Архитектура Аудит Военная наука Иностранные языки Медицина Металлургия Метрология
Образование Политология Производство Психология Стандартизация Технологии

Morphological Classification of Nouns. Declensions

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

§ 159. In the first place, the morphological classification of OE nouns rested upon the most ancient (IE) grouping of nouns according to the stem-suffixes (see § 66, 67). Stem-suffixes could consist of vowels (vocalic stems, e. g. a-stems, i-stems), of consonants (consonantal stems, e. g. n-stems), of sound sequences, e. g. -ja-stems, -nd-stems. Some groups of nouns had no stem-forming suffix or had a " zero-suffix"; they are usually termed " root-stems" and are grouped together with conso­nantal stems, as their roots ended in consonants, e. g. OE man, bō c (NE man, book).

The loss of stem-suffixes as distinct component parts had led to the formation of different sets of grammatical endings (see § 67). The merg­ing of the stem-suffix with the original grammatical ending and their phonetic weakening could result in the survival of the former stem-suf­fix in a new function, as a grammatical ending; thus n-stems had many forms ending in -an (from the earlier -*eni, -*enaz, etc.); u-stems had the inflection -u in some forms.

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

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

OE widuwa, Masc. (‘widower’) — OE widowe. Fem. (NE widow);

OE spinnere, Masc. (NE spinner)— OE spinnestre, Fem. (‘female spinner’; note NE spinster with a shift of meaning) and nouns like OE wif, Neut. (NE wife), OE mæ ʒ den Neut. (NE maiden, maid), OE wlfman, Masc. (NE woman, originally a compound word whose second component -man was Masc).

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

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

§ 161. Other reasons accounting for the division into declensions were structural and phonetic: monosyllabic nouns had certain peculiar­ities as compared to polysyllabic; monosyllables with a long root-syl­lable (that is, containing a long vowel plus a consonant or a short vowel plus two consonants — also called " long-stemmed" nouns) differed in some forms from nouns with a short syllable (short-stemmed nouns).

§ 162. Table 1 shows the morphological classification of OE nouns and the hierarchial application of the main features which account for this division (division of nouns into mono- and polysyllables is not in­cluded; see the descriptions of the declensions below).

The paradigms of nouns belonging to the main types of OE declen­sions are given in Tables 2, 3 and 4.

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

Table 1

Morphological Classification of Nouns In Old English

Division, according to stem

Vocalic stems Consonantal stems
Strong declension[14]      
a-stems ō -stems i-stems u-stems n-stems (weak declension) Root-stems Other minor stems: r-, s-, nd-
and their variants
ja-stems wa-stems -stems wo-stems
Division according to gender
Division according to length of the root-syllable
short long short long short long short long      

§ 163. a-stems included Masc, and Neut. nouns. About one third of OE nouns were Masc. a-stems, e. g. cniht (NE knight), hā m (NE home), mū p)(NE mouth); examples of Neut. nouns are: lim (NE limb), hū s (NE house), pinʒ (NE thing). (Disyllabic nouns, e. g. finʒ er, differed from monosyllabics in that they could drop their second vowel in the oblique cases: Nom. sg finʒ er, Gen. finʒ res, Dat. fynʒ re, NE finger.)

As seen from Table 2 the forms in the a-stem declension were dis­tinguished through grammatical endings (including the zero-ending). In some words inflections were accompanied by sound interchanges: nouns with the vowel [æ ] in the root had an interchange [æ ~ a], since in some forms the ending contained a back vowel, e. g. Nom. sg dæ ʒ, Gen. dæ ʒ es — Nom. and Gen. pl daʒ as, daʒ a (for the origin of the in­terchange see § 117). If a noun ended in a fricative consonant, it became voiced in an intervocal position, cf. Nom. sg mū p, wulf — [θ ], [f] — and Nom. pl mū pas, wulfas — [ð ], [v] (see § 139). (Note that their modern descendants have retained the interchange: NE mouth — mouths [θ ~ ð ], wolf — wolves, also house houses and others.) These inter­changes were not peculiar of a-stems alone and are of no significance as grammatical markers; they are easily accountable by phonetic reasons.

