Wikipǣdia:Old English Grammar

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Purpose[adiht fruman]

This page is to provide a reference grammar for users of this wiki, so they can provide readers with high quality Old English text.

Cases[adiht fruman]

  1. Nominative
  • Case of the subject of the sentence. Also the case of the copula (noun after be, become)
    • John is here. John is nominative.
    • John is a king. John and king are both nominative.
  1. Genitive
  • Case of ownership. The King's house - the king's is in the genitive. The house of the man - of the man is in the genitive
  • Note that of is a dative preposition in Old English, and does not indicate possession.
  1. Dative
  • Case of giving to/doing for; the Indirect Object
    • I give him the wheel. Him is in the dative case.
    • I give a car to Mark. To Mark is in the dative case.
  1. Instrumental
  • Case indicating means, instrument
    • I hit him with the hammer. With the hammer is instrumental
  1. Accusative
  • Case indicating direct object.
    • I see John. John is the direct object, in the accusative case.
    • I have the ring. The ring is in the accusative case.

Nouns[adiht fruman]

Nouns are words indicating a person, place, animal, or thing. They have a grammatical gender, which merely indicates how the noun is declined.

Masculine Nouns[adiht fruman]

Masculine nouns take se, and often indicate masculine beings.

the/that
Case Article/Ending Mod.E. Article/Ending Mod.E.
Nominative se - the - þā -as the -s
Genitive þæs -es of the -, the -'s þāra -a of the -s, the -s'
Dative þǣm -e to/for the - þǣm -um to/for the -s
Instrumental þȳ -e by means of the - þǣm -um by means of the -s
Accusative þone - the - þā -as the -s

These endings cover about 64% of all masculine nouns.

Masculine nouns ending in -a[adiht fruman]

Typically called "weak" nouns, these masculine nouns simply add -n to form other cases.

the/that
Case Article/Ending Mod.E. Article/Ending Mod.E.
Nominative se - the - þā -an the -s
Genitive þæs -an of the -, the -'s þāra -ena of the -s, the -s'
Dative þǣm -an to/for the - þǣm -um to/for the -s
Instrumental þȳ, þon -an by means of the - þǣm -um by means of the -s
Accusative þone -an the - þā -an the -s

Masculine Noun Suffixes[adiht fruman]

Hād[adiht fruman]

Masculine nouns with the suffix hād added to them.

the/that
Case Article/Ending Mod.E. Article/Ending Mod.E.
Nominative se -hād the - þā -hāda the -s
Genitive þæs -hāda of the -, the -'s þāra -hāda of the -s, the -s'
Dative þǣm -hāda to/for the - þǣm -hādum to/for the -s
Instrumental þȳ, þon -hāda by means of the - þǣm -hādum by means of the -s
Accusative þone -hād the - þā -hāda the -s

Neuter Nouns[adiht fruman]

Neuter nouns include those nouns which take þæt as an article. That is the main difference between neuter and masculine nouns, besides having either no plural inflection, or u.

the/that
Case Article/Ending Mod.E. Article/Ending Mod.E.
Nominative þæt - the - þā -/-u the -s
Genitive þæs -es of the -, the -'s þāra -a of the -s, the -s'
Dative þǣm -e to/for the - þǣm -um to/for the -s
Instrumental þȳ -e by means of the - þǣm -um by means of the -s
Accusative þæt - the - þā -/-u the -s

Feminine Nouns[adiht fruman]

Feminine nouns typically describe feminine beings, and those things which take sēo as an article.

the/that
Case Article/Ending Mod.E. Article/Ending Mod.E.
Nominative sēo - the - þā -a the -s
Genitive þǣre -e of the -, the -'s þāra -a of the -s, the -s'
Dative þǣre -e to/for the - þǣm -um to/for the -s
Instrumental þǣre -e by means of the - þǣm -um by means of the -s
Accusative þā -e the - þā -a the -s

Feminine Nouns ending in -e[adiht fruman]

Feminine Noun suffixes[adiht fruman]

Feminine Nouns ending in -ung[adiht fruman]

Have the same endings as regular feminine nouns.

