum mann hæfde twegen suna (mann – subject, hæfde Simple Predicate) 'truly a certain man had two sons'. Predicates could also be compound: modal, verbal and nominal:

Hwæðre þu meaht singan 'nevertheless you can sing'.

He was swyðe spedig mann 'he was a very rich man'. The secondary parts of the sentence are seen in the same examples: twegen suna 'two sons' – Direct Object with an attribute, spedig 'rich' – attribute. In the examples of verb and noun patterns above we can find other secondary parts of the sentence: indirect and prepositional objects, adverbial modifiers and appositions: hys meder 'to his mother' (Indirect Object), to his suna 'to his son' (Prep. Object), his hlaforde, Ælfrede cyninge 'his lord king Alfred' (apposition). The structure of the OE sentence can be described in terms of Mod E syntactic analysis, for the sentence was made up of the same parts, except that those parts were usually simpler. Attributive groups were short and among the parts of the sentence there were very few-predicative constructions ("syntactical complexes"). Absolute constructions with the noun in the Dat. case were sometimes used in translations from Latin in imitation of the Latin Dativus Absolutus. The objective predicative construction "Accusative with the Infinitive" occurred in original OE texts:

... ða liðende land gesawon, brimclifu blican, beorgas steape (BEOWULF)

'the travellers saw land, the cliffs shine, steep mountains'. Predicative constructions after habban (NE have) contained a Past Participle.

The connection between the parts of the sentence was shown by the form of the words as they had formal markers for gender, case, number and person. As compared with later periods agreement and government played an important role in the word phrase and in the sentence. Accordingly the place of the word in relation to other words was of secondary importance and the order of words was relatively free.

The presence of formal markers made it possible to miss out some parts of the sentence which would be obligatory in an English sentence now. In the following instance the subject is not repeated but the form of the predicate shows that the action is performed by the same person as the preceding action:

þa com he on morgenne to þæm tungerefan se þe his ealdorman wæs; sægde him, hwylce gife he onfeng 'then in the morning he came to the town-sheriff the one that was his alderman; (he) said to him what gift he had received'.

The formal subject was lacking in many impersonal sentences (though it was present in others): Norþan snywde 'it snowed in the North'; him þuhte 'it seemed to him', Hit hagolade stānum 'it hailed with stones'.

One of the conspicuous features of OE syntax was multiple negation within a single sentence or clause. The most common negative particle was he, which was placed before the verb; it was often accompanied by other negative words, mostly naht or noht (which had developed from ne plus awiht 'no thing'). These words reinforced the meaning of negation'.

Ne con ic noht singan... ic noht singan ne cuðe 'I cannot sing' (lit. "cannot sing nothing"), 'I could not sing' (noht was later shortened to not, a new negative particle).

Another peculiarity of OE negation was that the particle ne could be attached to some verbs, pronouns and adverbs to form single words: he ne mihtenan þing geseon 'he could not see anything' (nan from ne an 'not one'), hit na buton gewinne næs 'it was never without war' (næs from ne wæs 'no was'; NE none, never, neither are traces of such forms).

Compound and complex sentences existed in the English language since the earliest times. Even in the oldest texts we find numerous instances of coordination and subordination and a large inventory of subordinate clauses, subject clauses, object clauses, attributive clauses adverbial clauses. And yet many constructions, especially in early original prose, look clumsy, loosely connected, disorderly and wanting precision, which is natural in a language whose written form had only begun to grow.

Coordinate clauses were mostly joined by and, a conjunction of a most general meaning, which could connect statements with various semantic relations. The A-S CHRONICLES abound in successions of clauses or sentences all beginning with and, e.g.:

And þa ongeat se cyning, þæt ond he, on þa duru eode, and þa unbeanlice hine werede, oþ he on þone æþeling locude, and þa ut ræsde on hine, and hine miclum gewundode; and hie alle on þone cyning wæron feohtende, oþ þæt hie hine ofslægenne hæfdon, 'and then the king saw that, and he went to the door, and then bravely defended himself, until he saw that noble, and then out rushed on him, and wounded him severely, and they were all fighting against that king until they had him slain' (from the earliest part of the CHRONICLES A.D. 755).

Repetition of connectives at the head of each clause (termed "correlation") was common in complex sentences: þa he þær to gefaren wæs, þa eodon hie to hiora scipum 'then (when) he came there, then they went to their ship.'

Attributive clauses were joined to the principal clauses by means of various connectives, there being no special class of relative pronouns. The main connective was the indeclinable particle Re employed, either alone or together with demonstrative and personal pronouns: and him cypdon'paet hiera maezas him mid waeron, pa pe him from noldon 'and told him that their kinsmen were with him, those that did not want (to go) from him'.

The pronouns could also be used to join the clauses without the particle þe:

Hit gelamp gio þætte an hearpere wæs on þære ðiode þe Dracia hatte, sio wæs on Creca rice; se hearpere wæs swiðe ungefræglice god, ðæs nama wæs Orfeus; he hæfde an swiðe ænlic wif, sio wæs haten Eurydice 'It happened once that there was a harper among the people on the land that was called Thrace, that was in the kingdom of Crete; that harper was incredibly good; whose name (the name of that) was Orpheus; he had an excellent wife; that was called Eurydice'.

The pronoun and conjunction þæt was used to introduce object clauses and adverbial clauses, alone or with other form-words: oð ðæt 'until', ær þæm þe 'before', þæt 'so that' as in: Isaac ealdode and his eagan þystrodon, þæt he ne mihte nan þing geseon 'Then Isaac grew old and his eyes became blind so that he could not see anything'.

Some clauses are regarded as intermediate between coordinate and subordinate: they are joined asyndetically and their status is not clear: þa wæs sum consul, Boethius wæs haten 'There was then a consul, Boethius was called' (perhaps attributive: '(who) was called Boethius' or co-ordinate '(he) was called Boethius').


Evolution of the grammatical system

In the course of ME, Early NE the grammatical system of the language underwent profound alteration. Since the OE period the very grammatical type of the language has changed; from what can be defined as a synthetic or inflected language, with a well developed morphology English has been transformed into a language of the "analytical type", with analytical forms and ways of word connection prevailing over synthetic ones. This does not mean, however, that the grammatical changes were rapid or sudden; nor does it imply that all grammatical features were in a state of perpetual change. Like the development of other linguistic levels, the history of English grammar was a complex evolutionary process made up of stable and changeable constituents. Some grammatical characteristics remained absolutely or relatively stable; others were subjected to more or less extensive modification.

The division of words into parts of speech has proved to be one of the most permanent characteristics of the language. Through all the periods of history English preserved the distinctions between the following parts of speech; the noun, the adjective, the pronoun, the numeral, the verb, the adverb, the preposition, the conjunction, and the interjection. The only new part of speech was the article which split from the pronouns in Early ME.

Between the 10th and the 16th c., that is from Late OE to Early NE the ways of building up grammatical forms underwent considerable changes. In OE all the forms which can be included into morphological paradigms were synthetic. In ME, Early NE, grammatical forms could also be built in the analytical way, with the help of auxiliary words. The proportion of synthetic forms in the language has become very small, for in the meantime many of the old synthetic forms have been lost and no new synthetic forms have developed.

In the synthetic forms of the ME, Early NE periods, few as those forms were, the means of form-building were the same as before: inflections, sound interchanges and suppletion; only prefixation, namely the prefix ge-, which was commonly used in OE to mark Participle II, went out of use in Late ME (instances of Participle II with the prefix ge- (from OE ge-) are still found in Chaucer's time. Suppletive form-building, as before, was confined to a few words, mostly surviving from OE and even earlier periods. Sound interchanges were not productive, though they did not die out: they still occurred in many verbs, some adjectives and nouns; moreover, a number of new interchanges arose in Early ME in some ups of weak verbs. Nevertheless, their application in the language, and their weight among other means was generally reduced.

Inflections - or grammatical suffixes and endings - continued to be used in all the inflected "changeable" parts of speech. It is notable, however, that as compared with the OE period they became less varied. As mentioned before the OE period of history has been described as a period of "full endings", ME - as a period of "leveled endings" and NE - as a period of "lost endings" (H. Sweet). In OE there existed a variety of distinct endings differing in consonants as well as in vowels. In ME all the vowels in the endings were reduced to the neutral [a] and many consonants were leveled under -n or dropped. The process of leveling besides phonetic weakening, implies replacement of inflections by analogy, e.g. -(e)s as a marker of pi forms of nouns displaced the endings -(e)n and -e. In the transition to NE most of the grammatical endings were dropped.

Nevertheless, these definitions of the state of inflections in the three main historical periods are not quite precise. It is known that the weakening and dropping of endings began a long time before - in Early OE and even in PG; on the other hand, some of the old grammatical endings have survived to this day.