Table 2


Strong Declensions (Vocalic Stems)

  M short-stemmed N long-stemmed N ja-stems M aw-stems N
Nom. fisc Gen. fisces Dat. fisce Acc. fisc scip scipes scipe scip dē or dē ores dē ore dē or ende endes ende ende cnē o(w) cnē owes cnē owe cnē o(w)
Nom. fisces Gen. fisca Dat. fiscum Acc. fiscas (NE fish) scipu scipa scipum scipu (NE scip) dē or dē ora dē orum dē or (NE deer) endas enda endum endas (NE end) cnē o(w) cnē owa cnē owum cnē o(w) (NE knee)

Table 3

Strong Declensions (Vocalic Stems)


ō -stems short-stemmed long-stemmed F i-stems short-stemmed[16] M u-stems short-stemmed long-stemmed M
Nom. talu wund Gen. tale wunde Dat. tale wunde Acc. tale wunde mete metes mete mete sunu feld suna felda suna felda sunu felda
Nom. tala, -e wunda, -e mete, -as suna felda
Gen. tala (-ena) wunda (-ena) meta suna felda
Dat. talum wundum metum sunum feldum
Acc. tala, -e wunda, -e mete, -as suna felda
  (NE tale) (NE wound) (‘food’, NE meat) (NE son) (NE field)

Table 4

Consonantal Stems

n-stems (weak declension) root-stems
  M N F M  
Nom. nama ē are tunʒ e fō t mū s
Gen. naman ē aran tunʒ an fō tes mӯ s, mū se
Dat. naman ē aran tunʒ an fē t mӯ s
Acc. naman ē aran tunʒ an fō t mū s
Nom. naman ē aran tunʒ an fē t mӯ s
Gen. namena ē arena tunʒ ena fō ta mū sa
Dat. namum ē arum tunʒ um fō tum mū sum
Acc. naman ē aran tunʒ an fē t mӯ s
  (NE name) (NE ear) (NE tongue) (NE foot) (NE mouse)

Note should be taken of the inflections -es of the Gen. sg, -as of the Nom. and Acc. Masc. Towards the end of the OE period they began to be added to an increasing number of nouns, which originally belonged to other stems. These inflections are the prototypes and sources of the Mod E pl and Poss. case markers -(e)s and -s.

§ 164. Neut. a-stems differed from Masc, in the pl of the Nom. and Acc. cases. Instead of -as they took -u for short stems (that is nouns with a short root-syllable) and did not add any inflection in the long-stemmed variant — see Nom. and Acc. pl of scip and dē or in the table. Consequent­ly, long-stemmed Neuters had homonymous sg and pl forms: dē or — dē or, likewise scē ap — scē ap, pinʒ — pinʒ, hū s — hū s. This peculiarity of Neut. a-stems goes back to some phonetic changes (see § 132) in final unaccented syllables which have given rise to an important grammati­cal feature: an instance of regular homonymy or neutralisation of num­ber distinctions in the noun paradigm. (Traces of this group of a-stems have survived as irregular pl forms in Mod E: sheep, deer, mine.)

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

§ 166. ō -stems were all Fem., so there was no further subdivision according to gender. The variants with -j- and -w- decline like pure ō -stems except that -w- appears before some endings, e. g. Nom. sg sceadu, the other cases — sceadwe (NE shadow). The difference between short and long-stemmed ō -stems is similar to that between respective a-stems: after a short syllable the ending -u is retained, after a long syllable it is dropped, cf. wund, talu in Table 3. Disyllabic ō -stems, like a-stems, lost their second vowel in some case forms: Nom. sg ceaster, the other cases ceastre (‘camp’, NE -caster, -chester — a component of place-names), Like other nouns, ō -stems could have an interchange of voiced and voiceless fricative consonants as allophones in intervocal and final position: ʒ lō f ʒ lō fe [f ~ v] (NE glove).Among the forms of ō -stems there occurred some variant forms with weakened endings or with end­ings borrowed from the weak declension — with the element -n- wundena alongside wunda. Variation increased towards the end of the OE period.

