Реферат: The history of English



Lecture Classes 1-2: Old English Phonetics

Historical background.

Pre-Germanic Britain. Celts. Branches of Celticlanguages.

Germanic settlement in Britain.

Historical events between 5th and 11thcenturies.

The linguistic situation in Britain before and afterthe 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 ofMonophthongs and Diphthongs in OE.

Breaking and Diphthongization.

Palatal Mutation. Changes of Unstressed Vowels inEarly OE.

OE Consonants.

Treatment of fricatives. Hardening.


Voicing and devoicing.

West Germanic Gemination of Consonants. VelarConsonants 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 demonstrativepronouns.

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 theGrammatical 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 GrammaticalCategories

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 awayfrom the continent of Europe, long before the great seas covered the landbridge that is now known as the English Channel, that body of water thatprotected this island for so long, and that by its very nature, was to keep itout of the maelstrom that became medieval Europe. Thus England's peculiarcharacter as an island nation came about through its very isolation. Early mancame, settled, farmed and built. His remains tell us much about his lifestyleand his habits. Of course, the land was not then known as England, nor would itbe until long after the Romans had departed.

We know of the island's early inhabitants from what they left behind onsuch sites as Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, and Swanscombe in Kent, gravel pits, theexploration of which opened up a whole new way of seeing our ancient ancestorsdating back to the lower Paleolithic (early Stone Age). Here were deposited notonly fine tools made of flint, including hand-axes, but also a fossilized skullof a young woman as well as bones of elephants, rhinoceroses, cave-bears,lions, horses, deer, giant oxen, wolves and hares. From the remains, we canassume that man lived at the same time as these animals which have longdisappeared from the English landscape.

So we know that a thriving cultureexisted around 8,000 years ago in the misty, westward islands the Romans wereto 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 toan end. As the climate improved, there seems to have been an increase in thenumber of people moving into Britain from the Continent. They were attracted byits forests, its wild game, abundant rivers and fertile southern plains. Anadded attraction was its relative isolation, giving protection against thefierce nomadic tribesmen that kept appearing out of the east, forever searchingfor new hunting grounds and perhaps, people to subjugate and enslave.

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

Many of Britain's Celts came from Gaul, driven from their homelands bythe Roman armies and Germanic tribes. These were the Belgae, who arrived ingreat numbers and settled in the southeast around 75 BC. They brought with thema sophisticated plough that revolutionized agriculture in the rich, heavy soilsof their new lands. Their society was well-organized in urban settlements, thecapitals of the tribal chiefs. Their crafts were highly developed; bronze urns,bowls and torques illustrate their metalworking skills. They also introducedcoinage 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 largestnon-Celtic area, at least linguistically, is now known as England, and it ishere that the Roman influence is most strongly felt. It was here that thearmies 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 landswe now call the British Isles took place in 55 B.C. under war leader JuliusCaesar, who returned one year later, but these probings did not lead to anysignificant or permanent occupation. He had some interesting, if biasedcomments concerning the natives: «All the Britons,» he wrote,«paint themselves with woad, which gives their skin a bluish color andmakes them look very dreadful in battle.» It was not until a hundred yearslater that permanent settlement of the grain-rich eastern territories began inearnest.

In the year 43 A.D. an expedition was ordered against Britain by theEmperor Claudius, who showed he meant business by sending his general, AulusPlautius, and an army of 40,000 men. Only three months after Plautius's troopslanded on Britain's shores, the Emperor Claudius felt it was safe enough tovisit 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 Celtictribes, 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 villasthat have been excavated in the southeast and southwest testify to the rapidityby 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 Romansparticularly wish to settle in these agriculturally poorer, harsh landscapes.They remained the frontier — areas where military garrisons were strategicallyplaced to guard the extremities of the Empire. The stubborn resistance of tribesin Wales meant that two out of three Roman legions in Britain were stationed onits borders, at Chester and Caerwent.

Major defensive works further north attest to the fierceness of thePictish and Celtic tribes, Hadrian's Wall in particular reminds us of the needfor a peaceful and stable frontier. Built when Hadrian had abandoned his planof 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 theContinent in their fight to stay free of Roman influence. Claudius invaded togive himself prestige, and his subjugation of eleven British tribes gave him asplendid triumph. Vespasian was a legion commander in Britain before he becameEmperor, but it was Agricola who gave us most notice of the heroic struggle ofthe native Britons through his biographer Tacitus. From him, we get theunforgettable picture of the druids, «ranged in order, with their handsuplifted, invoking the gods and pouring forth horrible imprecations.»Agricola also won the decisive victory of Mons Graupius in present-day Scotlandin 84 A.D. over Calgacus «the swordsman,» that carried Roman armsfarther west and north than they had ever before ventured. They called theirnewly-conquered northern territory Caledonia.

When Rome had to withdraw one of its legions from Britain, thethirty-seven mile long Antonine Wall, connecting the Firths of Forth and Clyde,served temporarily as the northern frontier, beyond which lay Caledonia. TheCaledonians, however were not easily contained; they were quick to master thearts of guerilla warfare against the scattered, home-sick Roman legionaries,including those under their ageing commander Severus. The Romans abandoned theAntonine Wall, withdrawing south of the better-built, more easily defendedbarrier of Hadrian, but by the end of the fourth century, the last remainingoutposts 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-basedgovernmental system. Agricola succeeded greatly in his aims to accustom theBritons «to a life of peace and quiet by the provision of amenities. Heconsequently gave private encouragement and official assistance to the buildingof temples, public squares and good houses.» Many of these were built informer military garrisons that became the coloniae, the Roman chartered townssuch as Colchester, Gloucester, Lincoln, and York (where Constantine wasdeclared 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 localresidents and own a certain amount of property. The ordo was run by twomagistrates, 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 wereorganized into local government areas known as civitates, largely based onpre-existing chiefdom boundaries. Canterbury and Chelmsford were two of thecivitas capitals.

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

Roman society in Britain was highly classified. At the top were thosepeople associated with the legions, the provincial administration, thegovernment of towns and the wealthy traders and commercial classes who enjoyedlegal privileges not generally accorded to the majority of the population. In212 AD, the Emperor Caracalla extended citizenship to all free-born inhabitantsof the empire, but social and legal distinctions remained rigidly set betweenthe upper rank of citizens known as honestiores and the masses, known ashumiliores. At the lowest end of the scale were the slaves, many of whom wereable to gain their freedom, and many of whom might occupy importantgovernmental posts. Women were also rigidly circumscribed, not being allowed tohold any public office, and having severely limited property rights.

One of the greatest achievements of the Roman Empire was its system ofroads, in Britain no less than elsewhere. When the legions arrived in a countrywith virtually no roads at all, as Britain was in the first century A.D., theirfirst task was to build a system to link not only their military headquartersbut also their isolated forts. Vital for trade, the roads were also ofparamount important in the speedy movement of troops, munitions and suppliesfrom one strategic center to another. They also allowed the movement ofagricultural products from farm to market. London was the chief administrativecentre, and from it, roads spread out to all parts of the province. Theyincluded Ermine Street, to Lincoln; Watling Street, to Wroxeter and then toChester, 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. Theyfollowed proper surveying, they took account of contours in the land, avoidedwherever possible the fen, bog and marsh so typical in much of the land, andstayed clear of the impenetrable forests. They also utilized bridges, aninnovation that the Romans introduced to Britain in place of the hazardousfords at many river crossings. An advantage of good roads was thatcommunications with all parts of the country could be effected. They carriedthe cursus publicus, or imperial post. A road book used by messengers thatlists all the main routes in Britain, the principal towns and forts they passthrough, and the distances between them has survived: the Antonine Itinerary…In addition, the same information, in map form, is found in the PeutingerTable. It tells us that mansions were places at various intervals along theroad to change horses and take lodgings.

The Roman armies did not have it all their own way in their battles withthe native tribesmen, some of whom, in their inter-tribal squabbles, saw themas deliverers, not conquerors. Heroic and often prolonged resistance came fromsuch leaders as Caratacus of the Ordovices, betrayed to the Romans by the Queenof the Brigantes. And there was Queen Boudicca (Boadicea) of the Iceni, whoserevolt nearly succeeded in driving the Romans out of Britain. Her people,incensed by their brutal treatment at the hands of Roman officials, burnedColchester, 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, whotook poison rather than submit.

Apart from the villas and fortified settlements, the great mass of theBritish people did not seem to have become Romanized. The influence of Romanthought survived in Britain only through the Church. Christianity hadthoroughly replaced the old Celtic gods by the close of the 4th Century, as thehistory of Pelagius and St. Patrick testify, but Romanization was notsuccessful in other areas. For example, the Latin tongue did not replaceBrittonic 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 intothe 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 MagnusMaximus in A.D. 383. After living in Britain as military commander for twelveyears, he had been hailed as Emperor by his troops. He began his campaigns todethrone Gratian as Emperor in the West, taking a large part of the Romangarrison 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 Welshnation, for he opened the way for independent political organizations todevelop among the Welsh people by his acknowledgement of the role of theleaders of the Britons in 383 (before departing on his military mission to theContinent) The enigmatic figure has remained a hero to the Welsh as MacsenWledig, celebrated in poetry and song.

The Roman legions began to withdraw from Britain at the end of the fourthcentury. Those who stayed behind were to become the Romanized Britons whoorganized local defences against the onslaught of the Saxon hordes. The famousletter 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 coastdefences, 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, thecommunication from Honorius was a little late: the Saxon influence had alreadybegun in earnest.

The Dark Ages

From the time that the Romans more or less abandoned Britain, to thearrival of Augustine at Kent to convert the Saxons, the period has been knownas the Dark Ages. Written evidence concerning the period is scanty, but we doknow 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 theWelsh, English and Scottish nations; and the conversion of much of the west toChristianity.

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 onslaughtsupon 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 tobecome later known as Scotland), and the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes to the southand east.

The two centuries that followed the collapse of Roman Britain happen tobe among the worst recorded times in British history, certainly the mostobscure. 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 9thcentury 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 mosaicof cultures, ideologies and economies. The Celts were not driven out of whatcame to be known as England. More than one modern historian has pointed outthat such an extraordinary success as an Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain«by bands of bold adventurers» could hardly have passed withoutnotice by the historians of the Roman Empire, yet only Prosper Tyro andProcopius notice this great event, and only in terms that are not alwaysconsistent with the received accounts.

In the Gallic Chronicle of 452, Tyro had written that the Britons in 443were reduced «in dicionen Saxonum» (under the jurisdiction of theEnglish). He used the Roman term Saxons for all the English-speaking peoplesresident in Britain: it comes from the Welsh appellation Saeson). The Romanhistorians had been using the term to describe all the continental folk who hadbeen 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 werecalling themselves Angles and Frisians, and not Saxons.

In the account given by Procopius in the middle of the 6th Century (theGothic War, Book IV, cap 20), he writes of the island of Britain beingpossessed by three very populous nations: the Angili, the Frisians, and theBritons. «And so numerous are these nations that every year, great numbersmigrate to the Franks.» There is no suggestion here that these peoplesexisted in a state of warfare or enmity, nor that the British people had beenvanquished or made to flee westwards. We have to assume, therefore, that theGallic Chronicle of 452 refers only to a small part of Britain, and that itdoes not signify conquest by the Saxons.

The Anglo Saxon Period

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

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

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

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

The first recorded visit of the Vikings in the West Saxon Annalshad 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 holiestcity in England, lavishly endowed with treasures at its monastery and religioussettlement that constituted the main target. Before dealing with the onslaughtof the Norsemen, however, it is time to briefly review the accomplishments ofthe people collectively known as the Anglo-Saxons, especially in the rule oflaw.

By the year 878 there was every possibility that before the end of theyear Wessex would have been divided among the Danish army. That this turn ofevents did not come to pass was due to Alfred. Leaving aside the politicalevents of the period, we can praise his laws as the first selective code ofAnglo-Saxon England, though the fundamentals remained unchanged, those whodidn'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 thelands which had lately passed under Danish control might be reclaimed. It madehim the obvious leader of all those who, in any part of the country, wished fora reversal of the disasters, and it was immediately followed by a generalrecognition of his lordship. In the words of the Chronicle, «all theEnglish people submitted to Alfred except those who were under the power of theDanes.»