The analytical way of form-building was a new device, which developed in Late OE and ME and came to occupy a most important place in the grammatical system. Analytical forms developed from free word groups (phrases, syntactical constructions). The first component of these phrases gradually weakened or even lost its lexical meaning and turned into a grammatical marker, while the second component retained its lexical meaning and acquired a new grammatical value in the compound form. Cf, e. g. the meaning and function of the verb to have in OE he hæfde þa 'he had them (the prisoners)', Hie him ofslægene hæfdon 'they had him killed' or, perhaps, 'they had killed him'. Hie hæfdon ofergan Eastengle 'they had overspread East Anglian territory'. In the first sentence have denotes possession, in the second, the meaning of possession is weakened, in the third, it is probably lost and does not differ from the meaning of have in the translation of the sentence into ME. The auxiliary verb have and the form of Part. II are the grammatical markers of the Perfect; the lexical meaning is conveyed by the root-morpheme of the participle. The growth of analytical grammatical forms from free word phrases belongs partly to historical morphology and partly to syntax, for they are instances of transition from the syntactical to the morphological level.

Analytical form-building was not equally productive in all the parts of speech: it has transformed the morphology of the verb but has not affected the noun.

The main direction of development for the nominal parts of speech in all the periods of history can be defined as morphological simplification, Simplifying changes began in prehistoric, PG times. They continued at a slow rate during the OE period and were intensified in Early ME. The period between c. 1000 and 1300 has been called an "age of great changes" (A.Baugh), for it witnessed one of the greatest events in the history of English grammar: the decline and transformation of the nominal morphological system. Some nominal categories were lost Gender and Case in adjectives. Gender in nouns; the number of forms distinguished in the surviving categories was reduced - cases in nouns and noun-pronouns, numbers in personal pronouns. Morphological division into types of declension practically disappeared. In Late ME the adjective lost the last vestiges of the old paradigm: the distinction of number and the distinction of weak and strong forms. Already at the time of Chaucer, and certainly by the age of Caxton the English nominal system was very much like modern, not only in its general pattern but also in minor details. The evolution of the verb system was a far more complicated process-it cannot be described in terms of one general trend. On the one hand, the decay of inflectional endings affected the verb system, though to a lesser extent than the nominal system. The simplification and leveling of forms made the verb conjugation more regular and uniform; the OE morphological classification of verbs was practically broken up. On the other hand, the paradigm of the verb grew, as new grammatical forms and distinctions came into being. The number of verbal grammatical categories increased, as did the number of forms within the categories. The verb acquired the categories of Voice, Time Correlation or Phase and Aspect. Within the category of Tense there developed a new form - the Future Tense; in the category of Mood there arose new forms of the Subjunctive. These changes involved the non-finite forms too, for the infinitive and the participle, having lost many nominal features, developed verbal features: they acquired new analytical forms and new categories like the finite verb. It is noteworthy that, unlike the changes in the nominal system, the new developments in the verb system were not limited to a short span of two or three hundred years. They extended over a long period: from Late OE till Late NE. Even in the age of Shakespeare the verb system was in some respects different from that of ME and many changes were still underway.

Other important events in the history of English grammar were the changes in syntax, which were associated with the transformation of English morphology but at the same time displayed their own specific tendencies and directions. The main changes at the syntactical level were: the rise of new syntactic patterns of the word phrase and the sentence; the growth of predicative constructions; the development of the complex sentences and of diverse means of connecting clauses. Syntactic changes are mostly observable in Late ME and in NE, in periods of literary efflorescence.

The noun. Decay of Noun Declensions in Early Middle English

The OE noun had the grammatical categories of Number and Case which were formally distinguished in an elaborate system of declensions. However, homonymous forms in the OE noun paradigms neutralised some of the grammatical oppositions; similar endings employed in different declensions - as well as the influence of some types upon other types - disrupted the grouping of nouns into morphological classes.

Increased variation of the noun forms in the late 10th c. and especially in the 11th and 12th c. testifies to impending changes and to a strong tendency toward a re-arrangement and simplification of the declensions. The number of variants of grammatical forms in the 11th and 12th c. was twice as high as in the preceding centuries. Among the variant forms there were direct descendants of OE forms with phonetically weakened endings (the so-called "historical forms") and also numerous analogical forms taken over from other parts of the same paradigms and from more influential morphological classes. The new variants of grammatical forms obliterated the distinction between the forms within the paradigms and the differences between the declensions, e.g.. Early ME fisshes and bootes, direct descendants of the OE Nom. and Acc. pl of Masc. a-stems fiscas, batas were used, as before, in the position of these cases and could also be used as variant forms of other cases Gen. and Dat. pi alongside the historical forms fisshe, hoofs. (OE Gen. pl. fisca, bāta) and fischen, booten or fisshe, boots (OE Dat. pl fiscum, batum); (NE fish, boat). As long as all these variants co-existed, it was possible to mark a form more precisely by using a variant with a fuller ending, but when some of the variants went out of use and the non-distinctive, levelled variants prevailed, many forms fell together. Thus after passing through the "variation stage" many formal oppositions were lost. The most numerous OE morphological classes of nouns were a-stems, o-stems and n-stems. Even in Late OE the endings used in these types were added by analogy to other kinds of nouns, especially if they belonged to the same gender. That is how the noun declensions tended to be re-arranged on the basis of gender.

The decline of the OE declension system lasted over three hundred years and revealed considerable dialectal differences. It started in the North of England and gradually spread southwards. The decay of inflectional endings in the Northern dialects began as early as the 10th c. and was virtually completed in the 11th; in the Midlands the process extended over the 12th c., while in the Southern dialects it lasted till the end of the 13th (in the dialect of Kent, the old inflectional forms were partly preserved even in the 14th c.).

The dialects differed not only in the chronology but also in the nature of changes. The Southern dialects rearranged and simplified the noun declensions on the basis of stem and gender distinctions. In Early ME they employed only four markers -es, -en, -e, and the root-vowel interchange plus the bare stem (the "zero "-inflection) but distinguished, with the help of these devices, several paradigms. Masc. and Neut. nouns had two declensions, weak and strong, with certain differences between the genders in the latter: Masc. nouns took the ending -es in the Nom., Acc. pl, while Neut. nouns had variant forms: Masc. fishes Neut. land/lande/landes. Most Fem. nouns belonged to the weak declension and were declined like weak Masc. and Neut. nouns. The root-stem declension, as before, had mutated vowels in some forms' and many variant forms which showed that the vowel interchange was becoming a marker of number rather than case.

In the Midland and Northern dialects the system of declension was much simpler. In fact, there was only one major type of declension and a few traces of other types. The majority of nouns took the endings of OE Masc. a-stems: -(e)s in the Gen. sg (from OE -es), -(e)s in the pi irrespective of case (from OE -as: Nom. and Acc. sg, which had extended to other cases).

A small group of nouns, former root-stems, employed a root-vowel interchange to distinguish the forms of number. Survivals of other OE declensions were rare and should be treated rather as exceptions than as separate paradigms. Thus several former Neut. a-stems descending from long-stemmed nouns could build their plurals with or without the ending -(e)s; sg hors — pl hors or horses, some nouns retained weak forms with the ending -en alongside new forms in -es; some former Fem. nouns and some names of relations occur in the Gen. case without -(e)s like OE Fem. nouns, e. g. my fader soule, 'my father's soul'; In hope to standen in his lady grace 'In the hope of standing in his lady's grace' (Chaucer) though the latter can be regarded as a set phrase.

In Late ME, when the Southern traits were replaced by Central and Northern traits in the dialect of London, this pattern of noun declensions prevailed in literary English. The declension of nouns in the age of Chaucer, in its main features, was the same as in ME. The simplification of noun morphology was on the whole completed. Most nouns distinguished two forms: the basic form (with the "zero" ending) and the form in -(e)s. The nouns originally descending from other types of declensions for the most part had joined this major type, which had developed from Masc. a-stems.

Simplification of noun morphology affected the grammatical categories of the noun in different ways and to a varying degree. The OE Gender, being a classifying feature (and not a grammatical category proper) disappeared together with other distinctive features of the noun declensions. (Division into genders played a certain role in the decay of the OE declension system: in Late OE and Early ME nouns were grouped into classes or types of declension according to gender instead of stems.

In the 11th and 12th c. the gender of nouns was deprived of its main formal support the weakened and leveled endings of adjectives and adjective pronouns ceased to indicate gender. Semantically gender was associated with the differentiation of sex and therefore: the formal grouping into genders was smoothly and naturally superseded by a semantic division into inanimate and animate nouns, with a further subdivision of the latter into males and females.

In Chaucer's time gender is a lexical category, like in ME: nouns are referred to as "he" and "she" if they denote human beings, e. g She wolde wepe, if that she saw a mous. Caught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde (Chaucer) "She" points here to a woman while "it" replaces the noun mous, which in OE was Fem. ('She would weep, if she saw a mouse caught in a trap, if it was dead or it bled.') (Sh.)

The grammatical category of Case was preserved but underwent profound changes in Early ME. The number of cases in the noun paradigm was reduced from four (distinguished in OE) to two in Late ME. The syncretism of cases was a slow process which went on step by step. As shown above even in OE the forms of the Nom. and Ace. were not distinguished in the pi, and in some classes they coincided also in the sg. In Early ME they fell together in both numbers.

In the strong declension the Dat. was sometimes marked by -e in the Southern dialects, though not in the North or in the Midlands; the form without the ending soon prevailed in all areas, and three OE cases, Nom., Acc. and Dat. fell together. Henceforth they can be called the Common case, as in present-day English.