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

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

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

§ 169. The other consonantal declensions are called minor conso­nantal stems as they included small groups of nouns. The most impor­tant type are the root-stems, which had never had any stem-forming suffix. In Early OE the root-vowel in some forms was subjected to pho­netic changes: if the grammatical ending contained the sound [i], the vowel was narrowed and/or fronted by palatal mutation (see § 125 ff). After the ending was dropped the mutated vowel turned out to be the only marker of the form. Cf. the reconstructed forms of Dat. sg and Nom., Acc. pl of fō t (NE foot): *fē ti, *fē tiz (from earlier *fō ti, *fō tiz)and their descendants in OE — fē t, fē t. The interchange of root-vowels had turned into a regular means of form-building used similarly with inflections (see the forms of fō t and mū s inTable 4). This peculiarity of the root-stems is of considerable consequence for later history and has left traces in Mod E. (Irregular pl forms — men, women, teeth and the like come from the OE root-stem declension.)

§ 170. Among the other consonantal stems we should mention a small group of nouns denoting family relationship with the stem-suffix -r, e.g. brō por, fæ der, mō dor (NE brother, father, mother). They commonly had a mutated vowel in the Dat. sg: brē per, lost the second vowel in some forms like other disyllabic nouns: brō prum, mō ā ra and employed some endings adopted from other stems, e.g. fæ deras — Nom., Acc. pl (cf. -as in a-stems).

§ 171. Another small group of nouns is known as s-stems, though in OE, as well as in other West and North G languages this [s] had long changed into [r]. Only a Few Neut. nouns remained in that group in OE, e. g. lamb, cealf, cild (NE lamb, calf, child). In the sg they were declined like Neut. a-stems, but in the pl had a specific inflection, not to be found outside that group; their stem-suffix -s, transformed into -r, had survived as part of the inflection: Nom. pl lambru. Gen. lambra, Dat. lambrum, Acc. lambru. ([r] in the pl form of children in Mod E is a trace of the stem-suffix -r).

§ 172. It may be concluded that for all its complicated arrangement the system of noun declensions lacked consistency and precision. There were many polyfunctional and homonymous markers in the paradigms. The distinction between morphological classes was not strict. Some forms were alike in all the declensions (namely, -a and -um for the Gen. and Dat. pl), many forms acquired new analogical variants under the influence of the more numerous classes or variants with phonetically weakened endings, which eliminated the differences between the declensions and between the forms within the paradigm. Towards the end of the OE period formal variation grew and the system tended to be re-arranged according to gender on the basis of the most influential types: a-stems, n-stems and ō -stems.

The distinction of forms in the paradigms was inconsistent. None of the declen­sions made a distinction between eight forms — for two numbers and four cases; some declensions distinguished between five forms, others — between three or even two. Nom. and Acc. pl had the same form in all the declensions. In the sg there were two main ways of case differentiation: one common form for the Nom. and the Acc. and two distinct forms for the Dat. and Gen.; or else — one common form for the three oblique cases, distinct from the Nom. The difference between the two numbers — sg and pl — was shown with greater precision.


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

Personal Pronouns

§ 174. As shown in Table 5 below, OE personal pronouns had three persons, three numbers in the 1st and 2nd p. (two numbers — in the 3rd) and three genders in the 3rd p. The pronouns of the 1st and 2nd p. had suppletive forms like their parallels in other IE languages (see § 62). The pronouns of the 3rd p., having originated from demonstrative pro­nouns, had many affinities with the latter (cf. the forms in Table 6).