Articles[adiht fruman]

Determiners[adiht fruman]

Old English had two main determiners: se, which could function as both 'the' or 'that', and þes for 'this'.

the/that
Case Mod.E. Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative the se þæt sēo þā
Genitive of the þæs þæs þǣre þāra
Dative to/for the þǣm þǣm þǣre þǣm
Instrumental by means of the þȳ, þon þȳ, þon þǣre þǣm
Accusative the þone þæt þā þā

Modern English 'that' descends from the neuter nominative/accusative form, and 'the' from the plural nominative/accusative form. The feminine nominative form was probably the source of Modern English 'she.'

this
Case Mod.E. Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative this þes þis þēos þās
Genitive this x's of this þisses þisses þisse, þisre þissa, þisra
Dative to/for this þissum þissum þisse, þisre þissum
Instrumental by means of this þȳs þȳs
Accusative this þisne þis þās þās

Pronouns[adiht fruman]

First Person
Case Mod.E. Singular Mod.E. Dual Mod.E. Plural
Nominative I ic we two wit we
Genitive my, mine, of me mīn of us two uncer our, of us ūser
Dative to/for me to/for us two unc to/for us ūs
Accusative me mec us two uncit us ūsic
Second Person
Case Mod.E. Singular Mod.E. Dual Mod.E. Plural
Nominative thou þu you two git ye
Genitive thy, thine, of thee þīn your two, of you two incer your, of you ēower
Dative to/for thee þē to/for you two inc to/for you ēow
Accusative thee þec you two incit you ēowic
Third Person
Case Mod.E. Masc.S. Mod.E. Neut.S. Mod.E. Fem.S. Mod.E. Plural
Nominative he it hit she hēo they hīe
Genitive his, of his his its, of it his her, of her hire their, of them hira
Dative to/for him him to/for it him to/for her hire to/for them him
Accusative him hine it hit her hīe them hīe

Declensions of Genitive Pronouns[adiht fruman]

The genitives mīn, þīn, sīn, ūser, ēower, uncer, and incer decline like strong adjectives, showing the case and gender corresponding to that of the noun which they describe. The genitives his, hire, and hira do not inflect in any way to show case and gender. So, you will see:

Possessive Declension
Case Masculine S. Neuter S. Feminine S. Masculine P. Neuter P. Feminine P.
Nominative mīn mīn mīn mīne mīn mīna
Genitive mīnes mīnes mīnre mīnra mīnra mīnra
Dative mīnum mīnum mīnre mīnum mīnum mīnum
Instrumental mīne mīne mīnre mīnum mīnum mīnum
Accusative mīnne mīn mīne mīne mīn mīna

So to are þīn and sīn declined. Notice, the masculine, feminine, and neuter have no ending in the nominative (subject) case, and the masculine/neuter share the same genitive/dative forms in the singular. In the plural, the nominative/accusative are the same for masculine, feminine, and neuter.

After the words, mīn, þīn, sīn, ūser, ēower, uncer, incer, his, hire, and hira you will have weak adjective declensions. So, mīn gōda cyning, and not mīn gōd cyning.

Question Words[adiht fruman]