Only the Gen. case was kept separate from the other forms, with more explicit formal distinctions in the singular than in the pi. In the 14th c. the ending -es of the Gen. sg had become almost universal, there being only several exceptions nouns which were preferably used in the uninflected form (names of relationships terminating in -r , some proper names, and some nouns in stereotyped phrases). In the pl the Gen. case had no special marker it was not distinguished from the Comm. case as the ending -(e)s through analogy, had extended to the Gen. either from the Comm. case pi or, perhaps, from the Gen. sg. This ending was generalised in the Northern dialects and in the Midlands (a survival of the OE Gen. pl form in -ena, ME -en(e), was used in Early ME only in the Southern districts). The formal distinction between cases in the pi was lost, except in the nouns which did not take -(e)s in the pl. Several nouns with a weak plural form in -en or with a vowel interchange, such as oxen and men, added the marker of the Gen. case -es to these forms: oxenes, mennes. In the 17th and 18th c. a new graphic marker of the Gen. case came into use: the apostrophe e. g. man's, children's: this device could be employed only in writing; in oral speech the forms remained homonymous.

The reduction in the number of cases was linked up with a change in the meanings and functions of the surviving forms. The Comm. case, which resulted from the fusion of three OE cases assumed all the functions of the former Nom., Acc., Dat. and also some functions of the Gen. The ME Comm. case had a very general meaning, which was made more specific by the context: prepositions, the meaning of the verb-predicate, the word order. With the help of these means it could express various meanings formerly belonging to different cases. The following passages taken from three translations of the Bible give a general idea of the transition; they show how the OE Gen. Dat. cases were replaced in ME, Early NE by prepositional phrases with the noun in the Comm. case. OE translation of the Gospels (10th c.) Eadige synd þa gastlican þearfan, forþam hyra ys heofena rice. (Gen.) Wyclifs translation (late 14th c. Blessed be the pore in spirit, for the kingdom in heuenes is heren. King James' Bible (17th c. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The replacement of the Dat. by prepositional phrases had been well prepared by its wide use in OE as a case commonly governed by prepositions.

The main function of the Ace, case to present the direct object was fulfilled in ME by the Comm. case; the noun was placed next to the verb, or else its relations with the predicate were apparent from the meaning of the transitive verb and the noun, e. g. He knew the tavernes well in every town. For catel hadde they ynogh and rente (Chaucer) ('He knew well the taverns in every town for they had enough wealth and income'.)

The history of the Gen. case requires special consideration. Though it survived as a distinct form, its use became more limited: unlike OE it could not be employed in the function of an object to a verb or to an adjective. In ME the Gen. case is used only attributively, to modify a noun, but even in this function it has a rival prepositional phrases, above all the phrases with the preposition of. The practice to express genitival relations by the of-phrase goes back to OE. It is not uncommon in Ælfric's writings (10th c). but its regular use instead of the inflectional Gen. does not become established until the 12th c. The use of the of-phrase grew rapidly in the 13th and 14th c. In some texts there appears a certain differentiation between the synonyms: the inflectional Gen. is preferred with animate nouns, while the of-phrase is more widely used with inanimate ones. Usage varies, as can be seen from the following examples from Chaucer: Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre ('He was very worthy in his lord's campaigns')

He had maad ful many a mariage of yonge wommen ('He made many marriages of young women') And specially, from every shires ende, Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende.

('And especially from the end of every shire of England they went to Canterbury')

Various theories have been advanced to account for the restricted use of the Gen. case, particularly for the preference of the inflectional Gen. with "personal" nouns. It has been suggested that the tendency to use the inflectional Gen. with names of persons is a continuation of an old tradition pertaining to word order. It has been noticed that the original distinction between the use of the Gen. with different kind of nouns was not in form but in position. The Gen. of "personal" nouns was placed before the governing noun, while the Gen. of other nouns was placed after it. The post-positive Gen. was later replaced by the of-phrase with the result that the of-phrase came to be preferred with inanimate nouns and the inflectional Gen. with personal (animate) ones. Another theory attributes the wider use of the inflectional Gen. with animate nouns to the influence of a specific possessive construction containing a possessive pronoun: the painter'ys name, where 'ys is regarded as a shortened form of his "the painter his name". It is assumed that the frequent use of these phrases may have reinforced the inflectional Gen., which could take the ending -is , -ys alongside -es and thus resembled the phrase with the pronoun his, in which the initial [h] could be dropped.

It may be added that the semantic differentiation between the prepositional phrase and the s'-Gen. became more precise in the New period, each acquiring its own set of meanings, with only a few overlapping spheres. (It has been noticed, that in present-day English the frequency of the 's-Gen. is growing again at the expense of the of-phrase.)

The other grammatical category of the noun. Number proved to be the most stable of all the nominal categories. The noun preserved the formal distinction of two numbers through all the historical periods. Increased variation in Early ME did not obliterate number distinctions. On the contrary, it showed that more uniform markers of the pl spread by analogy to different morphological classes of nouns, and thus strengthened the formal differentiation of number. The pl forms in ME show obvious traces of numerous OE noun declensions. Some of these traces have survived in later periods. In Late ME the ending -es was the prevalent marker of nouns in the pl.

In Early NE it extended to, more nouns to the new words of the growing English vocabulary and to many words, which built their plural in a different way in ME or employed -es as one of the variant endings. The pi ending -es (as well as the ending -es of the Gen. case) underwent several phonetic changes: the voicing of fricatives and the loss of unstressed vowels in final syllables. The following examples show the development of the ME pl inflection -es in Early NE under different phonetic conditions.

The ME pl ending -en, used as a variant marker with some nouns (and as the main marker in the weak declension in the Southern dialects) lost its former productivity, so that in Standard ME it is found only in oxen, brethern, and children. (The two latter words originally did not belong to the weak declension: OE broðor, a-stem, built its plural by means of a root-vowel interchange; OE cild, took the ending -ru: cild—cildru; -en was added to the old forms of the pl in ME; both words have two markers of the pl.). The small group of ME nouns with homonymous forms of number (ME deer, hors, thing,) has been further reduced to three "exceptions" in ME: deer, sheep and swine. The group of former root-stems has survived only as exceptions: man, tooth and the like. Not all irregular forms in ME are traces of OE declensions; forms like data, nuclei, antennae have come from other languages together with the borrowed words.

It follows that the majority of English nouns have preserved and even reinforced the formal distinction of Number in the Comm. case. Meanwhile they have practically lost these distinctions in the Gen. case, for Gen. has a distinct form in the pi. only with nouns whose pl ending is not -es.

Despite the regular neutralisation of number distinctions in the Gen, case we can say that differentiation of Number in nouns has become More explicit and more precise. The functional load and the frequency of occurrence of the Comm. case are certainly much higher than those of the Gen.; therefore the regular formal distinction of Number in the Comm. case is more important than its neutralisation in the Gen. case.

The pronoun. Personal and Possessive Pronouns

Since personal pronouns are noun-pronouns, it might have been expected that their evolution would repeat the evolution of nouns-in reality it was in many respects different. The development of the same grammatical categories in nouns and pronouns was not alike. It differed in the rate and extent of changes, in the dates and geographical directions, though the morphology of pronouns, like the morphology of nouns, was simplified.

In Early ME the OE Fern. pronoun of the 3rd p. sg heo (related to all the other pronouns of the 3rd p. he, hit, hie} was replaced by a group of variants he, ho, see, sho, she: one of them she finally prevailed over the others. The new Fern. pronoun. Late ME she, is believed to have developed from the OE demonstrative pronoun of the Fern. gender seo (OE se, seo, ðæt, NE that). It was first recorded in the North Eastern regions and gradually extended to other areas.

The replacement of OE heo by ME she is a good illustration of the mechanism of linguistic change and of the interaction of intra- and extra linguistic factors. Increased dialectal divergence in Early ME supplied 'the "raw material" for the change in the shape of co-existing variants or parallels. Out of these variants the language preserved the unambiguous form she, probably to avoid an homonymy clash, since the descendant of OE heo ME he coincided with the Masc. pronoun he. The need to discriminate between the two pronouns was an internal factor which determined the selection. The choice could also be favored by external historical conditions, for in later ME many Northern and East Midland features were incorporated in the London dialect, which became the basis of literary English. It should be noted, however, that the replacement was not complete, as the other forms of OE heo were preserved: hire/her, used in ME as the Obj. case and as a Poss. pronoun is a form of OE heo but not of its new substitute she; hers was derived from the form hire/her.

About the same time in the course of ME another important lexical replacement took place: the OE pronoun of the 3rd p. pl hie was replaced by the Scand. loan-word they [ðei]. Like the pronoun she, it came from the North-Eastern areas and was adopted by the mixed London dialect. This time the replacement was more complete: they ousted the Nom. case, OE hie, while them and their (corning from the same Scand. loan) replaced the oblique case forms: OE hem and heora. The two sets of forms coming from they and hie occur side by side in Late ME texts, e. g.: That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke. ('Who has helped them when they were sick.') It is noteworthy that these two replacements broke up the genetic ties between the pronouns of the 3rd p.: in OE they were all obvious derivatives of one pronominal root with the initial [h]: he, heo, hit, hie. The Late ME (as well as the NE) pronouns of the 3rd p. are separate words with no genetic ties whatever: he, she, it, they (it is a direct descendant of OE hit with [h] lost).