Around 890 the Vikings (also known as Norsemen or Danes) came as hostileraiders to the shores of Britain. Their invasions were thus different fromthose of the earlier Saxons who had originally come to defend the Britishpeople and then to settle. Though they did settle eventually in their newlyconquered lands, the Vikings were more intent on looting and pillaging; theirarmies marched inland destroying and burning until half of England had beentaken. However, just as an earlier British leader, perhaps the one known inlegend 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 in878.

But this time, instead of sailing home with their booty, the Danishseamen 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 Saxonpredecessors, the Danes showed that they had come to stay.

It was not too long before the Danes had become firmly entrenchedseemingly everywhere they chose in England (many of the invaders came from Norway and Sweden as well as Denmark). They had begun their deprivations with thedevastation of Lindisfarne in 793, and the next hundred years saw army afterarmy crossing the North Sea, first to find treasure, and then to take overgood, productive farm lands upon which to raise their families. Outside Wessex, their ships were able to penetrate far inland; and founded their communitieswherever 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 ofinvaders no less ruthless than those who had come before. Cnut had precipitatedproblems by leaving his youngest, bastard son Harold, unprovided for. He hadintended to give Denmark and England to Hardacnut and Norway to Swein. In 1035,Hardacnut could not come to England from Denmark without leaving Magnus ofNorway a free hand in Scandinavia.

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

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

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

William of Normandy with his huge host offighting men, landed unopposed in the south. Harold had to march southwardswith his tired, weakened army and did not wait for reinforcements before heawaited the charge of William's mounted knights at Hastings. The only standingarmy in England had been defeated in an-all day battle in which the outcome wasin 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 whenWilliam took his army to London, where young Edgar the Atheling had beenproclaimed king in Harold's place, English indecision in gathering together aformidable 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 rebellionagainst his rule had one important repercussion, however: it meant that threatsto his security prevented him from undertaking any attempt to cooperate withthe native aristocracy in the administration of England.

By the time of William's death in1087, English society had been profoundly changed. For one thing, the greatSaxon earldoms were split: Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and other ancientkingdoms were abolished forever. The great estates of England were given toNorman and Breton landowners, carefully prevented from building up theirestates by having them separated by the holdings of others.

The majority of Old Englishmanuscripts are scattered throughout the libraries of England. The two largestcollections belong to the British Library and the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. While these documents are national treasures and should be accessibleto anyone, they obviously need to be protected; hence, heightened powers ofpersuasion notwithstanding, it is unlikely that an individual without anacademic position or recommendation will be allowed access. Fortunately, manyof these documents are on public display.

Most of the existing Old English manuscripts were made in the scriptoriaof monasteries by members of the clergy. Anyone who has ever visited theremnants 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 theskill 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 papersused for tracing and sketching, they were originally made out of calf, goat orpig skins which had been stretched, shaved and treated. The result of thisprocess was a thin membrane with one completely smooth side and another with athin layer of leftover hair. Hundreds of animal skins were required to make asingle book. This meant that the cost of creating literature during theAnglo-Saxon period was staggering — and hence the value of the finishedproduct.

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 toprick 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 wouldbe bound together and covered. Unfortunately, we have few decent examples ofwhat these covers looked like; one notable exception is the small Gospel bookfound in St. Cuthbert's tomb, now on display at the British Library. Thismethod of book production meant that manuscripts could be easily unbound,permitting portions of texts to become separated, swapped or lost. For thisreason, and because medieval writers frequently wrote wherever they could fittext (in blank spaces, on flyleaves, etc.), many manuscripts contain a wideassortment of different documents.

The dominant script of the Old English manuscripts is Anglo-Saxon (alsocalled Insular, a Latin word meaning «island»; in this context, theterm means «from England or Ireland»). It stemmed from the Uncialscript brought to England by Augustine and his fellow missionaries, andincorporated the initially Irish Roman Half-Uncial. The Anglo-Saxon hand wasgenerally miniscule (a calligraphic term meaning smaller, lower-case letters),reserving majuscule characters (larger, upper-case letters) for the beginningsof text segments or important words (this developed into the norm for modernwriting — beginning sentences and «important» words with capitalletters). These fonts are perfect for calligraphers who want to work on theirhand or experiment with page layouts before writing. They may also be usefulfor those who are unfamiliar with the slight variations between the appearancesof Old English and modern English characters.

The most popular element of medieval manuscripts in general isillumination — the decoration of text with drawings. Latin texts were moreoften illuminated than were Old English texts. But there are some spectacularexamples of Old English illumination, including the stark line drawings, thebiblical illustrations of Cotton Claudius, the mysterious Sphere of Apuleiusin Cotton Tiberius, the Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton Nero — one of the fewmanuscripts that approaches the Book of Kells), and so on.

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


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

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

Word Stress

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

In OE a syllable was made prominent by an increase in the force ofarticulation; in other words, a dynamic or a force stress was employed. Indisyllabic and polysyllabic words the accent fell on the root-morpheme or onthe first syllable. Word stress was fixed; it remained on the same syllable indifferent grammatical forms of the word and, as a rule, did not shift inword-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 chiefstress being fixed on the first root-morpheme, e.g. the compound noun Norðmonnafrom the same extract, received the chief stress upon its first componentand 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 wascommonly thrown on to the prefix.

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

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


Changes of Stressed Vowels in Early Old English

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

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

It should be borne in mind that the mechanism of all phonetic changesstrictly conforms with the general pattern. The change begins with growingvariation in pronunciation, which manifests itself in the appearance ofnumerous allophones: after the stage of increased variation, some allophonesprevail over the others and a replacement takes place. It may result in thesplitting 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 prevailingallophones can fall together. Most frequently the change will involve bothtypes of replacement, splitting and merging, so that we have to deal both withthe rise of new phonemes and with the redistribution of new allophones amongthe existing phonemes. For the sake of brevity, the description of most changesbelow 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 NorthGermanic, underwent similar alterations in Early OE they were fronted and, inthe 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 orrestrictions 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) ofthe short [a ] was caused by a back vowel in the next syllable— see theexamples 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


other OG languages



a æ

Gt ðata

O Icel dagr





a o

Gt mann(a)



O Icel land




Gt magan



Gt dagos







OHG slâfen

OHG mâno







OI cel mánaðr



Development ofDiphthongs

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

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

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

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

According to other explanations the appearance of the long [a:] from thesequence [a+i] may have stimulated the fronting of long [a:], for this latterchange helped to preserve the distinction between two phonemes; cf. OE rod (NEroad) and OE ræd('advice') which had not fallen togetherbecause 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 systemwith the rise of nasalised long vowels out of short vowels before nasals andfricative consonants ([a, i, u] plus [m] or [n] plus [x, f, 0 or s]), and thesubsequent growth of symmetrical oppositions in the sets of long and shortvowels .

Assimilative Vowel Changes: Breaking and Diphthongisation

The tendency to assimilative vowel change, characteristic of later PG andof the OG languages, accounts for many modifications of vowels in Early OE.Under the influence of succeeding and preceding consonants some Early OEmonophthongs developed into diphthongs. If a front vowel stood before a velarconsonant there developed a short glide between them, as the organs of speechprepared 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 intodiphthongs 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 breakingor fracture. Breaking is dated in Early OE, for in OE texts we find the processalready completed: yet it must have taken place later than the vowel changesdescribed above as the new vowel [æ], which appeared some time during the5th 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 morecharacteristic of West Saxon than of the Anglian dialects (Mercian andNorthumbrian); consequently, in many words, which contain a short diphthong inWest Saxon, Anglian dialects have a short monophthong, cf. WS tealde, Merciantalde (NE told).

Diphthongisation of vowels could also be caused by preceding consonants:a glide arose after * palatal consonants as a sort of transition to thesucceeding 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). Inthe resulting diphthong the initial [i] or [e] must have been unstressed butlater the stress shifted to the first element, which turned into the nucleus ofthe diphthong, to conform with the structure of OE diphthongs (all of them werefalling diphthongs). This process known as «diphthongisation after palatalconsonants» occurred some time in the 6th c.

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

The status of short diphthongs in the OE vowel system has aroused muchdiscussion and controversy. On the one hand, short diphthongs are alwaysphonetically conditioned as the)' are found only in certain phoneticenvironments 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 phonemicstatus is supported by the symmetrical arrangement of the vowel system. Theirvery growth can be accounted for by the urge of the system to have all itsempty positions filled. However, their phonemic status cannot be confirmed bythe contrast of minimal pairs: [ea], [æ], [a] as well as [eo] and [e]occur only in complementary distribution, never in identical phoneticconditions to distinguish morphemes; they also occur as variants in differentdialects. On these grounds it seems likely that short diphthongs, together withother vowels, make up sets of allophones representing certain phonemes: [a, æ,ea] and [e, eo]. Perhaps the rise of short diphthongs merely reveals a tendencyto a symmetrical arrangement of diphthongs in the vowel system, which was neverfully realised at the phonemic level.

Palatal Mutation

The OE tendency to positional vowel change is most apparent in theprocess termed «mutation». Mutation is the change of one vowel toanother 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 aboutprofound changes in the system and use of vowels.

The most important series of vowel mutations, shared in varying degreesby all OE languages (except Gothic), is known as «i-Umlaut» or«palatal mutation». Palatal mutation is the fronting and raising ofvowels through the influence of [i] or [j] (the non-syllabic [i]) in theimmediately following syllable. The vowel was fronted and made narrower so asto approach the articulation of [i]. Cf. OE an (NE one) with aback vowel in the root and OE ænig(NE any) derived fromthe same root with the root vowel mutated to a narrower and more front soundunder the influence of [i] in the suffix: [a:]>[æ:].

Since the sounds [i] and [j] were common in suffixes and endings, palatalmutation was of very frequent occurrence. Practically all Early OEmonophthongs, 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 causedpalatal mutation, that is [i] or [j], had disappeared in most words by the ageof writing; these sounds were weakened to [e] or were altogether lost (this isseen in all the examples above except ænig).

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

The labialised front vowels [y] and [y:] arose through palatal mutationfrom [u] and [u:], respectively, and turned into new phonemes, when theconditions that caused them had disappeared. Cf. mus and mys (fromthe earlier *mysi, where [y:] was an allophone of [u:] before [i]). Thediphthongs [ie, ie:] (which could also appear from diphthongisation afterpalatal consonants) were largely due to palatal mutation and became phonemic inthe same way, though soon they were confused with [y, y:]. Other mutated vowelsfell 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 theincreased variability of the root-morphemes: «owing to palatal mutationmany related words and grammatical forms acquired new root-vowel interchanges.Cf., e.g. two related words: OE gemot n 'meeting' and OE metan (NEmeet), 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 acquiredtwo variants: mot'/met-). Likewise we find variants of morphemes with aninterchange of root-vowels in the grammatical forms mus, mys (NE mouse,mice), boc, bec (NE book, books), since the plural was originallybuilt by adding -iz. (Traces of palatal mutation are preserved in many modernwords and forms, e.g. mouse — mice, foot—feet, tale tell, blood—bleed; despite later phonetic changes, the original cause of the innerchange is t-umlaut or palatal mutation.)

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

Palatal mutation in OE had already been completed by the time of theearliest written records; it must have taken place during the 7th c., thoughlater than all the Early OE changes described above. This relative dating isconfirmed by the fact that vowels resulting from other changes could besubjected to palatal mutation, e. g. OE ieldra (NE elder) haddeveloped from *ealdira by palatal mutation which occurred when thediphthong [ea] had already been formed from [æ] by breaking (in its turn[æ] was the result of the fronting of Germanic [a]). The successivestages of the change can be shown as follows: fronting — breaking — palatalmutation [a] > [æ] > [ea] > [ie] The generally acceptedphonetic 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 basedon the assumed workings of the speech organs… An alternativeexplanation, 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<sup/>>*deman (NE deem).It has been found that some OE spellings appear to support both thesetheories, e.g. OE secgan has a palatalised consonant [gg‘] shown by thedigraph cg; Coinwulf, a name in BEOWULF, occurring beside anotherspelling Cenwulf, shows the stage [oi:] in the transition from PG [o:]to OE [oe:], and [e:]: OE cen 'bold'. The diphthongoids resulting frompalatal mutation developed in conformity with the general tendency of the vowelsystem: in Early OE diphthongal glides were used as relevant phonemicdistinctive features. In later OE the diphthongs showed the first signs ofcontraction (or monophthongisation) as other distinctive features began topredominate: labialisation and vowel length. (The merging of [ie, ie:] and [y,y:] mentioned above, can also be regarded as an instance of monophthongisationof diphthongs.)