§ 175. In OE, while nouns consistently distinguished between four cases, personal pronouns began to lose some of their case distinctions: the forms of the Dat. case of the pronouns of the 1st and 2nd p. were fre­quently used instead of the Acc; in fact the fusion of these two cases in the pl was completed in the WS dialect already in Early OE: Acc. ē owic and ū sic were replaced by Dat. ē ow, ū s; in the sg usage was variable, but variant forms revealed the same tendency to generalise the form of the Dat. for both cases. This is seen in the following quotation: Sē pe mē ʒ ehǣ lde, sē cwæ ð tō ‘He who healed me, he said to me’ — the first mē, though Dat. in form, serves as an Acc. (direct object); the sec­ond is a real Dat.

§ 176. It is important to note that the Gen. case of personal pronouns had two main applications: like other oblique cases of noun-pronouns it could be an object, but far more frequently it was used as an attribute or a noun determiner, like a possessive pronoun, e. g. sunu min, his fæ der (NE my son, his father). Though forms of the Gen. case were em­ployed as possessive pronouns, they cannot be regarded as possessive pronouns proper (that is, as a separate class of pronouns). The grammati­cal characteristics of these forms were not homogeneous. The forms of the 1st and 2nd p. — min, ū re and others — were declined like adjectives to show agreement with the nouns they modified, while the forms of the 3rd p. behaved like nouns: they remained uninflected and did not agree with the nouns they modified.


Nim pin ʒ esceot... and pinne boʒ an ‘take thy (thine) implements for shoot­ing and thy bow’ (pin and pinne show agreement with the nouns —Acc. sg, Neut. and Masc.)

He... sē alde hit hys mē der ‘he gave it to his mother’.

hē o befē old his handa ‘she covered his hands’ (his does not change its form though mider is Dat. sg, handa — Acc. pl).

Table 5

Declension of Personal Pronouns

First person
Case Singular Dual Plural
Nom. ic wit
Gen. min uncer ū re, ū ser
Dat. me unc ū s
Acc. mec, mē uncit ū sic, ū s
Second person
Nom. ʒ it ʒ ē
Gen. pin incer ē ower
Dat. inc ē ow
Acc. pē c, pē incit, inc ē owic, ē ow
Third person
Singular Plural
  M F N All genders
Nom. hē o, hio hit hie, hi, hӯ, hē o
Gen. his hire, hiere his hira, heora, hiera, hyra
Dat. him hire, hiere him him, heom
Acc. hine hie, hi, hӯ hit hie, hi, hӯ, hē o

§ 177. The oblique cases of personal pronouns in combination with the adjective self could also serve as reflexive pronouns, e. g.:

ʒ if hwā hwæ t lӯ tles ǣ niʒ es biwistes him selfum if ʒ earcode... ‘If any one provided himself with some small portion of food...’

Demonstrative Pronouns

§ 178. There were two demonstrative pronouns in OE: the proto­type of NE that, which distinguished three genders in the sg and had one form for all the genders in the pl. (see Table 6) and the prototype of this with the same subdivisions: pes Masc, pē os Fem., pis Neut. and pā s pl. They were declined like adjectives according to a five-case system: Nom., Gen., Dat., Acc, and Instr. (the latter having a special form only in the Masc. and Neut. sg).

Table 6

Declension of sē, sē o, pæ t

Case Singular Plural
  M N F All genders
Nom. sē, se pæ t sē o
Gen. pæ s pæ s pǣ re pā ra, pǣ ra
Dat. pǣ m, pā m pǣ m, pā m pǣ re pā m, pǣ m
Acc. pone pæ t
Instr. pӯ, pon pӯ, pon pǣ re pǣ m, pā m

As seen from the table, the paradigm of the demonstrative pronoun sē contained many homonymous forms. Some case endings resembled those of personal pronouns, e.g. -m — Dat. Masc. and Neut. sg and Dat. pl; the element -r- in the Dat. and Gen. sg Fem. and in the Gen. pl. These case endings, which do not occur in the noun paradigms, are often re­ferred to as " pronominal" endings (-m, -r-, -t).