One more replacement was made in the set of personal pronouns at a later date in the 17th or 18th c. Beginning with the 15th c. the pi forms of the 2nd p. ye, you, your were applied more and more generally to individuals. In Shakespeare's time the pi. forms of the 2nd p. were widely used as equivalents of thou, thee, thine. Later thou became obsolete in Standard English. (Nowadays thou is found only in poetry, in religious discourse and in some dialects.) Cf. the free interchange of you and thou in Shakespeare's sonnets. But if thou live, remember'd not to be. Die single, and thine image dies with thee. Or I shall live your epitaph to make. Or you survive when I in earth am rotten.

Personal and Possessive Pronouns in ME and Early NE

Person Singular Plural
ME Early NE ME Early NE

1st p.


Obj. (from OE

Acc. and Dat.)

Poss. (from OE Gen.)









our(e)/ ours



our, ours

2nd p.


Obj. (from OE

Acc. and Dat.)

Poss. (from OE Gen.)












your, yours

3rd p.


Obj. (from OE

Acc. and Dat.)

Poss. (from OE Gen.)

M. F. N.

he he/she hit/it

him hir(e)/ him/

her it

his her(e) his


he, she, it

him, her, it


his, hers, his/its









ME texts contain instances where the use of articles and other noun determiners does not correspond to modern rules, e. g. For hym was levere have at his beddes heed twenty bookes clad in blak or reed... / Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie. 'For he would rather have at the head of his bed twenty books bound in black or red than rich robes, or a fiddle, or a gay psaltery' (a musical instrument); Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre 'yet he had but little gold in the coffer (or: in his coffer)'.

It is believed that the growth of articles in Early ME was caused, or favored, by several internal linguistic factors. The development of the definite article is usually connected with the changes in the declension of adjectives, namely with the loss of distinctions between the strong and weak forms. Originally the weak forms of adjectives had a certain demonstrative meaning resembling that of the modern definite article. These forms were commonly used together with the demonstrative pronouns se, seo, ðæt. In contrast to weak forms, the strong forms of adjectives conveyed the meaning of "indefiniteness" which was later transferred to an, a numeral and indefinite pronoun. In case the nouns were used without adjectives or the weak and strong forms coincided, the form-words an and ðæt turned out to be the only means of expressing these meanings. The decay of adjective declensions speeded up their transition into articles. Another factor which may account for the more regular use of articles was the changing function of the word order. Relative freedom in the position of words in the OE sentence made it possible to use word order for communicative purposes, e. g. to present a new thing or to refer to a familiar thing already known to the listener. After the loss of inflections, the word order assumed a grammatical function, it showed the grammatical relations between words in the sentence; now the parts of the sentence, e. g. the subject or the objects, had their own fixed places. The communicative functions passed to the articles and their use became more regular. The growth of the articles is thus connected both with the changes in syntax and in morphology.

The adjective. Decay of Declensions and Grammatical Categories

In the course of the ME period the adjective underwent greater simplifying changes than any other part o speech. It lost all its grammatical categories with the exception of the-degrees of comparison. In OE the adjective was declined to show the gender, case and number of the noun it modified; it had a five-case paradigm and two types of declension, weak and strong.

By the end of the OE period the agreement of the adjective with the noun had become looser and in the course of Early ME it was practically lost. Though the grammatical categories of the adjective reflected those of the noun, most of them disappeared even before the noun lost the respective distinctions. The geographical: direction of the changes was generally the same as in the noun declensions. The process began in the North and North-East Midlands and spread south. The poem Ormulum , written in 1200 in the North-East Midland dialect reveals roughly the same state of adjective morphology as the poems of G.Chaucer and J.Gower written in the London dialect almost two hundred years later.

The decay of the grammatical categories of the adjective proceeded in the following order. The first category to disappear was Gender, which ceased to be distinguished by the adjective in the 11th c. The number of cases shown in the adjective paradigm was reduced: the Instr. case had fused with the Dat. by the end of OE; distinction of other cases in Early ME was unsteady, as many variant forms of different cases, which arose in Early ME, coincided. Cf. some variant endings of the Dat. case sg in the late 11th c.: mid miclum here, mid miclan here, 'with a big army' mid eallora his here 'with all his army'.

In the 13th c. case could be shown only by some variable adjective endings in the strong declension (but not by the weak forms); towards the end of the century all case distinctions were lost. The strong and weak forms of adjectives were often confused in Early ME texts. The use of a strong form after a demonstrative pronoun was not uncommon, though according to the existing rules, this position belonged to the weak form, e. g.: in þere wildere sæ 'in that wild sea' instead of wilden see. In the 14th c. the difference between the strong and weak form is sometimes shown in the sg. with the help of the ending -e.

The general tendency towards an uninflected form affected also the distinction of Number, though Number was certainly the most stable nominal category in all the periods. In the 14th c. pl forms were sometimes contrasted to the sg forms with the help of the ending -e in the strong declension. Probably this marker was regarded as insufficient; for in the 13th and particularly 14th c. there appeared a new pl ending -s. The use of-s is attributed either to the influence of French adjectives, which take -s in the pi or to the influence of the ending -s of nouns, e. g.:

In other places delitables. ('In other delightful places.')

In the age of Chaucer the paradigm of the adjective consisted of four forms distinguished by a single vocalic ending -e.

sg pl







This paradigm can be postulated only for monosyllabic adjectives ending in a consonant, such as ME bad, good. long. Adjectives ending in vowels and polysyllabic adjectives took no endings and could not show the difference between sg and pl forms or strong and weak forms: ME able, swete, bisy, thredbare and the like were uninflected. Nevertheless certain distinctions between weak and strong forms, and also between sg and pl are found in the works of careful 14th c. writers like Chaucer and Gower. Weak forms are often used attributively after the possessive and demonstrative pronouns and after the definite article. Thus Chaucer has: this like worthy knight 'this same worthy knight'; my deere herte 'my dear heart', which are weak forms, the strong forms in the sg having no ending. But the following examples show that strong and weak forms could be used indiscriminately: A trewe swynkere and a good was he ('A true labourer and a good (one) was he.') Similarly, the pl. and sg forms were often confused in the strong declension, e. g.: A sheet of pecok-arves, bright and kene. Under his belt he bar ful thriftily ('A sheaf of peacock-arrows, bright and keen. Under his belt he carried very thriftily.')

The distinctions between the sg and pl forms, and the weak and strong forms, could not be preserved for long, as they were not shown by all the adjectives; besides, the reduced ending -e [a] was very unstable even in 14th c. English. In Chaucer's poems, for instance, it is always missed out in accordance with the requirements of the rhythm. The loss of final -e in the transition to NE made the adjective an entirely uninflected part of speech.

The degrees of comparison is the only set of forms which the adjective has preserved through all historical periods. However, the means employed to build up the forms of the degrees of comparisonhave considerably altered.

In OE the forms of the comparative and the superlative degree, like all the grammatical forms, were synthetic:

they were built by adding the suffixes -ra and –est/-ost, to the form of the positive degree. Sometimes suffixation was accompanied by an interchange of the root-vowel; a few adjectives had suppletive forms.

In ME the degrees of comparison could be built in the same way, only the suffixes had been weakened to -er, -est and the interchange of the root-vowel was less common than before. Since most adjectives with the sound alternation had parallel forms without it, the forms with an interchange soon fell into disuse. ME long, lenger, longer and long, longer, longest.

The alternation of root-vowels in Early NE survived in the adjectival old, elder, eldest, where the difference in meaning from older, oldest made the formal distinction essential. Other traces of the old alternations are found in the pairs farther and further and also in the modern words nigh, near and next, which go back to the old degrees of comparison of the OE adjective neah 'near', but have split into separate words.

The most important innovation in the adjective system in. the ME period was the growth of analytical forms of the degrees of comparison. The new system of comparisons emerged in ME, but the groundfor it had already been prepared by the use of the OE adverbs ma, bet, betst, swiþor 'more', 'better', 'to a greater degree' with adjectives and participles. It is noteworthy that in ME, when the phrases with ME more and most became more and more common, they were used with all kinds of adjective, regardless of the number of syllables and were even preferred with mono- and disyllabic words. Thus Chaucer has more swete, better worthy, Gower more hard for 'sweeter', 'worthier' and 'harder'. The two sets of forms, synthetic and analytical, were used in free variation until the 17th and 18th c., when the modern standard usage was established.

Another curious peculiarity observed in Early NE texts is the use of the so-called "double comparatives" and "double superlatives": By thenne Syr Trystram waxed more fressher than Syr Marhaus. ('By that time Sir Tristram grew more angry than Sir Marhaus'.)

Shakespeare uses the form worser which is a double comparative: A "double superlative" is seen in: This was the most unkindest cut of all. The wide range of variation acceptable in Shakespeare's daywas condemned in the "Age of Correctness" the 18th c. Double comparatives were banned as illogical and incorrect by the prescriptive grammars of the normalising period.