Changes of UnstressedVowels in Early Old English

All the changes described above affected accented vowels. The developmentof vowels in unstressed syllables, final syllables in particular, was basicallydifferent. Whereas in stressed position the number of vowels had grown (ascompared with the PG system), due to the appearance of new qualitativedifferences, the number of vowels distinguished in unstressed position had beenreduced. 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 mentionedthat some short vowels in final unaccented syllables were dropped. After longsyllables, that is syllables containing a long vowel, or a short vowel followedby more than one consonant, the vowels [i] and [u] were lost. Cf. the followingpairs, 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 withresembling sounds: [a] with [a] or [o], [ie, ie:] with [y, y:].

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

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 shortcounterpart. However, it was not quite symmetrical: the existence of the nasalised[a] in the set of short vowels and the debatable phonemic status of shortdiphthongs appear to break the balance.

All the vowels listed in the table could occur in stressed position. Inunstressed syllables we find only five monophthongs, and even these five vowelscould 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 – bæronPast 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 notcontrasted to [u]. The system of phonemes appearing in unstressed syllablesconsists of three units: e/i a o/u

Consonant Changes inPre-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 theconsonants that arose in PG under Grimm's and Verner's Law. Yet it appears thatvery few noise consonants in OE correspond to the same sounds in PG; for in theintervening period most consonants underwent diverse changes: qualitative andquantitative, independent and positional.

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

Treatment ofFricatives. Hardening. Rhotacism. Voicing and Devoicing

After the changes under Grimm's Law and Verner's Law PG had the followingtwo 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 supportedby new features. PG voiced fricatives tended to be hardened to correspondingplosives while voiceless fricatives, being contrasted to them primarily asfricatives to plosives, developed new voiced allophones.

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

PG [z] underwent a phonetic modification through the stage of [ж] into [r] and thus became asonorant, which ultimately merged with the older IE [r]. Cf. Gt. wasjan, 0 Icelverja 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 intoplosives, that is, [v] and [y], were subjected to a new process ofvoicing and devoicing. In Early OE they became or remained voiced mtervocallyand between vowels, sonorants and voiced consonants; they remained or becamevoiceless in other environments, namely, initially, finally and next to othervoiceless consonants Cf. Gt qiþian, qaþi with [0] inboth 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 voicelessfricatives prove that in OE they were not phonemes, but allophones.

West GermanicGemination of Consonants

In all WG languages, at an early stage of their independent history, mostconsonants were lengthened after a short vowel before [j]. This process isknown as WG «gemination» or «doubling» of consonants, asthe 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 longconsonants ceased to be phonetically conditioned. When the long and shortconsonants began to occur in identical phonetic conditions, namely betweenvowels, their distinction became phonemic.

The change did not affect the sonorant [r], e.g. OE werian (NE wear); nordid 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 ofconsonants (the reconstruction of pre-written forms *motjan and *domjanis confirmed by OS motion and Gt domjan).

Velar Consonants inEarly 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 frontvowel, and sometimes also after a front vowel, unless followed by a back vowel.Thus in OE cild (NE child) the velar consonant [k] was softenedto [k'] as it stood before the front vowel [i]: [*kild]>[k'ild]; similarly[k] became [k'] in OE spræc(NE speech) after afront vowel but not in OE sprecan («NE speak) where [k] wasfollowed by the back vowel [a]. In the absence of these phonetic conditions theconsonants did not change, with the result that lingual consonants split intotwo sets, palatal and velar. The difference between them became phonemic when,a short time later, velar and palatal consonants began to occur in similarphonetic conditions; cf. OE cild [k'ild], ciest [k'iest] (NE child,chest) with palatal [k'] and ceald, cepan (NE cold, keep) withhard, velar [k] — both before front vowels.

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

The date of the palatalisation can be fixed with considerable precisionin relation to other Early OE sound changes. It must have taken place after theappearance of [æ, æ:] (referred to the 5th c.) but prior to palatalmutation (late 6th or 7th c.); for [æ, æ:] could bring about thepalatalisation 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] throughpalatal mutation) the consonant [k] was not softened, which is confirmed bytheir modern descendants, keep and king. The front vowels [y] and[e:] in these and similar words must have appeared only when the splitting ofvelar consonants was well under way. Yet it is their appearance thattransformed the two sets of positional allophones into phonemes, for a velarand a palatal consonant could now occur before a front vowel, that is, inidentical phonetic conditions: cf. OE cyning and cyse (NE king,cheese).

Loss of Consonants inSome Positions

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

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

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

Gtuns, OHG uns — OE ūs (NE us)

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

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

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



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

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

Soundinterchanges were employed on a more limited scale and were often combined withother form-building means, especially endings. Vowel interchanges were morecommon than interchanges of consonants.

The use ofprefixes in grammatical forms was rare and was confined to verbs. Suppletiveforms were restricted to several pronouns, a few adjectives and a couple ofverbs.

The parts ofspeech to be distinguished in OE are as follows: the noun, the adjective, thepronoun, 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 informal and semantic correlations and oppositions of grammatical forms.Grammatical categories are usually subdivided into nominal categories, found innominal parts of speech and verbal categories found chiefly in the finite verb.

We shallassume 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 inventoryof categories and the number of members within the category (categorial forms).The noun had only two grammatical categories proper: number and case. Theadjective had the maximum number of categories — five. The number of members inthe same grammatical categories in different parts of speech did notnecessarily coincide: thus the noun had four cases. Nominative, Genitive,Dative, and Accusative, whereas the adjective had five (the same four casesplus the Instrumental case). The personal pronouns of the 1st and 2nd p.,unlike other parts of speech, distinguished three numbers — Singular, Pluraland Dual. Cf.

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

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

Verbalgrammatical categories were not numerous: tense and mood — verbal categoriesproper — and number and person, showing agreement between the verb-predicateand the subject of the sentence.

Thedistinction of categorial forms by the noun and the verb was to a large extentdetermined by their division into morphological classes: declensions andconjugations.

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

The OEgrammatical system is described synchronically as appearing in the texts of the9th and 10th c. (mainly WS); facts of earlier, prewritten, history willsometimes be mentioned to account for the features of written OE and to explaintheir origin.

The noun. GrammaticalCategories. The Use of Cases

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

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

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

Beforeconsidering the declension of nouns, we shall briefly touch upon the meaningand use of cases. The functions of cases in OE require little explanation forthe Russian student, since they are those, which ought to be expected in alanguage with a well-developed case system.

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

ðætflod weox ðā and ābær upp ðone arc — subject, activeagent ('that flood increased then and bore up the arc')

wearð ðāælc ðing cwices ādrenct — subject, recipient of an action orstate ('was then everything alive drowned')

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

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

The Gen. casewas primarily the case of nouns and pronouns serving as attributes to othernouns. The meanings of the Gen. were very complex and can only roughly begrouped under the headings „Subjective“ and „Objective“Gen. Subjective Gen. is associated with the possessive meaning and the meaningof origin, e. g.:

Beowulfgēata 'Beowulf of the Geats'. hiora scipu „their ships“

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

frige menn nemōtan wealdan heora sylfra — 'free men could not controlthemselves' (also with the Acc. wealdan hie.).

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

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

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

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

The Acc. casewas the form that indicated a relationship to a verb. Being a direct object itdenoted the recipient of an action, the result of the action and othermeanings:

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

It isimportant to note that there was considerable fluctuation in the use of casesin OE. One and the same verb could be construed with different cases withoutany noticeable change of meaning. The semantic functions of the Gen., Dat. andAcc. as objects commonly overlapped and required further specification by meansof prepositions. The vague meaning of cases was of great consequence for thesubsequent changes of the case system.

MorphologicalClassification of Nouns. Declensions

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

In the firstplace, the morphological classification of OE nouns rested upon the mostancient (IE) grouping of nouns according to the stem-suffixes. Stem-suffixescould 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 aregrouped together with consonantal stems, as their roots ended in consonants, e.g. OE man, bōc (NE man, book).

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

Sometimes bothelements — the stem-suffix and the original ending — were shortened or evendropped (e. g. the ending of the Dat. sg -e from the earlier -*ai, Nom. andAcc. pl -as from the earlier -os; the zero-ending in the Nom. and Acc. sg) ina-stems.

Anotherreason, which accounts for the division of nouns into numerous declensions istheir grouping according to gender. OE nouns distinguished three genders:Masc., Fem. and Neut. Though originally a semantic division, gender in OE wasnot always associated with the meaning of nouns. Sometimes a derivationalsuffix referred a noun to a certain gender and placed it into a certainsemantic group, e. g. abstract nouns built with the help of the suffix -ðuwere Fern. — OE lenðu, hyhðu (NE length, height), nomina agentiswith the suffix -ere were Masc. — OE fiscere, bōcere (NEfisher, '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 NEspinster with a shift of meaning) and nouns like OE wīf, Neut. (NEwife). 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 agrammatical distinction; Masc., Fem. and Neut. nouns could have differentforms, even if they belonged to the same stem (type of declension).

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

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

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

The majorityof OE nouns belonged to the a-stems, o-stems and n-stems. Special attentionshould also be paid to the root-stems which displayed specific peculiarities intheir 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 (NEknight), hām (NE home), mūð (NE mouth); examples ofNeut. 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 theoblique cases: Nom, sg finger, Gen. fingres, Dat. fingre,NE finger.

The forms in the a-stem declensionwere distinguished through grammatical endings (including the zero-ending). Insome words inflections were accompanied by sound interchanges: nouns with thevowel [æ] in the root had an interchange [æ>a], since in someforms 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, itbecame voiced in the intervocal position, cf. Nom. sg muð, wulf— [0], [f] —and Nom. pl muðas, wulfas — [o], [v]. (Note that their modem descendantshave retained the interchange: NE mouth — mouths [0>ð], wolf-wolves,also house—houses and others.) These interchanges were not peculiar of a-stemsalone and are of no significance as grammatical markers; they are easilyaccountable by phonetic reasons.

Declension ofnouns: a-stem*

Singular M









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 moreexamples, consult “History of English” by Rastorguyeva, pp.98-99

Neut. a-stemsdiffered from Masc. in the pl of the Nom. and Acc. cases. Instead of-asthey 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 hadhomonymous sg and pl forms: dēor — dēor, likewise sceap—sceap, ðing- ðing, hus—hus. This peculiarity of Neut. a-stems goes back to somephonetic changes in final unaccented syllables which have given rise to animportant grammatical feature: an instance of regular homonymy orneutralisation of number distinctions in the noun paradigm. (Traces of thisgroup of a-stems have survived as irregular pl forms in Mod E: sheep, deer,swine.)

wa — and ja-stems differedfrom pure a-stems in some forms, as their endings contained traces of theelements -j- and -w-. Nom. and Acc. sg could end in -e which had developed fromthe weakened -j-, though in some nouns with a doubled final consonant it waslost — 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 haddeveloped from the element -w- but was lost after a long syllable (in the sameway as the plural ending of neuter a-stems described above); cf. OE bearu(NE bear) and cnēo; -w- is optional but appears regularly beforethe endings of the oblique cases (see the declension of cnēo inTable 2).

o-stems were all Fem., so therewas 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). Thedifference between short-and long-stemmed o-stems is similar to that betweenrespective 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 ofplace-names). Like other nouns, o-stems could have an interchange of voiced andvoiceless fricative consonants as allophones in intervocal and final position:glof—glofe [f>v] (NE glove). Among the forms of o-stems there occurred somevariant forms with weakened endings or with endings borrowed from the weakdeclension — with the element -nwundena alongside wunda.Variation increased towards the end of the OE period.

The othervocalic stems, i-stems and u-stems, include nouns of different genders.Division into genders breaks up i-stems into three declensions, but isirrelevant 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. Thelength of the root-syllable is important for both stems; it accounts for theendings 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 inlong-stemmed.