  1. Who, what
    1. This agrees with the gender of the noun to which it refers, whether masculine/feminine, or neuter. Since there's only singular, that serves for the plural as well.
who/what
Case Mod.E. Masc/Fem Mod.E. Neuter
Nominative who? hwā what? hwæt
Genitive whose?, of whom? hwæs whose?, of what? hwæs
Dative to/for whom hwǣm to/for what? hwǣm
Instrumental by means of whom hwȳ, hwon by means of what? hwȳ, hwon
Accusative whom? hwone what? hwæt
  1. Which of two?
which of two?
Case Masculine S. Neuter S. Feminine S. Masculine P. Neuter P. Feminine P.
Nominative hwæðer hwæðer hwæðer hwæðre hwæðer hwæðra
Genitive hwæðres hwæðres hwæðerre hwæðerra hwæðerra hwæðerra
Dative hwæðrum hwæðrum hwæðerre hwæðrum hwæðrum hwæðrum
Instrumental hwæðere hwæðere hwæðerre hwæðrum hwæðrum hwæðrum
Accusative hwæðerne hwæðer hwæðre hwæðre hwæðer hwæðra
  1. Which of many?
which of many?
Case Masculine S. Neuter S. Feminine S. Masculine P. Neuter P. Feminine P.
Nominative hwilc hwilc hwilc hwilce hwilc hwilca
Genitive hwilces hwilces hwilcre hwilcra hwilcra hwilcra
Dative hwilcum hwilcum hwilcre hwilcum hwilcum hwilcum
Instrumental hwilce hwilce hwilcre hwilcum hwilcum hwilcum
Accusative hwilcne hwilc hwilce hwilce hwilc hwilca
  1. Where?
    1. To where?
    2. From where?

Adjectives[adiht fruman]

Verbs[adiht fruman]

Inflections[adiht fruman]

Active/Passive[adiht fruman]

The only surviving passive form in Old English is the verb hātte - am called. Otherwise, it was formed in one of three ways:

  1. Using the pronoun man (one, someone, they, people) as the subject
  2. Using weorðan - become for activities and changes of state
  3. Using bēon/wesan - be for the resultant states

Prepositions[adiht fruman]

Adverbs[adiht fruman]

Syntax[adiht fruman]

Until I can organize it further, this will be a general syntax section.

Verb/Noun Agreement[adiht fruman]

  • Verbs with a decade as the subject tend to be singular.
    • Example: Fīftig wæs ofslagen - fifty were slain.
    • Example: In Egyptum wearþ on ānre nihte fīftig manna ofslagen - In Egypt, fifty men were slain in one night. (The verb is singular in OE, but plural in Modern English)

Use of Se/Þes[adiht fruman]

  • The word se (the/that) was used differently than in modern English
    • Example: Hēr Cynewulf benam Sigebryht his rīces...and se Cynewulf oft miclum gefeohtum feaht wiþ Bretwalum - In this year Cynewulf deposed Sigebriht...and this Cynewulf often waged mighty battles against the Welsh.

Uses of the Subjunctive[adiht fruman]

  • In negative because clauses, the verb is subjunctive. (But in positive ones, it's still indicative)
  • Example: ac þæs wundrodon menn, nā for þȳ þæt hīe māre wundor wǣre, ac for þȳ þæt hit wæs ungewunelic - but people wondered about that, not because it was a greater mystery, but because it was unaccustomed.
  • In this sentence, the first because-clause is subjunctive because the proposition is denied, but the second is indicative because it was the real reason for the wonderment.

Special Phrases[adiht fruman]

  • to consist of - bēon/onstandan on w.d.; þæt biþ on dēora fellum - that consists of animals' fur.

Use of Passive[adiht fruman]

  • Don't. That's a little easy, but in OE, they used the pronoun man (not the noun mann with 2 n's) and the regular verb.
    • Man seah þone catt - one saw the cat, or the cat was seen.
  • You can also use biþ+past participle and fram+person or þurh+concept to form the passive, but this is less used as a passive and more as a statement of what is.
    • Se catt biþ gesewen - the cat is seen
    • Se catt biþ fram þǣm cilde gesewen - the cat is seen by the child (a person, or animal)
    • Hē wæs þurh cealdnesse gecweald - he was killed by coldness. (a concept, or inanimate thing)
  • NEVER use be as the passive preposition. That's modern English, not Old English. OE used either fram or þurh.
  • The passive mood is found in Old English texts, using wesan or weorþan: 'nu is seo boc swiþe nearolice gesett' or 'hie wurdon þa gebrohte to þæm biscope'. Sweet suggests that writers use wesan for a state and weorðan for an action.