It appears that in the course of history the adjective has lost all the dependent grammatical categories but has preserved the only specifically adjectival category the comparison. The adjective is the only nominal part of speech which makes use of the new, analytical, way of form-building.


Unlike the morphology of the noun and adjective, which has become much simpler in the course of history, the morphology of the verb displayed two distinct tendencies of development: it underwent considerable simplifying changes, which affected the synthetic forms and became far more complicated owing to the growth of new, analytical forms and new grammatical categories. The evolution of the finite and non-finite forms of the verb is described below under these two trends.

The decay of OE inflections, which transformed the nominal system, is also apparent in the conjugation of the verb though to a lesser extent. Many markers of the grammatical forms of the verb were reduced, levelled and lost in ME and Early NE; the reduction, levelling and loss of endings resulted in the increased neutralisation of formal oppositions and the growth of homonymy. ME forms of the verb are represented by numerous variants, which reflect dialectal differences and tendencies of potential changes. The intermixture of dialectal features in the speech of London and in the literary language of the Renaissance played an important role in the Conjugation of Verbs in ME and Early New English formation of the verb paradigm. The Early ME dialects supplied a store of parallel variant forms, some which entered literary English and with certain modifications were eventually accepted as standard. The simplifying changes the verb morphology affected the distinction of the grammatical categories to a varying degree.

Strong Weak
ME Early NE ME Early NE
Infinitive finde(n) find looke(n) look

Present tense


Sg 1st finde find looke look
2nd findest/findes findest lookest/lookes lookest
3rd findeth/findes finds/findeth looketh/lookes looks/looketh
Pl finde(n)/findeth/findes find looke(n)/looketh/lookes look
Sg finde




Pl finde(n) looke(n)





Participle 1






Past tense


Sg 1st fand




2nd founde/fand/fandes lookedest
3rd fand looked(e)
Pl founde(n) looked(en)
Sg founde




Pl founde(n) looked(en)
Participle II founden found looked looked

Number distinctions were not only preserved in ME but even became more consistent and regular; towards the end of the period, however, in the 15th c. they were neutralised in most positions. In the 13th and 14th c. the ending -en turned into the main, almost universal, "marker of the pl forms of the verb: it was used in both tenses of the Indicative and Subjunctive moods (the variants in -eth and -es in the Present Indicative were used only in the Southern and Northern dialects). In most classes of strong verbs (except Class 6 and 7) there was an additional distinctive feature between the sg and pl forms in the Pasttense of the Indicative mood: the two Past tense stems had different root-vowels (see fand, fanciest, fand and founden). But both ways of indicating pi turned out to be very unstable. The ending -en was frequently missed out in the late 14th c. and was dropped in the 15th;the Past tense stems of the strong verbs merged into one form (e. g. found, wrote). All number distinctions were thus lost with the exception of the 2nd and 3rd p., Pres. tense Indic. mood: the sg forms were marked by the endings -esl and -eth -es and were formally opposed to the forms of the pl. (Number distinctions in the 2nd p. existed as long as thou. the pronoun of the 2nd p. sg was used. For the verb to he which has retained number distinction in both tenses of the Indic. mood) Cf. the forms of the verb with the subject in the pi in the 14th and he 17th c.: Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages. (Chaucer) (Then folks long to go on pilgrimages.') All men make faults. (Sh)

The differences in the forms of Person were maintained in ME, though they became more variable. The OE endings of the 3rd p. sg -þ, -eþ, -iaþ merged into a single ending -(e)th.

The variant ending of the 3rd p. -es was a new marker first recorded in the Northern dialects. It is believed that -s was borrowed from the pl forms which commonly ended in -es in the North; it spread to the sg and began to be used as a variant in the 2nd and 3rd p., but later was restricted to the 3rd. In Chaucer's works we still find the old ending -eth. Shakespeare uses both forms, but forms in -s begin to prevail. Cf:

He rideth out of halle. (Chaucer) (He rides out of the hall') My life ... sinks down to death. (Sh) but also: But beauty's waste hath in the world an end. (Sh)

In Shakespeare's sonnets the number of -s-forms by far exceeds that of -eth-forms, though some short verbs, especially auxiliaries, take -th: hath, doth. Variation of -s/-eth is found in poetry in the 17th and 18th c.: the choice between them being determined by the rhymes: But my late spring no buds or blossom shew'th. Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth.

In the early 18th c. -(e)s was more common in private letters than in official and literary texts, but by the end of the century it was the dominant inflection of the 3rd p. sg in all forms of speech. (The phonetic development of the verb ending -(e)s since the ME period is similar to the development of -(e)s as a noun ending. The use of—eth was stylistically restricted to high poetry and religious texts. The ending -(e)sl of the 2nd p. sg became obsolete together with the pronoun thou. The replacement of thou by you/ye eliminated the distinction of person in the verb paradigm with the exception of the 3rd p. of the Present tense.

Owing to the reduction of endings and levelling of forms the formal differences between the moods were also greatly obscured. In OE only a few forms of the Indicative and Subjunctive mood were homonymous: the 1st p. sg of the Present Tense and the 1st and 3rd p. sg of the Past In ME the homonymy of the mood forms grew.

The Indicative and Subjunctive moods could no longer be distinguished in the pl, when -en became the dominant flection of the Indicative pl in the Present and Past. The reduction and loss of this ending in Early NE took place in all the forms irrespective of mood. In the Past tense of strong verbs the difference between the moods in the sg could be shown by means of a root-vowel interchange, for the Subjunctive mood was derived from the third principal form of the verb Past pl. while the sg forms of the Indicative mood were derived from the second principal form Past sg. When, in the 15th c. the two Past tense stems of the strong verbs merged, all the forms of the moods in the Past tense fell together with the exception of the verb to be, which retained a distinct form of the Subjunctive in the Past sg. were as opposed to was.

Compare the forms of the verb in the following quotations from Shakespeare used in similar syntactic conditions; some forms are distinctly marked, others are ambiguous and can be understood either as Subjunctive or as Indicative: If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind... If thou survive my well contented day... Subj Against that time, if ever that time come... Subj. If truth holds true contents... Indic. If I lose thee, my loss is my love's gain... Indic., or Subj.

The distinction of tenses was preserved in the verb paradigm through all historical periods. As before, the Past tense was shown with the help of the dental suffix in the weak verbs, and with the help of the root-vowel interchange in the strong verbs (after the loss of the endings the functional load of the vowel interchange grew, cf. OE cuman cuom comon, differing in the root-vowels and endings, and NE come came). The only exception was a small group of verbs which came from OE weak verbs of Class I: in these verbs the dental suffix fused with the last consonant of the root [t] and after the loss of the endings the three principal forms coincided: cf. OE settan — sette - geset(en). ME seten — sette — set, NE set—setset.

Verbals. The Infinitive and the Participle

The system of verbals in OE consisted of the Infinitive and two Participles. Their nominal features were more pronounced than their verbal features, the Infinitive being a sort of verbal noun. Participles I and II, verbal adjectives. The main trends of their evolution in ME, NE can be defined as gradual loss of most nominal features (except syntactical functions) and growth of verbal features. The simplifying changes in the verb paradigm, and the decay of the OE inflectional system account for the first of these trends, loss of case distinctions in the infinitive and of forms of agreement in the Participles.

The Infinitive lost its inflected form (the so-called "Dat. case") in Early ME. OE writan and to writanne appear in ME as (to) writen, and in NE as (to) write. The preposition to, which was placed in OE before the inflected infinitive to show direction or purpose, lost its prepositional force and changed into a formal sign of the Infinitive. In ME the Infinitive with to does not necessarily express purpose. In order to reinforce the meaning of purpose another preposition, for, was sometimes placed before the to-infinitive: To lyven in delit was evere his wone. (Chaucer) (To live in delight was always his habit.')

In ME the Present Participle and the verbal noun became identical: they both ended in -ing. This led to the confusion of some of their features: verbal nouns began to take direct objects, like participles and infinitives. This verbal feature, a direct object, as well as the frequent absence of article before the -ing-form functioning as a noun transformed the verbal noun into a Gerund in the modern understanding of the term. The disappearance of the inflected infinitive contributed to the change, as some of its functions were taken over by the Gerund.

The earliest instances of a verbal noun resembling a Gerund date from the 12th c. Chaucer uses the -ing-form in substantival functions in both ways: with a prepositional object like a verbal noun and with a direct object, e.g. in getynge on your richesse and the usinge hem 'in getting your riches and using them'. In Early NE the -ing-form in the function of a noun is commonly used with an adverbial modifier and with a direct object — in case of transitive verbs, e.g.: Tis pity... That wishing well had not a body in't Which might be felt. (Sh) Drink, being poured out of a cup into a glass, by filling the one, doth empty the other.

Those were the verbal features of the Gerund. The nominal features, retained from the verbal noun, were its syntactic functions and the ability to be modified by a possessive pronoun or a noun in the Gen. case: And why should we proclaim it in an hour before his' entering?