Comparison of the i-stems witha-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 asin a-stems -es; alongside pl forms in -e we find new variantforms of Masc. nouns in -as, e. g. Nom., Acc. pl —winas 'friends' (amongMasc. 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 formsfrom Masc. a-stems, while Neut. i-stems were more likely to follow the patternof Neut. a-stems; as for Fem. i-stems, they resembled o-stems, except that theAcc. and Nom. were not distinguished as with other i-stems.

The mostnumerous 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 andthe other for the three oblique cases; the element -n- in the inflections ofthe 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 pronounsfell 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 andwere not always distinctly separated from the four main classes. Thegrammatical 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 tothem alone.

Personal Pronouns*

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

In OE, while nounsconsistently distinguished between four cases, personal pronouns began to losesome of their case distinctions: the forms of the Dat. case of the pronouns ofthe 1st and 2nd p. were frequently used instead of the Acc.; in fact the fusionof these two cases in the pi was completed in the WS dialect already in EarlyOE: Acc. eowic and usic were replaced by Dat. eow, us; inthe sg usage was variable, but variant forms revealed the same tendency togeneralise the form of the Dat. for both case's. This is seen in the followingquotation:

Se ðe megehælde, 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); thesecond me is a real Dat.

*See atable of personal pronouns declension at p.103 in “History of English” byRastorguyeva.

Demonstrative Pronouns

There were twodemonstrative pronouns in OE: the prototype of NE that, which distinguishedthree genders in the sg and had one form for all the genders in the pi. and theprototype of this with the same subdivisions: ðes Masc., ðeosFem., ðis Neut. and ðas pl. They were declined likeadjectives according to a five-case system:

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


Declensionof 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 paradigmof the demonstrative pronoun se contained many homonymous forms. Some caseendings resembled those of personal pronouns, e.g. –m – Dat. Masc. andNeut. and Dat. pl;

the element -r — in the Dat. and Gen. sg Fem. and in the Gen. pl. These case endings, which donot occur in the noun paradigms, are often referred to as«pronominal» endings (-m, -r-, -t).

The adjective.Grammatical Categories

As statedbefore, the adjective in OE could change for number, gender and case. Thosewere dependent grammatical categories or forms of agreement of the adjectivewith the noun it modified or with the subject of the sentence — if theadjective was a predicative. Like nouns, adjectives had three genders and twonumbers. The category of case in adjectives differed from that of nouns: inaddition to the four cases of nouns they had one more case, Instr. It was usedwhen the adjective served as an attribute to a noun in the Dat. case expressingan instrumental meaning — e.g.: lytle werede 'with (the help of) a smalltroop'.

Weak and StrongDeclension

As in other OGlanguages, most adjectives in OE could be declined in two ways: according tothe weak and to the strong declension. The formal differences between thedeclensions, as well as their origin, were similar to those of the noundeclensions. The strong and weak declensions arose due to the use of severalstem-forming suffixes in PG: vocalic a-, o-, u- and i- and consonantal n-.Accordingly, there developed sets of endings of the strong declension mainlycoinciding with the endings of a-stems of nouns for adjectives in the Masc. andNeut. and of o-stems — in the Fem., with some differences between long-and short-stemmedadjectives, variants with j- and w-, monosyllabic and polysyllabic adjectivesand some remnants of other stems. Some endings in the strong declension ofadjectives have no parallels in the noun paradigms; they are similar to theendings of pronouns: -um for Dat. sg, -ne for Acc. Masc., [r] insome Fem. and pl endings. Therefore the strong declension of adjectives issometimes called the «pronominal» declension. As for the weakdeclension, it uses the same markers as (n-stems of nouns except that in theGen. pl the pronominal ending -ra is often used instead of the weak -ena.

The difference between the strong andthe weak declension of adjectives was not only formal but also semantic. Unlikea noun, an adjective did not belong to a certain type of declension. Mostadjectives could be declined in both ways. The choice of the declension wasdetermined by a number of factors: the syntactical function of the adjective,the degree of comparison and the presence of noun determiners. The adjectivehad a strong form when used predicatively and when used attributively withoutany determiners, e.g.:

ða mennsindon gode 'the men are good'

The weak form was employed when theadjective was preceded by a demonstrative pronoun or the Gen. case of personalpronouns.


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




Someadjectives, however, did not conform with these rules.

Degrees of Comparison

Likeadjectives in other languages, most OE adjectives distinguished between threedegrees of comparison: positive, comparative and superlative. The regular meansused to form the comparative and the superlative from the positive were thesuffixes -ra and -est/ost. Sometimes suffixation was accompaniedby an interchange of the root-vowel.

The adjective godhad suppletive forms. Suppletion was a very old way of building the degrees ofcomparison

god – bettra –bet(e)st,

lytel – læssa– læst.


The OE verbwas characterised by many peculiar features. Though the verb had fewgrammatical categories, its paradigm had a very complicated structure: verbsfell into numerous morphological classes and employed a variety ofform-building means. All the forms of the verb were synthetic, as analyticalforms were only beginning to appear. The non-finite forms had little in commonwith the finite forms but shared many features with the nominal parts ofspeech.

Grammatical Categoriesof the Finite Verb

Theverb-predicate agreed with the subject of the sentence in two grammaticalcategories: number and person. Its specifically verbal categories were mood andtense. 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 distinguishedbetween two numbers: sg and pl. The homonymy of forms in the verb paradigm didnot affect number distinctions: opposition through number was neverneutralised.

The categoryof Person was made up of three forms: the 1st, the 2nd and the 3rd. Unlikenumber, person distinctions were neutralised in many positions. Person wasconsistently shown only in the Pres. Tense of the Ind. Mood 'In the Past Tensesg of the Ind. Mood the forms of the 1st and 3rd p. coincided and only the 2ndp. had a distinct form. Person was not distinguished in the pl; nor was itshown in the Subj. Mood.

The categoryof Mood was constituted by the Indicative, Imperative and Subjunctive. Therewere a few homonymous forms, which eliminated the distinction between themoods: 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 consistedof two categorial forms, Pres. and Past. The tenses were formally distinguishedby all the verbs in the Ind. and Subj. Moods, there being practically noinstances of neutralisation of the tense opposition.

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

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

Conjugation ofVerbs in Old English

Strong Weak







deman deem



Present tense Singular 1st 2nd 3rd


finde fintst

fint findaþ

bere bir(e)st<sup/>bir(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 meaningsof the tense forms were also very general, as compared with later ages and withpresent-day English. The forms of the Pres. were used to indicate present andfuture actions. With verbs of perfective meaning or with adverbs of future timethe Pres. acquired the meaning of futurity; Cf: þonne þu þain bringst, he ytt and bletsaþ þe — futurity —'when you bring them, he will eat and bless you' þu gesihst þætic ealdige 'you see that I am getting old' the Pres. tense ealdieindicates a process in the present which is now expressed by the Continuousform. Future happenings could also be expressed by verb phrases with modalverbs:

forþæmge sculon… wepan 'therefore you shall weep'.

The Past tense was used in a mostgeneral sense to indicate various events in the past (including those which arenowadays expressed by the forms of the Past Continuous, Past Perfect, PresentPerfect and other analytical forms). Additional shades of meaning could beattached to it in different contexts, e. g.:

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

Grammatical Categoriesof the Verbals

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

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

Infinitive ParticipleI Participle II (NE bindan bindende gebunden bind)

MorphologicalClassification of Verbs

Theconjugation of verbs shows the means of form-building used in the OE verbsystem. Most forms were distinguished with the help of inflectional endings orgrammatical suffixes; one form — P II — was sometimes marked by a prefix; manyverbs made use of vowel interchanges in the root; some verbs used consonantinterchanges and a few had suppletive forms. The OE verb is remarkable for itscomplicated morphological classification which determined the application ofform-building means in various groups of verbs. The majority of OE verbs fellinto two great divisions: the strong verbs and the weak verbs. Besides thesetwo main groups there were a few verbs which could be put together as«minor» groups. The main difference between the strong and weak verbslay in the means of forming the principal parts, or the «stems» ofthe verb. There were also a few other differences in the conjugations.

All the formsof 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 wasused in all the Present tense forms, Indicative, Imperative and Subjunctive,and also in the Present Participle and the Infinitive; it is usually shown asthe form of the Infinitive; all the forms of the Past tense were derived fromthe Past tense stems; the Past Participle had a separate stem.

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

The weak verbsderived their Past tense stem and the stem of Participle II from the Presenttense stem with the help of the dental suffix -d- or -t- normallythey did not change their root vowel, but in some verbs suffixation wasaccompanied by a vowel interchange.

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

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

Minor groupsof verbs differed from the weak and strong verbs but were not homogeneouseither. Some of them combined certain features of the strong and weak verbs ina peculiar way («preterite-present» verbs); others were suppletive oraltogether anomalous. The following chart gives a general idea of themorphological classification of OE verbs.

Strong Verbs

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

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

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

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

The classes ofstrong verbs – like the morphological classes of nouns – differed in the numberof verbs and, consequently, in their role and weight in the language. Classes 1and 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 theroot (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 theclasses had from 10 to 15 verbs each. In view of the subsequent interinfluenceand mixture of classes it is also noteworthy that some classes in OE hadsimilar forms; thus Classes 4 and 5 differed in one form only – the stems of PII; Classes 2, 3b and c and Class 4 had identical vowels in the stem of P II.

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

The gradationseries 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 inGermanic as [e/i–a] were used in the first and second stems; they representedthe normal grade (a short vowel) and were contrasted to the zero-grade (loss ofthe gradation vowel) or to the prolonged grade (a long vowel) in the third andfourth stem. The original gradation series split into several series becausethe gradation vowel was inserted in the root and was combined there with thesounds of the root. Together with them, it was then subjected to regularphonetic changes. Each class of verbs offered a peculiar phonetic environmentfor the gradation vowels and accordingly transformed the original series into anew gradation series.

In Classes 1and 2 the root of the verb originally contained [i] and [u] (hence the namesi-class and u-class); combination of the gradation vowels with these soundsproduced long vowels and diphthongs in the first and second stems. Classes 3, 4and 5 had no vowels, consequently the first and second forms contain thegradation vowels descending directly from the short [e] and [o]; Class 3 splitinto subclasses as some of the vowels could be diphthongised under the Early OEbreaking. In the third and fourth stems we find the zero-grade or the prolongedgrade of ablaut; therefore Class 1 – i-class – has [i]. Class 2— [u] or [o]; inClasses 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] andthe lengthening of the consonant: sittan.

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

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

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

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

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

Verbs with an interdental fricativehave 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 theroot ending in [f/v] displayed the usual OE interchange of the voiced andvoiceless positional variants of fricatives:

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

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



The number of weak verbs in OE by farexceeded that of strong verbs. In fact, all the verbs, with the exception ofthe 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 fromother stems were conjugated weak (except derivatives of strong verbs withprefixes). Among the weak verbs there were many derivatives of OE noun andadjective stems and also derivatives of strong verbs built from one of theirstems (usually the second stem — Past sg)

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

Weak verbsformed their Past and Participle II by means of the dental suffix -d- or-t- (a specifically Germanic trait). In OE the weak verbs are subdividedinto three classes differing in the ending of the Infinitive, the sonority ofthe suffix, and the sounds preceding the suffix. The main differences betweenthe 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 verbsof Class I had a double consonant in the Infinitive, others had a vowelinterchange in the root, used together with suffixation.

Class II hadno subdivisions. In Class II the Infinitive ended in -ian and the Pasttense stem and P II had [o] before the dental suffix. This was the mostnumerous and regular of all the classes.

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

Participle IIof most verbs preserved -e- before the dental suffix, though in somegroups it was lost.

Minor Groups of Verbs

Several minorgroups of verbs can be referred neither to strong nor to weak verbs. The mostimportant group of these verbs were the so-called«preterite-presents» or «past-present» verbs. Originallythe Present tense forms of these verbs were Past tense forms (or, moreprecisely, IE perfect forms, denoting past actions relevant for the«present). Later these forms acquired a present meaning but preserved manyformal features of the Past tense. Most of these verbs had new Past Tense formsbuilt with the help of the dental suffix. Some of them also acquired the formsof the verbals: Participles and Infinitives; most verbs did not have a fullparadigm and were in this sense „defective“.

