Old English Grammar: Nominal Parts of Speech. 

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Old English Grammar: Nominal Parts of Speech.


The noun. Grammatical categories. The Grammatical categories of the adjective. Degrees of comparison. Classes of OE pronouns.


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1.Being a group of Old Germanic dialects, Old English shared all the common grammatical characteristics of the Germanic branch.

Old English possessed a well-developed morphological system made up of synthetic grammatical forms. The means of form-building employed were as follows:

a) grammatical endings or suffixes;

b) sound alternations in the root-morpheme;

c) prefixes;

d) suppletive formations.

It is important to note that no analytical forms existed in Old English.


The Noun. Grammatical categories.

In Old English (as in the oldest periods of the other Germanic languages), the noun had the categories of number, gender and case.

OE nouns had two numbers: singular and plural; three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter.

The category of case was represented by four cases: Nominative, Genitive, Dative and Accusative.

There were the following most important noun declensions in Old English:

The first declension comprised the nouns which originally had vocalic stems: -a-stems for the nouns of masculine and neuter gender, ō-stems for the nouns of feminine gender, i-stems for the nouns of all three genders. These nouns formed the so-called strong declension.

The second declension comprised those nouns whose stems originally ended in –n. Here belong nouns of all three genders. This declension is called weak.

The third declension comprised a group of nouns called “ root-stems ”, which had never had any stem-suffix and whose root was thus equal to the stem.

In OE the most wide-spread noun declensions were a- & n- stems.

Let’s consider the paradigm of declension of a-stem nouns.


Падеж Мужской род Masculine Средний род Neuter /Short-stemmed/
  Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative stān stān as scip scip u
Genitive stānes stāna scipes scipa
Dative stāne stānum scipe scipum
Accusative stān stān as scip scip u


It is easy to see from the paradigm that noun endings coincided in all the cases, except in the Nominative and Accusative Plural.

Now let’s consider the paradigm of declension of n-stem nouns.

Weak declension

(n-stem nouns).



Case Singular Plural
Nominative nama naman
Genitive naman nam ena
Dative naman nam um
Accusative naman naman


a-stems (neuter)



Case Singular Plural
Nominative dēōr dēōr
Genitive dēōres dēōra
Dative dēōre dēōrum
Accusative dēōr dēōr


Of special interest is the group of root-stems which comprised nouns of masculine and feminine genders. The number of words belonging to this declension is not large, but many of them survived in Modern English and now form a separate group of nouns with vowel alternations in the plural form (man-men, goose-geese, mouse-mice, etc.)

Let’s consider the paradigm of root-stem nouns.


Case Masculine Feminine
  Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative tōþ tēþ bōc bēc
Genitive tōþ es tōþa bōc e bōca
Dative tēþ tōþum bēc bōcum
Accusative tōþ tēþ bōc bēc


The peculiarity of this declension is manifested in the mutation of the root vowel sound in the three case forms:

1) in Dative sg.;

2) in Nom. plural;

3) in Accus. pl.

The interchange arose due to palatal mutation (V-VI c. A.D.) in the form which had –i- in the ending. In contrast to other stems the ending was added directly to the root and the root vowel was palatalized. The modern irregular plural forms sheep, deer, swine are traced to the plural forms of a -stems of the neuter gender without an ending (in the Nom. & Acc. pl.); forms like oxen, descend from n-stems; forms like feet, teeth, men & others go back to root-stems.


The Grammatical Categories of the Adjective.

In OE Adjectives had three genders and the same cases as nouns with the addition of the Instrumental case. The adjectives agreed with the nouns they modified in all these categories and had two types of declension: weak (определенная форма) and strong (неопределенная форма).

The formal difference between the two types is similar to that between the corresponding noun declensions: the ending – n is used throughout the weak declension, the same as n-stems of the noun declension. Endings used in the story declension of adjectives coincide with the endings of the strong declension of nouns (a-stems for the Masculine Neuter and ō-stems for the Feminine).

The strong form was used predicatively, in the positive and superlative degrees, and when the adjective was used attributively without any other defining word as:

zōd monn – добрый человек (вообще)

lytel – маленький ребёнок

Nom. Sg. Feminine.

was sēō fæmne zeonz - the woman was young.

Nom. Pl. (masculine)

þa menn sindon gōde – the men are good.


The weak form is used after the definite article & after demonstrative & possessive pronouns:

Nom. sg. masculine

þis eald a mann – this old man

Nom.sg. masculine

mīn lēōfn suna – my dear son

sē zōda monn – тот добрый человек

Nom. sg. feminine

sēō zōd e owen – та добрая женщина


The adjective paradigm, like that of the noun, was characterized by a large number of homonymous forms: the Dative & Genitive plural have the same forms for all genders in both declensions:



In most cases of the Plural gender was not distinguished at all. Most weak forms were alike throughout the paradigm.

Thus the system of declension of adjectives was less precise & consistent than that of nouns.

Strong declension (неопределенная форма)

Sceort – короткий


Number Case Masculine Feminine neuter
Sg. Nom. sceort sceort sceort
Sg. Gen. sceort-es sceort-re sceort-es
Sg. Dat. sceort-um sceort-re sceort-um
Sg. Acc. sceort-ne sceort sceort
Sg. Intr. sceort-e sceort-re sceort-e


Number Case Masculine Feminine neuter
Pl. Nom. sceort-e sceort-a sceort
Pl. Gen. sceort-ra sceort-ra sceort-ra
Pl. Dat. sceort-um sceort-um sceort-um
Pl. Acc. sceort-e sceort-a sceort
Pl. Intr. sceort-um sceort-um sceort-um


Weak declension (определенная форма)

Number Case Masculine Feminine neuter
Sg. Nom. sceort-a sceort-e sceort-e
Sg. Gen. sceort-an sceort-an sceort-an
Sg. Dat. sceort-an sceort-an sceort-an
Sg. Acc. sceort-an sceort-an sceort-e
Sg. Intr. sceort-an sceort-an sceort-an
Number Case Masculine Feminine neuter
Pl. Nom. sceort-an sceort-an sceort-an
Pl. Gen. sceort-ra sceort-ra sceort-ra
Pl. Dat. sceort-um sceort-um sceort-um
Pl. Acc. sceort-an sceort-an sceort-an
Pl. Intr. sceort-um sceort-um sceort-um

Degrees of Comparison

Most OE adjectives had the following degrees of comparison: positive, comparative and superlative.

To form the comparative degree the suffix –ra was used.

To from the superlative degree the suffix –est/ost was used.

Some adjectives had suppletive forms. Suppletion was a very old way of building the depeey of comparison (it can be illustrated by the forms of adjectives in other OE languages: G gut, besser, best, Fr mal, pire, R хороший, лучше).


1. Suffixation: soft – soft ra – soft ost

2. Suffixation plus

Vowel interchange: l o nz – l enz ra – l en est

ea ld – ie ldra - īē ldest


3. Suppletion: zōd – bettra bet(e)st

yfel – wiersa - wierest

lỷtel - læssa - læst



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