In the course of time the sphere of the usage of the Gerund grew: it replaced the Infinitive and the Participle in many adverbial functions; its great advantage was that it could be used with various prepositions, e.g.: And now lie fainted and cried, in fainting, upon Rosalind. Shall we clap into 't roundly without hawking, or spitting, or saying we are hoarse…

The historical changes in the ways of building the principal forms of the verb ("stems") transformed the morphological classification of the verbs. The OE division into classes of weak and strong verbs was completely re-arranged and broken up. Most verbs have adopted the way of form-building employed by the weak verbs; the dental suffix. The strict classification of the strong verbs, with their regular system of form-building, degenerated. In the long run all these changes led to increased regularity and uniformity and to the development of a more consistent and simple system of building the principal forms of the verb.

Strong Verbs

The seven classes of OE strong verbs underwent multiple grammatical and phonetic changes. In ME the final syllables of the stems, like all final syllables, were weakened, in Early NE most of them were lost. Thus the OE endings -an, -on, and -en (of the 1st, 3rd and 4th principal forms) were all reduced to ME -en, consequently in Classes 6 and 7, where the infinitive and the participle had the same gradation vowel, these forms fell together; in Classes 1 and 3a it led to the coincidence of the 3rd and 4th principal forms. In the ensuing period, the final -n was lost in the infinitive and the past tense plural, but was sometimes preserved in Participle II. probably to distinguish the participle from other forms. Thus, despite phonetic reduction, -n was sometimes retained to show an essential grammatical distinction, cf. NE stole stolen, spoke spoken, but bound bound

In ME, Early NE the root-vowels in the principal forms of all the classes of strong verbs underwent the regular changes of stressed vowels.

Due to phonetic changes vowel gradation in Early ME was considerably modified. Lengthening of vowels before some consonant sequences split the verbs of Class 3 into two subgroups: verbs like findan had now long root-vowels in all the forms; while in verbs like drinken the root-vowel remained short. Thus ME writen and finden (Classes 1 and 3) had the same vowel in the infinitive but different vowels in the Past and Participle II. Participle II of Classes 2, 4 and 6 acquired long root-vowels [o:] and [a:] due to lengthening in open syllables, while in the Participle with Class 1 the vowel remained short. These phonetic changes made the interchange less consistent and justified than before, for instance, verbs with long [i:] in the first stem (writen, finden) would, for no apparent reason, use different interchanges to form the other stems. At the same time there was a strong tendency to make the system of forms more regular. The strong verbs were easily influenced by analogy. It was due to analogy that they lost practically all consonant interchanges in ME and Early NE. The interchange [z~r] in was were was retained. Classes which had many similar forms were often confused: OE sprecan Class 5 began to build the Past Participle spoken, like verbs of Class 4 (also NE weave and tread).

The most important change in the system of strong verbs was the reduction in the number of stems from four to three, by removing the distinction between the two past tense stems. In OE these stems had the same gradation vowels only in Classes 6 and 7, but we should recall that the vast majority of English verbs which were weak had a single stem for all the past forms. These circumstances facilitated analogical leveling, which occurred largely in Late ME. Its direction depended on the dialect, and on the class of the verb.

In the Northern dialects the vowel of the Past sg tended to replace that of the Past pi; in the South and in the Midlands the distinction between the stems was preserved longer than in the North In the South and South-West the vowel of the Past sg was often replaced by that of the Past pt or of the Past Participle, especially if the 3rd and 4th sterns had the same root-vowel. Some classes of verbs showed preference for one or another of these ways.

Different directions of leveling can be exemplified by forms which were standardised in literary English: wrote, rose, rode are Past sg forms by origin (Class 1); bound, found are Past pl (Class 3a), spoke, got, bore (Classes 5, 4) took their root-vowel from Participle II. Since the 15th c a single stem was used as a base for all the forms of the Past Tense of the Indicative and Subjunctive Moods. 479. The tendency to reduce the number of stems continued in Early NE. At this stage it affected the distinction between the new Past tense stem and Participle II. Identical forms of these stems are found not only in the literary texts and private letters but even M books on English grammar: thus B.Jonson (1640) recommends beat and broke as correct forms of Participle II; Shakespeare uses sang and spoke both as Past tense forms and Participle II.

One of the most important events in the history of the strong verbs was their transition into weak. In ME, Early NE many strong verbs began to form their Past and Participle II with the help of the dental suffix instead of vowel gradation. Therefore the number of strong verbs decreased. In OE there were about three hundred strong verbs. Some of them dropped out of use owing to changes in the vocabulary, while most of the remaining verbs became weak. Out of 195 OE strong verbs, preserved in the language, only 67 have retained strong forms with root-vowel interchange roughly corresponding to the OE gradation series. By that time the weak verbs had lost all distinctions between the forms of the Past tense. The model of weak verbs with two 'basic forms, may have influenced the strong verbs. The changes in the formation of principal parts of strong verbs extended over a long period.

Weak verbs

Some weak verbs preserved the root-vowel interchange, though some of the vowels were altered due to regular quantitative and qualitative vowel changes: ME sellen — solde (OE salde > Early ME ['sa:lde] > Late ME ['so:lde] > NE sold [sould]), techen—taughte; NE sell—sold, teach — taught.

Another group of weak verbs became irregular in Early ME as a result of quantitative vowel changes. In verbs like OE cepan, fedan, metan the long vowel in the root was shortened before two consonants in the Past and Participle II; OE cepte > ME kepte ['kepte]. The long vowel in the Present tense stem was preserved and was altered during the Great Vowel Shift, hence the interchange [i: > e], NE keep — kept, feed—fed. This group of verbs attracted several verbs from other classes — NE sleep, weep, read, which formerly belonged to Class 7 of strong verbs. Some verbs of this group—NE mean, feel— have a voiceless [t]

Verbs like OE settan, with the root ending in a dental consonant, added the dental suffix without the intervening vowel [e] OE sette. When the inflections were reduced and dropped, the three stems of the verbs Present, Past and Participle II fell together: NE set—se—set; put—put—put: cast—cast—cast. etc. The final -t of the root had absorbed the dental suffix. (Wherever possible the distinctions were preserved or even introduced: thus OE sendan, restan, which had the same forms sende, reste for the Past, Present appear in ME as senden - sente, resten - rested(e).

It must be noted that although the number of non-standard verbs in Mod E is not large about 200 items they constitute an important feature of the language. Most of them belong to the basic layer of the vocabulary, have a high frequency of occurrence and are widely used in word-formation and phraseological units. Their significance for the grammatical system lies in the fact that many of these verbs have preserved the distinction between three principal forms, which makes modern grammarians recognise three stems in all English verbs despite the formal identity of the Past and Participle II.

ME ben (NE be) inherited its suppletive forms from the OE and more remote periods of history. It owes its variety of forms not only to suppletion but also to the dialectal divergence in OE and ME and to the inclusion of various dialectal traits in literary English. The Past tense forms were fairly homogeneous in all the dialects. The forms of the Pres. tense were derived from different roots and displayed considerable dialectal differences. ME am, are(n) came from the Midland dialects and replaced the West Saxon ēom, sint / sindon. In OE the forms with the initial b- from bēon were synonymous and interchangeable with the other forms but in Late ME and NE they acquired a new function: they were used as forms of the Subj. and the Imper. moods or in reference to the future and were thus opposed to the forms of the Pres. Ind.

Hang be the heavens with black, yield day to night! (Sh) Forms with the initial b- were also retained or built in ME as the forms of verbals: ME being/ beande Part.I, ben, y-ben the newly formed Part. II (in OE the verb had no Past Part.); the Inf. ben (NE being, been, be).

The redistribution of suppletive forms in the paradigm of be made it possible to preserve some of the grammatical distinctions which were practically lost in other verbs, namely the distinction of number, person and mood.

New Grammatical Forms and Categories of the Verb

The evolution of the verb system in the course of history was not confined to the simplification of the conjugation and to growing regularity in building the forms of the verb. In ME and NE the verb paradigm expanded, owing to the addition of new grammatical forms and to the formation of new grammatical categories. The extent of these changes can be seen from a simple comparison of the number of categories and categorial forms in Early OE with their number today. Leaving out of consideration Number and Person as categories of concord with the Subject we can say that OE finite verbs had two verbal grammatical categories proper: Mood and Tense. According to Mod E grammars the finite verb has five categories Mood, Tense, Aspect, Time-Correlation and Voice. All the new forms which have been included in the verb paradigm are analytical forms; all the synthetic forms are direct descendants of OE forms, for no new synthetic categorial forms have developed since the OE period.

The growth of analytical forms of the verb is a common Germanic tendency, though it manifested itself a long time after PG split into separate languages. The beginnings of these changes are dated in Late OE and in ME. The growth of compound forms from free verb phrases was a long and complicated process which extended over many hundred years and included several kinds of changes.

A genuine analytical verb form must have a stable structural pattern different from the patterns of verb phrases; it must consist of several component parts: an auxiliary verb, sometimes two or three auxiliary verbs, e.g. NE would have been taken which serve as a grammatical marker, and a non-finite form Inf. or Part., which serves as a grammatical marker and expresses the lexical meaning of the form. The analytical form should be idiomatic: its meaning is not equivalent to the sum of meanings of the component parts.