The verbs wereinflected in the Present like the Past tense of strong verbs: the forms of the1st 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 gradeof ablaut similarly with strong verbs (which had two distinct stems for thePast: sg and pl). In the Past the preterite-presents were inflected like weakverbs: the dental suffix plus the endings -e, -est, -e. The newInfinitives sculan, cunnan were derived from the pl form. Theinterchanges of root-vowels in the sg and pl of the Present tense ofpreterite-present verbs can be traced to the same gradation series as were usedin the strong verbs. Before the shift of meaning and time-reference thewould-be preterite-presents were strong verbs. The prototype of can maybe referred to Class 3 (with the grades [a–u] in the two Past tense stems); theprototype of sculan — to Class 4, magan — to Class 5, witan,wat 'know' – to Class 1.

In OE therewere 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 notindicate actions, but expressed a kind of attitude to an action denoted byanother verb, an Infinitive, which followed the preterite-present. In otherwords, they were used like modal verbs, and eventually developed into modemmodal verbs. (In OE some of them could also be used as notional verbs:

þe himaht sceoldon 'what they owed him'.)

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

þa ðewillað mines forsiðes fægnian 'those who wish to rejoicein my death'

hyt motenhabban 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 survivingpreterite-presents, and, together with sculan developed into anauxiliary (NE shall, will, should, would).

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

Two OE verbswere suppletive. OEgan, whose Past tense was built from a differentrootgan – eode – gegan (NE go); and beon (NE be).

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

OE syntax

The syntacticstructure of OE was determined by two major conditions: the nature of OEmorphology and the relations between the spoken and the written forms of thelanguage,

OE was largelya synthetic language; it possessed a system of grammatical forms, which couldindicate the connection between words; consequently, the functional load ofsyntactic ways of word connection was relatively small. It was primarily aspoken language, therefore the written forms of the language resembled oralspeech – unless the texts were literal translations from Latin or poems withstereotyped constructions. Consequently, the syntax of the sentence wasrelatively simple; coordination of clauses prevailed over subordination;complicated syntactical constructions were rare.

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

A noun patternconsisted of a noun as the head-word and pronouns, adjectives (including verbaladjectives, or participles), numerals and other nouns as determiners andattributes. Most noun modifiers agreed with the noun in gender, number andcase:

on þæmoþrum þrim dagum… 'in those other three days' – Dat. plMasc.

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

Nouns, whichserved as attributes to other nouns, usually had the form of the Gen. case: hwalesban, deora fell 'whale's bone, deer's fell'.

Some numeralsgoverned the nouns they modified so that formally the relations were reversed: tamradeora… syx hund 'six hundred tame deer'; twentig sceapa 'twentysheep' (deora, sceapa – Gen. pl).

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

Soðlicesum mann hæfde twegen suna (mann – subject, hæfdeSimple Predicate) 'truly a certain man had two sons'. Predicates could also becompound: modal, verbal and nominal:

Hwæðreþu meaht singan 'nevertheless you can sing'.

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

… ða liðendeland gesawon, brimclifu blican, beorgas steape (BEOWULF)

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

The connectionbetween the parts of the sentence was shown by the form of the words as theyhad formal markers for gender, case, number and person. As compared with laterperiods agreement and government played an important role in the word phraseand in the sentence. Accordingly the place of the word in relation to otherwords was of secondary importance and the order of words was relatively free.

The presence of formal markers madeit possible to miss out some parts of the sentence which would be obligatory inan English sentence now. In the following instance the subject is not repeatedbut the form of the predicate shows that the action is performed by the sameperson as the preceding action:

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

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

One of theconspicuous features of OE syntax was multiple negation within a singlesentence or clause. The most common negative particle was he, which wasplaced 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 nohtsingan… ic noht singan ne cuðe 'I cannot sing' (lit.«cannot sing nothing»), 'I could not sing' (noht was latershortened to not, a new negative particle).

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

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

Coordinateclauses were mostly joined by and, a conjunction of a most generalmeaning, which could connect statements with various semantic relations. TheA-S CHRONICLES abound in successions of clauses or sentences all beginning withand, e.g.:

And þa ongeat se cyning,þæt ond he, on þa duru eode, and þa unbeanlicehine werede, oþ he on þone æþeling locude, and þaut ræsde on hine, and hine miclum gewundode; and hie alleon þone cyning wæron feohtende, oþ þæt hie hineofslægenne hæfdon, 'and then the king saw that, and he went to thedoor, and then bravely defended himself, until he saw that noble, and then outrushed on him, and wounded him severely, and they were all fighting againstthat king until they had him slain' (from the earliest part of the CHRONICLESA.D. 755).

Repetition of connectives at the headof each clause (termed «correlation») was common in complexsentences: þa he þær to gefaren wæs, þa eodon hieto hiora scipum 'then (when) he came there, then they went to their ship.'

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

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

Hit gelamp gioþætte an hearpere wæs on þære ðiode þeDracia hatte, sio wæs on Creca rice; se hearpere wæs swiðeungefræglice god, ðæs nama wæs Orfeus; he hæfde answiðe ænlic wif, sio wæs haten Eurydice 'It happenedonce that there was a harper among the people on the land that was calledThrace, 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 wascalled Eurydice'.

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

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


Evolution of the grammatical system

In the course of ME, Early NE the grammatical system of the language underwent profound alteration. Since the OEperiod the very grammatical type of the language has changed; from what can bedefined as a synthetic or inflected language, with a well developed morphologyEnglish has been transformed into a language of the «analyticaltype», with analytical forms and ways of word connection prevailing oversynthetic ones. This does not mean, however, that the grammatical changes were rapidor sudden; nor does it imply that all grammatical features were in a state ofperpetual change. Like the development of other linguistic levels, the historyof English grammar was a complex evolutionary process made up of stable andchangeable constituents. Some grammatical characteristics remained absolutelyor relatively stable; others were subjected to more or less extensivemodification.

The division of words into parts ofspeech has proved to be one of the most permanent characteristics of thelanguage. Through all the periods of history English preserved the distinctionsbetween the following parts of speech; the noun, the adjective, the pronoun,the numeral, the verb, the adverb, the preposition, the conjunction, and theinterjection. The only new part of speech was the article which split from thepronouns 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 OEall the forms which can be included into morphological paradigms weresynthetic. In ME, Early NE, grammatical forms could also be built in theanalytical way, with the help of auxiliary words. The proportion of syntheticforms in the language has become very small, for in the meantime many of theold 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 formswere, the means of form-building were the same as before: inflections, soundinterchanges and suppletion; only prefixation, namely the prefix ge-, which wascommonly 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 stillfound in Chaucer's time. Suppletive form-building, as before, wasconfined to a few words, mostly surviving from OE and even earlier periods. Soundinterchanges were not productive, though they did not die out: they stilloccurred in many verbs, some adjectives and nouns; moreover, a number of newinterchanges arose in Early ME in some ups of weak verbs. Nevertheless, theirapplication in the language, and their weight among other means was generallyreduced.

Inflections - or grammatical suffixes and endings — continued to beused in all the inflected «changeable» parts of speech. It isnotable, 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 avariety of distinct endings differing in consonants as well as in vowels. In MEall the vowels in the endings were reduced to the neutral [a] and manyconsonants were leveled under -n or dropped. The process of levelingbesides phonetic weakening, implies replacement of inflections by analogy, e.g.-(e)s as a marker of pi forms of nouns displaced the endings -(e)nand -e. In the transition to NE most of the grammatical endings weredropped.

Nevertheless, these definitions of the state of inflections in the threemain historical periods are not quite precise. It is known that the weakeningand 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 thisday.

The analytical way of form-building was a new device, whichdeveloped in Late OE and ME and came to occupy a most important place in thegrammatical system. Analytical forms developed from free word groups (phrases,syntactical constructions). The first component of these phrases graduallyweakened or even lost its lexical meaning and turned into a grammatical marker,while the second component retained its lexical meaning and acquired a newgrammatical value in the compound form. Cf, e. g. the meaning and function ofthe verb to have in OE he hæfde þa 'he had them (theprisoners)', 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 havedenotes possession, in the second, the meaning of possession is weakened, inthe third, it is probably lost and does not differ from the meaning of havein the translation of the sentence into ME. The auxiliary verb have andthe form of Part. II are the grammatical markers of the Perfect; the lexicalmeaning is conveyed by the root-morpheme of the participle. The growth ofanalytical grammatical forms from free word phrases belongs partly to historicalmorphology and partly to syntax, for they are instances of transition from thesyntactical to the morphological level.

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

The main direction of development for the nominal parts of speech in allthe periods of history can be defined as morphological simplification,Simplifying changes began in prehistoric, PG times. They continued at a slowrate during the OE period and were intensified in Early ME. The period betweenc. 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. Somenominal 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. Morphologicaldivision into types of declension practically disappeared. In Late ME theadjective lost the last vestiges of the old paradigm: the distinction of numberand 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 muchlike modern, not only in its general pattern but also in minor details. Theevolution of the verb system was a far more complicated process-it cannot bedescribed in terms of one general trend. On the one hand, the decay ofinflectional endings affected the verb system, though to a lesser extent thanthe nominal system. The simplification and leveling of forms made the verbconjugation more regular and uniform; the OE morphological classification ofverbs was practically broken up. On the other hand, the paradigm of the verbgrew, as new grammatical forms and distinctions came into being. The number ofverbal grammatical categories increased, as did the number of forms within thecategories. The verb acquired the categories of Voice, Time Correlation orPhase and Aspect. Within the category of Tense there developed a new form — theFuture 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 theparticiple, having lost many nominal features, developed verbal features: theyacquired new analytical forms and new categories like the finite verb. It isnoteworthy that, unlike the changes in the nominal system, the new developmentsin the verb system were not limited to a short span of two or three hundredyears. 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 fromthat of ME and many changes were still underway.

Other important events in the history of English grammar were the changesin syntax, which were associated with the transformation of English morphologybut at the same time displayed their own specific tendencies and directions.The main changes at the syntactical level were: the rise of new syntacticpatterns of the word phrase and the sentence; the growth of predicativeconstructions; the development of the complex sentences and of diverse means ofconnecting clauses. Syntactic changes are mostly observable in Late ME and inNE, in periods of literary efflorescence.

The noun. Decay of Noun Declensions in Early MiddleEnglish

The OE noun had the grammaticalcategories of Number and Case which were formally distinguished in an elaboratesystem of declensions. However, homonymous forms in the OE noun paradigmsneutralised some of the grammatical oppositions; similar endings employed indifferent 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 especiallyin the 11th and 12th c. testifies to impending changes and to a strong tendencytoward a re-arrangement and simplification of the declensions. The number ofvariants of grammatical forms in the 11th and 12th c. was twice as high as inthe preceding centuries. Among the variant forms there were direct descendantsof OE forms with phonetically weakened endings (the so-called «historicalforms») and also numerous analogical forms taken over from other parts ofthe same paradigms and from more influential morphological classes. The newvariants of grammatical forms obliterated the distinction between the formswithin the paradigms and the differences between the declensions, e.g… EarlyME fisshes and bootes, direct descendants of the OE Nom. and Acc.pl of Masc. a-stems fiscas, batas were used, as before, in the positionof these cases and could also be used as variant forms of other cases Gen. andDat. 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 fullerending, but when some of the variants went out of use and the non-distinctive,levelled variants prevailed, many forms fell together. Thus after passingthrough the «variation stage» many formal oppositions were lost. Themost numerous OE morphological classes of nouns were a-stems, o-stems andn-stems. Even in Late OE the endings used in these types were added by analogyto other kinds of nouns, especially if they belonged to the same gender. Thatis 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 andrevealed considerable dialectal differences. It started in the North of Englandand gradually spread southwards. The decay of inflectional endings in theNorthern dialects began as early as the 10th c. and was virtually completed inthe 11th; in the Midlands the process extended over the 12th c., while in theSouthern 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 natureof changes. The Southern dialects rearranged and simplified the noundeclensions on the basis of stem and gender distinctions. In Early ME theyemployed only four markers -es, -en, -e, and the root-vowel interchangeplus the bare stem (the «zero „-inflection) but distinguished, withthe help of these devices, several paradigms. Masc. and Neut. nouns had twodeclensions, weak and strong, with certain differences between the genders inthe 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 weakMasc. and Neut. nouns. The root-stem declension, as before, had mutated vowelsin some forms' and many variant forms which showed that the vowel interchangewas becoming a marker of number rather than case.

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

A small group of nouns, former root-stems, employed a root-vowelinterchange to distinguish the forms of number. Survivals of other OEdeclensions were rare and should be treated rather as exceptions than asseparate paradigms. Thus several former Neut. a-stems descending fromlong-stemmed nouns could build their plurals with or without the ending -(e)s;sg hors — pl hors or horses, some nouns retained weakforms with the ending -en alongside new forms in -es; some formerFem. nouns and some names of relations occur in the Gen. case without -(e)slike OE Fem. nouns, e. g. my fader soule, 'my father's soul'; In hopeto 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 andNorthern traits in the dialect of London, this pattern of noun declensionsprevailed 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 nounmorphology was on the whole completed. Most nouns distinguished two forms: thebasic form (with the “zero» ending) and the form in -(e)s. Thenouns originally descending from other types of declensions for the most parthad joined this major type, which had developed from Masc. a-stems.

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

In the 11th and 12th c. the gender of nouns was deprived of its mainformal support the weakened and leveled endings of adjectives and adjectivepronouns ceased to indicate gender. Semantically gender was associated with thedifferentiation of sex and therefore: the formal grouping into genders wassmoothly and naturally superseded by a semantic division into inanimate andanimate 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 arereferred 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, ifit were deed or bledde (Chaucer) «She» points here to a womanwhile «it» replaces the noun mous, which in OE was Fem. ('Shewould 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 profoundchanges in Early ME. The number of cases in the noun paradigm was reduced fromfour (distinguished in OE) to two in Late ME. The syncretism of cases was aslow process which went on step by step. As shown above even in OE the forms ofthe Nom. and Ace. were not distinguished in the pi, and in some classes theycoincided also in the sg. In Early ME they fell together in both numbers.

In the strong declension the Dat. was sometimes marked by -e inthe Southern dialects, though not in the North or in the Midlands; the formwithout 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 inpresent-day English.

Only the Gen. case was kept separate from the other forms, with more explicitformal distinctions in the singular than in the pi. In the 14th c. the ending -esof the Gen. sg had become almost universal, there being only several exceptionsnouns which were preferably used in the uninflected form (names ofrelationships terminating in -r, some proper names, and some nouns instereotyped phrases). In the pl the Gen. case had no special marker it was notdistinguished 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 theGen. 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 inEarly ME only in the Southern districts). The formal distinction between casesin the pi was lost, except in the nouns which did not take -(e)s in thepl. Several nouns with a weak plural form in -en or with a vowel interchange,such asoxen andmen, added the marker of the Gen. case -es tothese forms: oxenes, mennes. In the 17th and 18th c. a new graphicmarker 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 speechthe forms remained homonymous.

The reduction in the number of cases was linked up with a change in themeanings and functions of the surviving forms. The Comm. case, which resultedfrom 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 verygeneral meaning, which was made more specific by the context: prepositions, themeaning of the verb-predicate, the word order. With the help of these means itcould express various meanings formerly belonging to different cases. Thefollowing passages taken from three translations of the Bible give a generalidea of the transition; they show how the OE Gen. Dat. cases were replaced inME, Early NE by prepositional phrases with the noun in the Comm. case. OEtranslation of the Gospels (10th c.) Eadige synd þa gastlican þearfan,forþam hyra ys heofena rice. (Gen.) Wyclifs translation (late14th c. Blessed be the pore in spirit, for the kingdom in heuenes isheren. King James' Bible (17th c. Blessed are the poor in spirit fortheirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The replacement of the Dat. by prepositional phrases had been wellprepared 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 wasfulfilled in ME by the Comm. case; the noun was placed next to the verb, orelse its relations with the predicate were apparent from the meaning of thetransitive verb and the noun, e. g. He knew the tavernes well in everytown. For catel hadde they ynogh and rente (Chaucer) ('He knewwell the taverns in every town for they had enough wealth and income'.)

The history of the Gen. case requires special consideration. Though itsurvived as a distinct form, its use became more limited: unlike OE it couldnot be employed in the function of an object to a verb or to an adjective. InME the Gen. case is used only attributively, to modify a noun, but even in thisfunction it has a rival prepositional phrases, above all the phrases with thepreposition of. The practice to express genitival relations by the of-phrasegoes back to OE. It is not uncommon in Ælfric's writings (10th c). butits regular use instead of the inflectional Gen. does not become establisheduntil 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: theinflectional Gen. is preferred with animate nouns, while the of-phrase is morewidely used with inanimate ones. Usage varies, as can be seen from thefollowing 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 manymarriages of young women') And specially, from every shires ende, OfEngelond 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 ofthe Gen. case, particularly for the preference of the inflectional Gen. with«personal» nouns. It has been suggested that the tendency to use theinflectional Gen. with names of persons is a continuation of an old traditionpertaining to word order. It has been noticed that the original distinctionbetween the use of the Gen. with different kind of nouns was not in form but inposition. The Gen. of «personal» nouns was placed before thegoverning noun, while the Gen. of other nouns was placed after it. Thepost-positive Gen. was later replaced by the of-phrase with the result that theof-phrase came to be preferred with inanimate nouns and the inflectional Gen.with personal (animate) ones. Another theory attributes the wider use of theinflectional Gen. with animate nouns to the influence of a specific possessiveconstruction containing a possessive pronoun: the painter'ys name, where'ys is regarded as a shortened form of his «the painter hisname». It is assumed that the frequent use of these phrases may havereinforced the inflectional Gen., which could take the ending -is, -ysalongside -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 theprepositional 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 bethe most stable of all the nominal categories. The noun preserved the formaldistinction of two numbers through all the historical periods. Increasedvariation in Early ME did not obliterate number distinctions. On the contrary,it showed that more uniform markers of the pl spread by analogy to differentmorphological classes of nouns, and thus strengthened the formaldifferentiation of number. The pl forms in ME show obvious traces of numerousOE noun declensions. Some of these traces have survived in later periods. InLate 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 growingEnglish vocabulary and to many words, which built their plural in a differentway 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 phoneticchanges: the voicing of fricatives and the loss of unstressed vowels in finalsyllables. The following examples show the development of the ME pl inflection -esin 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) lostits former productivity, so that in Standard ME it is found only in oxen,brethern, and children. (The two latter words originally did notbelong to the weak declension: OE broðor, a-stem, built its pluralby 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 wordshave two markers of the pl.). The small group of ME nouns with homonymous formsof number (ME deer, hors, thing,) has been further reduced to three«exceptions» in ME: deer, sheep and swine. The group offormer root-stems has survived only as exceptions: man, tooth and thelike. Not all irregular forms in ME are traces of OE declensions; forms like data,nuclei, antennae have come from other languages together with the borrowedwords.

It follows that the majority of English nouns have preserved and evenreinforced the formal distinction of Number in the Comm. case. Meanwhile theyhave practically lost these distinctions in the Gen. case, for Gen. has adistinct 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 Moreexplicit and more precise. The functional load and the frequency of occurrenceof the Comm. case are certainly much higher than those of the Gen.; thereforethe regular formal distinction of Number in the Comm. case is more importantthan its neutralisation in the Gen. case.

The pronoun. Personal and Possessive Pronouns

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

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

The replacement of OE heo by ME she is a good illustrationof the mechanism of linguistic change and of the interaction of intra- andextra linguistic factors. Increased dialectal divergence in Early ME supplied'the «raw material» for the change in the shape of co-existingvariants or parallels. Out of these variants the language preserved theunambiguous form she, probably to avoid an homonymy clash, since thedescendant of OE heo ME he coincided with the Masc. pronoun he.The need to discriminate between the two pronouns was an internal factor whichdetermined the selection. The choice could also be favored by externalhistorical conditions, for in later ME many Northern and East Midland featureswere incorporated in the London dialect, which became the basis of literaryEnglish. It should be noted, however, that the replacement was not complete, asthe other forms of OE heo were preserved: hire/her, used in ME asthe Obj. case and as a Poss. pronoun is a form of OE heo but not of itsnew substitute she; hers was derived from the form hire/her.

About the same time in the course of ME another important lexicalreplacement took place: the OE pronoun of the 3rd p. pl hie was replacedby the Scand. loan-word they [ðei]. Like the pronoun she, itcame 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 twosets of forms coming from they and hie occur side by side in LateME 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 tworeplacements broke up the genetic ties between the pronouns of the 3rd p.: inOE 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 the3rd 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 laterdate in the 17th or 18th c. Beginning with the 15th c. the pi forms of the 2ndp. ye, you, your were applied more and more generally to individuals. InShakespeare's time the pi. forms of the 2nd p. were widely used as equivalents ofthou, thee, thine. Later thou became obsolete in Standard English.(Nowadays thou is found only in poetry, in religious discourse and insome dialects.) Cf. the free interchange of you and thou inShakespeare's sonnets. But if thou live, remember'd not to be. Diesingle, and thine image dies with thee. Or I shall live yourepitaph to make. Or you survive when I in earth am rotten.

Personal and Possessive Pronouns in ME and Early NE





Early NE


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 noundeterminers does not correspond to modern rules, e. g. For hym was leverehave at his beddes heed twenty bookes clad in blak or reed… / Than robesriche, or fithele, or gay sautrie. 'For he would rather have at the head ofhis 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 litelgold in cofre 'yet he had but little gold in the coffer (or: in hiscoffer)'.

It is believed that the growth of articles in Early ME was caused, orfavored, by several internal linguistic factors. The development of thedefinite article is usually connected with the changes in the declension ofadjectives, namely with the loss of distinctions between the strong and weakforms. Originally the weak forms of adjectives had a certain demonstrativemeaning resembling that of the modern definite article. These forms werecommonly used together with the demonstrative pronouns se, seo, ðæt.In contrast to weak forms, the strong forms of adjectives conveyed the meaningof «indefiniteness» which was later transferred to an, anumeral and indefinite pronoun. In case the nouns were used without adjectivesor the weak and strong forms coincided, the form-words an and ðætturned out to be the only means of expressing these meanings. The decay ofadjective declensions speeded up their transition into articles. Another factorwhich may account for the more regular use of articles was the changingfunction of the word order. Relative freedom in the position of words in the OEsentence 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 thelistener. After the loss of inflections, the word order assumed a grammaticalfunction, 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 ownfixed places. The communicative functions passed to the articles and their usebecame more regular. The growth of the articles is thus connected both with thechanges in syntax and in morphology.

The adjective. Decay of Declensions and GrammaticalCategories

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

By the end of the OE period the agreement of the adjective with the nounhad become looser and in the course of Early ME it was practically lost. Thoughthe grammatical categories of the adjective reflected those of the noun, mostof them disappeared even before the noun lost the respective distinctions. Thegeographical: direction of the changes was generally the same as in the noundeclensions. The process began in the North and North-East Midlands and spreadsouth. The poem Ormulum, written in 1200 in the North-East Midlanddialect reveals roughly the same state of adjective morphology as the poems ofG.Chaucer and J.Gower written in the London dialect almost two hundred yearslater.

The decay of the grammatical categories of the adjective proceeded in thefollowing order. The first category to disappear was Gender, which ceased to bedistinguished by the adjective in the 11th c. The number of cases shown in theadjective paradigm was reduced: the Instr. case had fused with the Dat. by theend of OE; distinction of other cases in Early ME was unsteady, as many variantforms of different cases, which arose in Early ME, coincided. Cf. some variantendings of the Dat. case sg in the late 11th c.: mid miclum here, midmiclan 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 adjectiveendings in the strong declension (but not by the weak forms); towards the endof the century all case distinctions were lost. The strong and weak forms ofadjectives were often confused in Early ME texts. The use of a strong form aftera demonstrative pronoun was not uncommon, though according to the existingrules, 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 differencebetween the strong and weak form is sometimes shown in the sg. with the help ofthe ending -e.

The general tendency towards an uninflected form affected also thedistinction of Number, though Number was certainly the most stable nominalcategory in all the periods. In the 14th c. pl forms were sometimes contrastedto 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 andparticularly 14th c. there appeared a new pl ending -s. The use of-s isattributed either to the influence of French adjectives, which take -s in thepi 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 formsdistinguished by a single vocalic ending -e.