The development of these properties is known as the process of "grammatisation". Some verb phrases have been completely grammatised e.g. the Perfect forms. Some of them have not been fully grammatised to this day and are not regarded as ideal analytical forms in modern grammars (for instance, the Future tense).

In order to become a member of a grammatical category and a part of the verb paradigm the new form had to acquire another important quality: a specific meaning of its own which would be contrasted to the meaning of its opposite member within the grammatical category (in the same way as e. g. Past is opposed to Pres. or pl is opposed to sg). It was only at the later stages of development that such semantic oppositions were formed. Originally the verb phrases and the new compound forms were used as synonyms (or "near synonyms") of the old synthetic forms; gradually the semantic differences between the forms grew: the new forms acquired a specific meaning while the application of the old forms was narrowed. It was also essential that the new analytical forms should be used unrestrictedly in different varieties of the language and should embrace verbs of different lexical meanings.

The establishment of an analytical form in the verb system is confirmed by the spread of its formal pattern in the verb paradigm. Compound forms did not spring up simultaneously in all the parts of the verb system: an analytical form appeared in some part of the system and from there its pattern extended to other parts. Thus the perfect forms first arose in the Past and Pres. tense of the Ind. Mood in the Active Voice and from there spread to the Subj. Mood, the Passive Voice, the non-finite verb.

Those were the main kinds of changes which constitute the growth of new grammatical forms and new verbal categories. They are to be found in the history of all the forms, with certain deviations and individual peculiarities. The dating of these developments is uncertain; therefore the order of their description below does not claim to be chronological.

The Future Tense

In the OE language there was no form of the Future tense. The category of Tense consisted of two members: Past and Present. The Pres. tense could indicate both present and future actions, depending on the context. Alongside this form there existed other ways of presenting future happenings: modal phrases, consisting of the verbs sculan, willan, magan, cunnan and others (NE shall, will, may, can) and the Infinitive of the notional verb. In these phrases the meaning of futurity was combined with strong modal meanings of volition, obligation, possibility.

In ME the use of modal phrases, especially with the verb shall, became increasingly common. Shall plus Inf. was now the principal means of indicating future actions in any context. (We may recall that the Pres. tense had to be accompanied by special time indicators in order to refer an action to the future.) Shall could retain its modal meaning of necessity, but often weakened it to such an extent that the phrase denoted "pure" futurity. (The meaning of futurity is often combined with that of modality, as a future action is a planned, potential action, which has not yet taken place.) One of the early instances of shall with a weakened modal meaning is found in the Early ME poem Ormilum (1200); the phrase is also interesting as it contains willen as a notional verb: And whase wile/in shall þiss boc efft oþerrsipe written.

In Late ME texts shall was used both as a modal verb and as a Future tense auxiliary, though discrimination between them is not always possible. Cf: Me from the feend and fro his clawes kepe. That day that I shal drenchen in the depe. (Chaucer) ('Save me from the fiend and his claws the day when I am drowned (or am doomed to get drowned) in the deep (sea). She shal have nede to wasshe away the rede. (Chaucer) ('She will have to wash away the red (blood).')

Future happenings were also commonly expressed by ME willen with an Int., but the meaning of volition in will must have been more obvious than the modal meaning of shall: A tale wol I telle ('I intend to tell a story')But lordes, wol ye maken assurance. As I shal seyn, assentynge to my loore. And I shal make us sauf for everemore ('But, lordes, will you (be so kind as or agree to) make assurance (and take this course) as I shall save and I shall make it safe for us for ever.')

The future event is shown here as depending upon the will or consent of the doer. Instances of will with a weakened modal meaning are rare: But natheless she ferde as she wolde deye. (Chaucer) ('But nevertheless she feared that she would die.') It has been noticed that the verb will was more frequent in popular ballads and in colloquial speech, which testifies to certain stylistic restrictions in the use of will in ME.

In the age of Shakespeare the phrases with shall and will, as well as the Pres. tense of notional verbs, occurred in free variation; they can express "pure" futurity and add different shades of modal meanings. Phrases with shall and will outnumbered all the other ways of indicating futurity, cf. their meanings in the following passages from Shakespeare's sonnets:

Then hate me when thou wilt (desire) When forty winters shall besiege thy brow. And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field. Thy youth's proud livery, so gaz'd on now. Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held. ("pure" future) That thou art blam'd - shall not be thy defect, (future with the meaning of certainty, prediction)

In the 17th c. will was sometimes used in a shortened form 'll , ('ll can also stand for shall, though historically it is traced to will): against myself I'll fight; against myself I'll vow debate. (Sh) In Early NE the causative meaning passed to a similar verb phrase with make, while the periphrasis with do began to be employed instead of simple, synthetic forms. Its meaning did not differ from that of simple forms.

At first the do-periphrasis was more frequent in poetry, which may be attributed to the requirements of the rhythm: the use of do enabled the author to have an extra syllable in the line, if needed, without affecting the meaning of the sentence. Then it spread to all kinds of texts.

In the 16th and 17th c. the periphrasis with do was used in all types of sentences - negative, affirmative and interrogative; it freely interchanged with the simple forms, without do. We do not know How he may soften at the sight o'the child...Who told me that the pour soul did forsake The mighty Warwick, and did fight for me? But what we doe determine oft we break...

Negative statements and questions without do are illustrated by Heard you all this? I know not why, nor wherefo to say live, boy... And wherefore say not I that I am old?

Towards the end of the 17th c. the use of simple forms and the do-periphrasis became more differentiated: do was found mainly in negative statements and questions, while the simple forms were preferred in affirmative statements. Thus the do-periphrasis turned into analytical negative and interrogative forms of simple forms: Pres and Past.

The growth of new negative and interrogative forms with do can be accounted for by syntactic conditions. By that time the word order in the sentence had become fixed: the predicate of the sentence normally followed the subject. The use of do made it possible to adhere to this order in questions, for at least the notional part of the predicate could thus preserve its position after the subject. This order of words was already well established in numerous sentences with analytical forms and modal phrases. Cf: Do you pity him? No, he deserves no pity ...Wilt thou not love such a woman? And must they all be hanged that swear and lie? Likewise, the place of the negative particle not in negative sentences with modal phrases and analytical forms set up a pattern for the similar use of not with the do-periphrasis. Cf: will not let him stir and If'1 do not wonder how thou darest venture. The form with do conformed with the new pattern of the sentence much better than the old simple form (though sentences with not in postposition to the verb are still common in Shakespeare: know not which is which).

In the 18th c. the periphrasis with do as an equivalent of the simple form in affirmative statements fell into disuse (its employment in affirmative sentences acquired a stylistic function: it made the statement emphatic).

Passive Forms. Category of Voice

In OE the finite verb had no category of Voice. With the exception of some traces of the Germanic Mediopassive restricted to the verb hatan 'call', there was no regular opposition of forms in the verb paradigm to show the relation of the action to the grammatical subject. Only in the system of verbals the participles of transitive verbs, Pres. and Past were contrasted as having an active and a passive meaning. The analytical passive forms developed from OE verb phrases consisting of OE beon (NE be) and weorþan ('become') and Part. II of transitive verbs.

OE beon was used as a link-verb with a predicative expressed by Part. II to denote a state resulting from a previous action, while the construction with OE weorþan 'become' indicated the transition into the state expressed by the participle. Werthen was still fairly common in Early ME (in Ormulum ), but not nearly as common as the verb ben: soon werthen was replaced by numerous new link-verbs which had developed from notional verbs (ME becomen, geten, semen, NE become, get, seem); no instances of werthen are found in Chaucer. The participle, which served as predicative to these verbs, in OE agreed with the subject in number and gender, although the concord with participles was less strict than with adjectives. The last instances of this agreement are found in Early ME: fewe beoþ icorene (13th c.) 'few were chosen'.

In ME ben plus Past Part, developed into an analytical form. Now it could express not only a state but also an action. The formal pattern of the Pass. Voice extended to many parts of the verb paradigm: it is found in the Future tense, in the Pert. forms, in the Subj. Mood and in the non-finite forms of the verb, e.g. Chaucer has: the conseil that was accorded by youre neighebores ('The advice that was given by your neighbours') But certes, wikkidnesse shal be warisshed by goodnesse. ('But, certainly, wickedness shall be cured by goodness.') With many a tempest hadde his berde been shake. ('His beard had been shaken with many tempests.') Traces of Mediopassive in this verb are found even in Late ME: This mayden, which that Mayus highte. (Chaucer) ('This maid who was called Mayus.') The new Pass. forms had a regular means of indicating the doer of the action or the instrument with the help of which it was performed. Out of a variety of prepositions employed in OE from, mid, wiþ, bi two were selected and generalised: by and with. Thus in ME the Pass. forms were regularly contrasted to the active forms throughout the paradigm, both formally and semantically. Therefore we can say that the verb had acquired a new grammatical category the category of Voice.