This paradigm can be postulated only for monosyllabic adjectives endingin a consonant, such as ME bad, good. long. Adjectives ending in vowelsand polysyllabic adjectives took no endings and could not show the differencebetween sg and pl forms or strong and weak forms: ME able, swete, bisy,thredbare and the like were uninflected. Nevertheless certain distinctionsbetween weak and strong forms, and also between sg and pl are found in theworks of careful 14th c. writers like Chaucer and Gower. Weak forms are oftenused attributively after the possessive and demonstrative pronouns and afterthe definite article. Thus Chaucer has: this like worthy knight 'thissame worthy knight'; my deere herte 'my dear heart', which are weakforms, the strong forms in the sg having no ending. But the following examplesshow that strong and weak forms could be used indiscriminately: A treweswynkere 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 hebar ful thriftily ('A sheaf of peacock-arrows, bright and keen. Under his belthe carried very thriftily.')

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

The degrees of comparison is the only set of forms which the adjectivehas preserved through all historical periods. However, the means employed tobuild up the forms of the degrees of comparisonhave considerablyaltered.

In OE the forms of the comparative and the superlative degree, like allthe 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 aninterchange of the root-vowel; a few adjectives had suppletive forms.

In ME the degrees of comparison could be built in the same way, only thesuffixes had been weakened to -er, -est and the interchange of theroot-vowel was less common than before. Since most adjectives with the sound alternationhad parallel forms without it, the forms with an interchange soon fell intodisuse. 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, oldestmade the formal distinction essential. Other traces of the old alternations arefound 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 theOE adjective neah 'near', but have split into separate words.

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

Another curious peculiarity observed in Early NE texts is the use of theso-called «double comparatives» and «double superlatives»:By thenne Syr Trystram waxed more fressher than Syr Marhaus. ('By thattime 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 unkindestcut of all. The wide range of variation acceptable in Shakespeare's daywascondemned in the «Age of Correctness» the 18th c. Double comparativeswere banned as illogical and incorrect by the prescriptive grammars of the normalisingperiod.

It appears that in the course of history the adjective has lost all the dependentgrammatical categories but has preserved the only specifically adjectivalcategory the comparison. The adjective is the only nominal part of speech whichmakes use of the new, analytical, way of form-building.



Unlike the morphology of the noun and adjective, which has become muchsimpler in the course of history, the morphology of the verb displayed twodistinct tendencies of development: it underwent considerable simplifyingchanges, which affected the synthetic forms and became far more complicatedowing 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 belowunder these two trends.

The decay of OE inflections, which transformed the nominal system, isalso apparent in the conjugation of the verb though to a lesser extent. Manymarkers of the grammatical forms of the verb were reduced, levelled and lost inME and Early NE; the reduction, levelling and loss of endings resulted in theincreased neutralisation of formal oppositions and the growth of homonymy. MEforms of the verb are represented by numerous variants, which reflect dialectaldifferences and tendencies of potential changes. The intermixture of dialectalfeatures in the speech of London and in the literary language of theRenaissance played an important role in the Conjugation of Verbs in ME andEarly New English formation of the verb paradigm. The Early ME dialectssupplied a store of parallel variant forms, some which entered literary Englishand with certain modifications were eventually accepted as standard. Thesimplifying changes the verb morphology affected the distinction of thegrammatical categories to a varying degree.




Early NE


Early NE


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 find looke look Pl finde(n) looke(n)






Participle 1



finding looking(e)/-ende/-ind(e)/-ande looking

Past tense


Sg 1st

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


Sg founde found looked(e) looked Pl founde(n) looked(en)

Participle II

founden found looked looked

Number distinctions were not only preserved in ME but even becamemore consistent and regular; towards the end of the period, however, in the15th c. they were neutralised in most positions. In the 13th and 14th c. theending -en turned into the main, almost universal, «marker of thepl forms of the verb: it was used in both tenses of the Indicative andSubjunctive moods (the variants in -eth and -es in the PresentIndicative were used only in the Southern and Northern dialects). In mostclasses of strong verbs (except Class 6 and 7) there was an additionaldistinctive feature between the sg and pl forms in the Pasttense of theIndicative mood: the two Past tense stems had different root-vowels (see fand,fanciest, fand and founden). But both ways of indicating pi turnedout to be very unstable. The ending -en was frequently missed out in thelate 14th c. and was dropped in the 15th;the Past tense stems of thestrong verbs merged into one form (e. g. found, wrote). All numberdistinctions 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 distinctionsin the 2nd p. existed as long as thou. the pronoun of the 2nd p. sg wasused. For the verb to he which has retained number distinction in bothtenses of the Indic. mood) Cf. the forms of the verb with the subject in the piin 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 firstrecorded in the Northern dialects. It is believed that -s was borrowedfrom the pl forms which commonly ended in -es in the North; it spread tothe sg and began to be used as a variant in the 2nd and 3rd p., but later wasrestricted 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') Mylife… sinks down to death. (Sh) but also: But beauty's waste hathin 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 18thc.: the choice between them being determined by the rhymes: But my late springno 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 thanin official and literary texts, but by the end of the century it was thedominant inflection of the 3rd p. sg in all forms of speech. (The phoneticdevelopment of the verb ending -(e)s since the ME period is similar tothe development of -(e)s as a noun ending. The use of—eth was stylisticallyrestricted to high poetry and religious texts. The ending -(e)sl of the2nd p. sg became obsolete together with the pronoun thou. Thereplacement of thou by you/ye eliminated the distinction ofperson in the verb paradigm with the exception of the 3rd p. of the Presenttense.

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

The Indicative and Subjunctive moods could no longer be distinguished inthe pl, when -en became the dominant flection of the Indicative pl inthe 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 thedifference between the moods in the sg could be shown by means of a root-vowelinterchange, for the Subjunctive mood was derived from the third principal formof the verb Past pl. while the sg forms of the Indicative mood were derivedfrom the second principal form Past sg. When, in the 15th c. the two Past tensestems of the strong verbs merged, all the forms of the moods in the Past tensefell together with the exception of the verb to be, which retained adistinct form of the Subjunctive in the Past sg. were as opposed to was.

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

The distinction of tenses was preserved in the verb paradigmthrough all historical periods. As before, the Past tense was shown with thehelp of the dental suffix in the weak verbs, and with the help of theroot-vowel interchange in the strong verbs (after the loss of the endings thefunctional load of the vowel interchange grew, cf. OE cuman cuom comon,differing in the root-vowels and endings, and NE come came). The onlyexception 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 twoParticiples. Their nominal features were more pronounced than their verbalfeatures, 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 definedas gradual loss of most nominal features (except syntactical functions) andgrowth of verbal features. The simplifying changes in the verb paradigm, andthe 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 theParticiples.

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

In ME the Present Participle and the verbal noun became identical: theyboth 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 articlebefore the -ing-form functioning as a noun transformed the verbal nouninto a Gerund in the modern understanding of the term. The disappearance of theinflected infinitive contributed to the change, as some of its functions weretaken over by the Gerund.

The earliest instances of a verbal noun resembling a Gerund date from the12th c. Chaucer uses the -ing-form in substantival functions in bothways: 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 yourriches and using them'. In Early NE the -ing-form in the function of anoun is commonly used with an adverbial modifier and with a direct object — incase of transitive verbs, e.g.: Tis pity… That wishing well had not abody in't Which might be felt. (Sh) Drink, being poured out of a cup into aglass, 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 tobe modified by a possessive pronoun or a noun in the Gen. case: And why shouldwe proclaim it in an hour before his' entering?

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

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

Strong Verbs

The seven classes of OE strong verbs underwent multiple grammatical andphonetic changes. In ME the final syllables of the stems, like all finalsyllables, were weakened, in Early NE most of them were lost. Thus the OEendings -an, -on, and -en (of the 1st, 3rd and 4th principalforms) were all reduced to ME -en, consequently in Classes 6 and 7,where the infinitive and the participle had the same gradation vowel, theseforms fell together; in Classes 1 and 3a it led to the coincidence of the 3rdand 4th principal forms. In the ensuing period, the final -n was lost inthe infinitive and the past tense plural, but was sometimes preserved inParticiple II. probably to distinguish the participle from other forms. Thus,despite phonetic reduction, -n was sometimes retained to show anessential 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 classesof strong verbs underwent the regular changes of stressed vowels.

Due to phonetic changes vowel gradation in Early ME was considerablymodified. Lengthening of vowels before some consonant sequences split the verbsof Class 3 into two subgroups: verbs like findan had now longroot-vowels in all the forms; while in verbs like drinken the root-vowelremained short. Thus ME writen and finden (Classes 1 and 3) hadthe same vowel in the infinitive but different vowels in the Past andParticiple 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 Participlewith Class 1 the vowel remained short. These phonetic changes made theinterchange less consistent and justified than before, for instance, verbs withlong [i:] in the first stem (writen, finden) would, for no apparentreason, use different interchanges to form the other stems. At the same timethere was a strong tendency to make the system of forms more regular. Thestrong verbs were easily influenced by analogy. It was due to analogy that theylost practically all consonant interchanges in ME and Early NE. The interchange[z~r] in was were was retained. Classes which had many similar formswere often confused: OE sprecan Class 5 began to build the PastParticiple spoken, like verbs of Class 4 (also NE weave and tread).

The most important change in the system of strong verbs was the reductionin the number of stems from four to three, by removing the distinction betweenthe two past tense stems. In OE these stems had the same gradation vowels onlyin Classes 6 and 7, but we should recall that the vast majority of Englishverbs which were weak had a single stem for all the past forms. Thesecircumstances facilitated analogical leveling, which occurred largely in LateME. 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 thatof the Past pi; in the South and in the Midlands the distinction between thestems was preserved longer than in the North In the South and South-West thevowel of the Past sg was often replaced by that of the Past pt or of the PastParticiple, especially if the 3rd and 4th sterns had the same root-vowel. Someclasses of verbs showed preference for one or another of these ways.

Different directions of leveling can be exemplified by forms which werestandardised in literary English: wrote, rose, rode are Past sg forms byorigin (Class 1); bound, found are Past pl (Class 3a), spoke, got,bore (Classes 5, 4) took their root-vowel from Participle II. Since the15th c a single stem was used as a base for all the forms of the Past Tense ofthe Indicative and Subjunctive Moods. 479. The tendency to reduce the number ofstems continued in Early NE. At this stage it affected the distinction betweenthe new Past tense stem and Participle II. Identical forms of these stems arefound not only in the literary texts and private letters but even M books onEnglish grammar: thus B.Jonson (1640) recommends beat and broke ascorrect forms of Participle II; Shakespeare uses sang and spokeboth as Past tense forms and Participle II.

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

Weak verbs

Some weak verbs preserved the root-vowel interchange, though some of thevowels 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 ofquantitative vowel changes. In verbs like OE cepan, fedan, metan thelong vowel in the root was shortened before two consonants in the Past andParticiple II; OE cepte > ME kepte ['kepte]. The long vowel inthe Present tense stem was preserved and was altered during the Great VowelShift, hence the interchange [i: > e], NE keep — kept, feed—fed. Thisgroup of verbs attracted several verbs from other classes — NE sleep, weep,read, which formerly belonged to Class 7 of strong verbs. Some verbs ofthis 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. Whenthe 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 thedental suffix. (Wherever possible the distinctions were preserved or evenintroduced: 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 Eis not large about 200 items they constitute an important feature of thelanguage. Most of them belong to the basic layer of the vocabulary, have a highfrequency of occurrence and are widely used in word-formation andphraseological units. Their significance for the grammatical system lies in thefact that many of these verbs have preserved the distinction between threeprincipal forms, which makes modern grammarians recognise three stems in allEnglish verbs despite the formal identity of the Past and Participle II.

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

Hang be the heavens with black, yield day to night! (Sh) Formswith the initial b- were also retained or built in ME as the forms ofverbals: ME being/ beande Part.I, ben, y-ben the newlyformed 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 madeit possible to preserve some of the grammatical distinctions which werepractically lost in other verbs, namely the distinction of number, person andmood.

New Grammatical Forms and Categories of the Verb

The evolution of the verb system in the course of history was notconfined to the simplification of the conjugation and to growing regularity inbuilding the forms of the verb. In ME and NE the verb paradigm expanded, owingto the addition of new grammatical forms and to the formation of newgrammatical categories. The extent of these changes can be seen from a simplecomparison of the number of categories and categorial forms in Early OE withtheir number today. Leaving out of consideration Number and Person ascategories of concord with the Subject we can say that OE finite verbs had twoverbal grammatical categories proper: Mood and Tense. According to Mod Egrammars the finite verb has five categories Mood, Tense, Aspect,Time-Correlation and Voice. All the new forms which have been included in theverb paradigm are analytical forms; all the synthetic forms are directdescendants of OE forms, for no new synthetic categorial forms have developedsince 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 ofcompound forms from free verb phrases was a long and complicated process whichextended over many hundred years and included several kinds of changes.

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

The development of these properties is known as the process of«grammatisation». Some verb phrases have been completely grammatisede.g. the Perfect forms. Some of them have not been fully grammatised to thisday and are not regarded as ideal analytical forms in modern grammars (forinstance, the Future tense).

In order to become a member of a grammatical category and a part of theverb paradigm the new form had to acquire another important quality: a specificmeaning of its own which would be contrasted to the meaning of its oppositemember within the grammatical category (in the same way as e. g. Past isopposed to Pres. or pl is opposed to sg). It was only at the later stages ofdevelopment that such semantic oppositions were formed. Originally the verbphrases and the new compound forms were used as synonyms (or «nearsynonyms») of the old synthetic forms; gradually the semantic differencesbetween the forms grew: the new forms acquired a specific meaning while theapplication of the old forms was narrowed. It was also essential that the newanalytical forms should be used unrestrictedly in different varieties of thelanguage and should embrace verbs of different lexical meanings.

The establishment of an analytical form in the verb system is confirmedby the spread of its formal pattern in the verb paradigm. Compound forms didnot spring up simultaneously in all the parts of the verb system: an analyticalform appeared in some part of the system and from there its pattern extended toother parts. Thus the perfect forms first arose in the Past and Pres. tense ofthe Ind. Mood in the Active Voice and from there spread to the Subj. Mood, thePassive Voice, the non-finite verb.

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

The Future Tense

In the OE language there was no form of the Future tense. The category ofTense consisted of two members: Past and Present. The Pres. tense couldindicate both present and future actions, depending on the context. Alongsidethis form there existed other ways of presenting future happenings: modalphrases, consisting of the verbs sculan, willan, magan, cunnan andothers (NE shall, will, may, can) and the Infinitive of the notionalverb. In these phrases the meaning of futurity was combined with strong modalmeanings 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 meansof 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 anaction to the future.) Shall could retain its modal meaning ofnecessity, but often weakened it to such an extent that the phrase denoted«pure» futurity. (The meaning of futurity is often combined with thatof modality, as a future action is a planned, potential action, which has notyet taken place.) One of the early instances of shall with a weakenedmodal meaning is found in the Early ME poem Ormilum (1200); the phraseis also interesting as it contains willen as a notional verb: And whase wile/inshall þiss boc efft oþerrsipe written.

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

Future happenings were also commonly expressed by ME willen withan Int., but the meaning of volition in will must have been more obviousthan the modal meaning of shall: A tale wol I telle ('I intend totell 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 thiscourse) 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 ofthe doer. Instances of will with a weakened modal meaning are rare: Butnatheless she ferde as she wolde deye. (Chaucer) ('But nevertheless shefeared that she would die.') It has been noticed that the verb will wasmore frequent in popular ballads and in colloquial speech, which testifies tocertain 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; theycan express «pure» futurity and add different shades of modalmeanings. Phrases with shall and will outnumbered all the otherways of indicating futurity, cf. their meanings in the following passages fromShakespeare's sonnets:

Then hate me when thou wilt (desire) When forty winters shallbesiege thy brow. And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field. Thyyouth's proud livery, so gaz'd on now. Will be a tatter'd weed, of smallworth held. («pure» future) That thou art blam'd — shallnot 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 tracedto 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 beattributed to the requirements of the rhythm: the use of do enabled theauthor to have an extra syllable in the line, if needed, without affecting themeaning of the sentence. Then it spread to all kinds of texts.

In the 16th and 17th c. the periphrasis with do was used in alltypes of sentences — negative, affirmative and interrogative; it freelyinterchanged with the simple forms, without do. We do not knowHow he may soften at the sight o'the child...Who told me that the poursoul did forsake The mighty Warwick, and did fight for me? Butwhat we doe determine oft we break...

Negative statements and questions without do are illustrated by Heardyou all this? I know not why, nor wherefo to say live, boy… Andwherefore say not I that I am old?

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

The growth of new negative and interrogative forms with do can beaccounted for by syntactic conditions. By that time the word order in thesentence had become fixed: the predicate of the sentence normally followed thesubject. 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 itsposition after the subject. This order of words was already well established innumerous sentences with analytical forms and modal phrases. Cf: Do you pityhim? No, he deserves no pity...Wilt thou not love such a woman?And must they all be hanged that swear and lie? Likewise, theplace of the negative particle not in negative sentences with modalphrases and analytical forms set up a pattern for the similar use of notwith the do-periphrasis. Cf: will not let him stir and If'1 do notwonder how thou darest venture. The form with do conformed with the newpattern of the sentence much better than the old simple form (though sentenceswith not in postposition to the verb are still common in Shakespeare: knownot which is which).

In the 18th c. the periphrasis with do as an equivalent of the simpleform in affirmative statements fell into disuse (its employment in affirmativesentences 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 ofsome traces of the Germanic Mediopassive restricted to the verb hatan'call', there was no regular opposition of forms in the verb paradigm to showthe relation of the action to the grammatical subject. Only in the system ofverbals the participles of transitive verbs, Pres. and Past were contrasted ashaving an active and a passive meaning. The analytical passive forms developedfrom 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 byPart. II to denote a state resulting from a previous action, while theconstruction with OE weorþan 'become' indicated the transitioninto the state expressed by the participle. Werthen was still fairlycommon 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 developedfrom notional verbs (ME becomen, geten, semen, NE become, get, seem);no instances of werthen are found in Chaucer. The participle, whichserved as predicative to these verbs, in OE agreed with the subject in numberand gender, although the concord with participles was less strict than withadjectives. The last instances of this agreement are found in Early ME: fewebeoþ icorene (13th c.) 'few were chosen'.

In ME ben plus Past Part, developed into an analytical form. Nowit could express not only a state but also an action. The formal pattern of thePass. Voice extended to many parts of the verb paradigm: it is found in theFuture tense, in the Pert. forms, in the Subj. Mood and in the non-finite formsof the verb, e.g. Chaucer has: the conseil that was accorded by youreneighebores ('The advice that was given by your neighbours') But certes,wikkidnesse shal be warisshed by goodnesse. ('But, certainly, wickednessshall be cured by goodness.') With many a tempest hadde his berde beenshake. ('His beard had been shaken with many tempests.') Traces of Mediopassivein 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 regularmeans of indicating the doer of the action or the instrument with the help ofwhich it was performed. Out of a variety of prepositions employed in OEfrom, mid, wiþ, bi two were selected and generalised: by and with.Thus in ME the Pass. forms were regularly contrasted to the active formsthroughout the paradigm, both formally and semantically. Therefore we can saythat the verb had acquired a new grammatical category the category of Voice.

In Early NE the Pass. Voice continued to grow and to extend itsapplication. Late ME saw the appearance of new types of passive constructions.In addition to passive constructions with the subject corresponding to thedirect object of the respective active construction, i.e. built from transitiveverbs, there arose passive constructions whose subject corresponded to othertypes of objects: indirect and prepositional. Pass. forms began to be builtfrom intransitive verbs associated with different kinds of objects, e.g. indirectobjects: The angel ys tolde the wordes. (Higden) ('The angel is told thewords.') 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 laughedat than his iestes were. (Caxton) 'tis so concluded on; We'll bewaited on (Sh).

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


Perfect Forms

Like other analytical forms of the verb, the Perf. forms have developedfrom 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 attributeto the object, e.g.: Hæfde se goda cempan gecorene(Beowulf) ('had that brave (man) warriors chosen'.) The meaning of theconstruction was: a person (the subject) possessed a thing (object), which wascharacterised 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 withparticiples of transitive verbs; then it came to be used with verbs takinggenitival, datival and prepositional objects and even with intransitive verbs,which shows that it was developing into a kind of auxiliary, e.g.: for sefennwinnterr haffde he ben in Egypte (Ormulum) ('For seven winters hehad been in Egypt')

The other source of the Perf. forms was the OE phrase consisting of thelink-verb bēon and Part. II of intransitive verbs: nu is se dægcumen (Beowulf) ('Now the day has («is») come') hwænnemine dagas agane beoþ (Ælfric)… ('When my days are gone(when I die)'.) In these phrases the participle usually agreed with thesubject.

Towards ME the two verb phrases turned into analytical forms and made upa single set of forms termed «perfect». The Participles had losttheir forms of agreement with the noun (the subject in the constructionwith ben, the object in the construction with haven); the placesof the object and the participle in the construction with haven changed:the Participle usually stood close to the verb have and was followed bythe object which referred now to the analytical form as a whole – instead ofbeing governed by have. Cf. the OE possessive construction quoted abovewith ME examples:

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

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

He isnot yet arriv'd… On a modern pace I have since arrivedbut hither.

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

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

O fy! forshame! 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 formsin the Pass. Voice, Pert. forms of the Subj. Mood, Future Perf. forms arecommon in Shakespeare: if she had been blessed....

Continuous Forms

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

Verb phrasesconsisting of beon (NE be) plus Part. I are not infrequently found in OEprose. They denoted a quality, or a lasting state, characterising the person orthing indicated by the subject of the sentence, e.g. seo… is irnende þurhmiddewearde Babylonia burg «that (river) runs through the middle ofBabylon»; ealle þa woruld on hiora agen gewill onwendende wæronneah C wintra «they all were destroying the world (or: were destroyers ofthe world) at their own will for nearly 100 years».

In Early ME benplus 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 toother dialects and its frequency grew again, e.g.

Syngynge he was or floytyngeal the day. (Chaucer) ('He was singing or playing the flute all day long.') Theflod is into the greet see rennende. (Gower) ('The river runsinto the great sea.')

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

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

('We hold to the Christian faith andbelieve (lit. «are believing») in Jesus Christ.')

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

She wystnot… whether she was a-wakyng or a-slepe. (Caxton) ('She did not knowwhether she was awake (was on waking) or asleep.') A Knyght… had been onhuntynge. (Malory) ('A knight had been hunting (lit. «onhunting»).'

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

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

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

Enter Hamletreading… Po1onius. What do you read, my lord?

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

By that timethe 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 bothfrom non-terminative verbs, as in OE, and from terminative verbs. They had extendedto many parts of the verb system, being combined with other forms. Thus theFuture 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 manyhundred years the Cont. forms were not used in the Pass. Voice. In Late ME theActive Voice of the Cont. form was sometimes used with a passive meaning:

My mighte andmy mayne es all marrande. (York plays) ('My might and my powerare all being destroyed.') (lit. «is destroying»).

The Activeform 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 letterof the 18th c.:… a fellow whose uppermost upper grinder is being tornout by the roots...

The new Pass. form aroused theprotest of many scholars. Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, called it a«vicious» expression and recommended the active form as a better wayof expressing the passive meaning. He thought that phrases like the book isnow printing; the brass is forging had developed from the book isa-printing; the brass is a-forging; which meant 'is in the processof forging', and therefore possessed the meaning of the Pass. Even in the late19th c. it was claimed that the house is being built was a clumsyconstruction which should be replaced by the house is building. But inspite of all these protests the Pass. Voice of the Cont. aspect continued to beused and eventually was recognised as correct.

The growth ofthe Cont. forms in the last two centuries is evidenced not only by its spreadin 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. Inthe 19th and 20th c. the Cont. forms occur with verbs of diverse lexicalmeaning.

The unevendevelopment of the Cont. forms, their temporary regress and recent progress, aswell as multiple dialectal and lexical restrictions gave rise to numeroushypotheses about their origin and growth.

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

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

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