In Early NE the Pass. Voice continued to grow and to extend its application. Late ME saw the appearance of new types of passive constructions. In addition to passive constructions with the subject corresponding to the direct object of the respective active construction, i.e. built from transitive verbs, there arose passive constructions whose subject corresponded to other types of objects: indirect and prepositional. Pass. forms began to be built from intransitive verbs associated with different kinds of objects, e.g. indirect objects: The angel ys tolde the wordes. (Higden) ('The angel is told the words.') He shulde soone delyvered be gold in sakkis gret plenty. (Chaucer) ('He should be given (delivered) plenty of gold in sacks.') prepositional objects: I wylle that my moder be sente for. (Malory) ('I wish that my mother were sent for.') He himself was oftener laughed at than his iestes were. (Caxton) 'tis so concluded on; We'll be waited on (Sh).

It should be added that from an early date the Pass. Voice was common in impersonal sentences with it introducing direct or indirect speech: Hit was accorded, granted and swore, bytwene þe King of Fraunce and þe King of Engelond þat he shulde haue agen at his landes (Brut, 13th c.)('It was agreed, granted and sworn between the King of France and the King of England that he should have again all his lands.') The wide use of various pass. constructions in the 18th and 19th c. testifies to the high productivity of the Pass. Voice. At the same time the Pass. Voice continued to spread to new parts of the verb paradigm: the Gerund and the Continuous forms.

Perfect Forms

Like other analytical forms of the verb, the Perf. forms have developed from OE verb phrases. The main source of the Perf. form was the OE "possessive" construction, consisting of the verb habban (NE have), a direct object and Part. II of a transitive verb, which served as an attribute to the object, e.g.: Hæfde se goda cempan gecorene (Beowulf) ('had that brave (man) warriors chosen'.) The meaning of the construction was: a person (the subject) possessed a thing (object), which was characterised by a certain state resulting from a previous action (the participle). The participle, like other attributes, agreed with the noun-object in Number, Gender and Case. Originally the verb habban was used only with participles of transitive verbs; then it came to be used with verbs taking genitival, datival and prepositional objects and even with intransitive verbs, which shows that it was developing into a kind of auxiliary, e.g.: for sefenn winnterr haffde he ben in Egypte (Ormulum) ('For seven winters he had been in Egypt')

The other source of the Perf. forms was the OE phrase consisting of the link-verb bēon and Part. II of intransitive verbs: nu is se dæg cumen (Beowulf) ('Now the day has ("is") come') hwænne mine dagas agane beoþ (Ælfric)... ('When my days are gone (when I die)'.) In these phrases the participle usually agreed with the subject.

Towards ME the two verb phrases turned into analytical forms and made up a single set of forms termed "perfect". The Participles had lost their forms of agreement with the noun (the subject in the construction with ben, the object in the construction with haven); the places of the object and the participle in the construction with haven changed: the Participle usually stood close to the verb have and was followed by the object which referred now to the analytical form as a whole – instead of being governed by have . Cf. the OE possessive construction quoted above with ME examples:

The holy blisful martyr for to seke, That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke. (Chaucer) ('To seek the holy blissful martyr who has helped them when they were ill.')

In the Perfect form the auxiliary have had lost the meaning of possession and was used with all kinds of verbs, without restriction. Have was becoming a universal auxiliary, whereas the use of be grew more restricted. Shakespeare employs be mainly with verbs of movement, but even with these verbs be alternates with have :

He is not yet arriv'd ... On a modern pace I have since arrived but hither.

One of the instances of perfect with both auxiliaries is found in S. Pepy's Diary (late 17th c.): and My Lord Chesterfield had killed another gentlemen and was fled .

By the age of the Literary Renaissance the perfect forms had spread to all the parts of the verb system, so that ultimately the category of time correlation became the most universal of verbal categories. An isolated instance of Perfect Continuous is found in Chaucer: We han ben waityng al this fortnight. ('We have been waiting all this fortnight.') Instances of Perfect Passive are more frequent:

O fy! for shame! they that han been brent Alias! can thei nat flee the fyres hete?

('For shame, they who have been burnt, alas, can they not escape the fire's heat?')

Perfect forms in the Pass. Voice, Pert. forms of the Subj. Mood, Future Perf. forms are common in Shakespeare: if she had been blessed ....

Continuous Forms

The development of Aspect is linked up with the growth of the Continuous forms. In the OE verb system there was no category of Aspect; verbal prefixes especially ge -, which could express an aspective meaning of perfectivity were primarily word-building prefixes. The growth of Continuous forms was slow and uneven.

Verb phrases consisting of beon (NE be) plus Part. I are not infrequently found in OE prose. They denoted a quality, or a lasting state, characterising the person or thing indicated by the subject of the sentence, e.g. seo... is irnende þurh middewearde Babylonia burg "that (river) runs through the middle of Babylon"; ealle þa woruld on hiora agen gewill onwendende wæron neah C wintra "they all were destroying the world (or: were destroyers of the world) at their own will for nearly 100 years".

In Early ME ben plus Part. I fell into disuse; it occurs occasionally in some dialectal areas: in Kent and in the North, but not in the Midlands. In Late ME it extended to other dialects and its frequency grew again, e.g.

Syngynge he was or floytynge al the day. (Chaucer) ('He was singing or playing the flute all day long.') The flod is into the greet see rennende . (Gower) ('The river runs into the great sea.')

At that stage the construction did not differ from the simple verb form in meaning and was used as its synonym, mainly for emphasis and vividness of description. Cf.:

We holden on to the Cristen feyth and are byleving in Jhesu Cryste. (Caxton)

('We hold to the Christian faith and believe (lit. "are believing") in Jesus Christ.')

In the 15th and 16th c. be plus Part. I was often confused with a synonymous phrase – be plus the preposition on (or its reduced form a ) plus a verbal noun. By that time the Pres. Part. and the verbal noun had lost their formal differences: the Part. I was built with the help of -ing and the verbal noun had the word-building suffix -ing , which had ousted the equivalent OE suffix -ung .

She wyst not... whether she was a-wakyng or a-slepe. (Caxton) ('She did not know whether she was awake (was on waking) or asleep.') A Knyght ... had been on huntynge . (Malory) ('A knight had been hunting (lit. "on hunting").'

The prepositional phrase indicated a process, taking place at a certain period of time. It is believed that the meaning of process or an action of limited duration – which the Cont. forms acquired in Early NE – may have come from the prepositional phrase. Yet even in the 17th c. the semantic difference between the Cont. and non-Cont. forms is not always apparent, e.g.: The Earl of Wesmoreland, seven thousand strong, is marching hitherwards. (Sh)

What, my dear lady Disdain! Are you yet living ? (Sh). Here the Cont. makes the statement more emotional, forceful.)

The non-Cont., simple form can indicate an action in progress which takes place before the eyes of the speaker (nowadays this use is typical of the Cont. form):

Enter Hamlet reading... Po1onius. What do you read , my lord?

It was not until the 18th c. that the Cont. forms acquired a specific meaning of their own; to use modern definitions, that of incomplete concrete process of limited duration. Only at that stage the Cont. and non-Cont. made up a new grammatical category – Aspect. The meaning of non-Cont. – Indef. – forms became more restricted, though the contrast was never as sharp as in the other categories: in some contexts the forms have remained synonymous and are even interchangeable to this day.

By that time the formal pattern of the Cont. as an analytical form was firmly established. The Cont. forms were used in all genres and dialects and could be built both from non-terminative verbs, as in OE, and from terminative verbs. They had extended to many parts of the verb system, being combined with other forms. Thus the Future Cont. is attested in the Northern texts since the end of the 13th c.; the first unambiguous instances of the Pert. Cont. are recorded in Late ME.

For many hundred years the Cont. forms were not used in the Pass. Voice. In Late ME the Active Voice of the Cont. form was sometimes used with a passive meaning:

My mighte and my mayne es all marrande . (York plays) ('My might and my power are all being destroyed.') (lit. "is destroying").

The Active form of the Cont. aspect was employed in the passive meaning until the 19th c. The earliest written evidence of the Pass. Cont. is found in a private letter of the 18th c.: ... a fellow whose uppermost upper grinder is being torn out by the roots...

The new Pass. form aroused the protest of many scholars. Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, called it a "vicious" expression and recommended the active form as a better way of expressing the passive meaning. He thought that phrases like the book is now printing ; the brass is forging had developed from the book is a-printing ; the brass is a-forging ; which meant 'is in the process of forging', and therefore possessed the meaning of the Pass. Even in the late 19th c. it was claimed that the house is being built was a clumsy construction which should be replaced by the house is building . But in spite of all these protests the Pass. Voice of the Cont. aspect continued to be used and eventually was recognised as correct.

The growth of the Cont. forms in the last two centuries is evidenced not only by its spread in the verb paradigm – the development of the Pass. forms in the Cont. Aspect – but also by its growing frequency and the loosening of lexical constraints. In the 19th and 20th c. the Cont. forms occur with verbs of diverse lexical meaning.

The uneven development of the Cont. forms, their temporary regress and recent progress, as well as multiple dialectal and lexical restrictions gave rise to numerous hypotheses about their origin and growth.

Some scholars attribute the appearance of the Cont. forms in English to foreign influence: Latin, French or Celtic. These theories, however, are not confirmed by facts.

Numerous instances of OE beon + Part. I were found in original OE texts, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicals. But the construction is rare in translations from Latin, for instance in Wyklif's translation of the Bible.