§ 179. Demonstrative pronouns are of special importance for a stu­dent of OE for they were frequently used as noun determiners and through agreement with the noun, indicated its number, gender and case. The forms of the pronouns may help to define the forms of the nouns in am­biguous instances, e. g. in the phrases on pǣ m lande, tō pæ re heorde ‘on that land, to that herd’ the forms of the pronouns help to differenti­ate gender: pǣ m is Neut. or Masc. pǣ re is Fem.; both nouns are in the Dat. sg and happen to have identical endings: -e. In the following sen­tences the forms pǣ t and help to distinguish between numbers:

Uton... ʒ esē on pǣ t word (sg) ‘let us see that event’

Maniʒ e cō men to bycʒ enne pā ping (pl) ‘many came to buy those things’

(The nouns are Neut. a-stems with homonymous sg and pl forms.)

Other Classes of Pronouns

§ 180. Interrogative pronouns — hwā, Masc. and Fem., and hwæ t, Neut., — had a four-case paradigm (NE who, what). The Instr. case of hwæ t was used as a separate interrogative word hwӯ (NE why). Some interrogative pronouns were used as adjective pronouns, e. g. hwelc, hwæ per.

§ 181. Indefinite pronouns were a numerous class embracing several simple pronouns and a large number of compounds: ā n and its deriva­tive ǣ niʒ (NE me, any); nā n, made up of ā n and the negative particle ne (NE none); nā npinʒ, made up of the preceding and the noun ping (NE nothing); nā wiht/nō wiht/nō ht (‘nothing’, NE not), hwæ t-hwuʒ u ‘some­thing’ and many others.

§ 182. Pronouns of different classes — personal and demonstrative could be used in a relative function, as connectives. The demonstra­tive in its various forms and the personal pronoun hē, either alone or together with a special relative particle pe could join attributive clauses, e.g.:

Sē pe mē ʒ ehǣ lde cwæ ð to mē ‘he who healed me, he said to me’ (For more details and examples see OE syntax, §220 ff.)


Grammatical Categories

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

lӯ tle werede ‘with (the help of) a small troop’.

Weak and Strong Declension

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

The relations between the declensions of nouns, adjectives and pro­nouns are shown in the following chart:

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

pā menn sindon ʒ ō de ‘the men are good’

mid hnescre beddinʒ e ‘with soft bedding’

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

Table 7

Declension of Adjectives

Strong (pure a- and ō -stems)[17] Weak
    N F M N V
Nom. blind blind blind blinda blinde blinde
Gen. blindes blindes blindre blindan blindan blindan
Dat. blindum blindum blindre blindan blindan blindan
Acc. blindne blind blinde blindan blinde blindan
Instr. blinde blinde blindre blindan blindan blindan
        All genders
Nom. blinde blind blinda, -e blindan
Gen. blindra biindra biindra blindra, -ena
Dat. blindum blindum blindum blindum
Acc. blinde blind blinda, -e blindan
Instr. blindum (NE blind) blindum blindum blindum

pæ t weste land ‘that uninhabited land’

betstan lē ope ‘with the best song’;

and also when the adjective formed a part of a direct address:

pū lē ofa drihten ‘thou dear Lord’.

Some adjectives, however, did not conform with these rules: a few adjectives were always declined strong, e. g. eall, maniʒ, ō per (NE all, many, other), while several others were always weak: adjectives in the superlative and comparative degrees, ordinal numerals, the adjective ilca ‘same’. Despite these instances of fixed, unmotivated usage, there existed a certain semantic contrast between the strong and weak forms: the strong forms were associated with the meaning of indefiniteness (rough­ly corresponding to the meaning of the modern indefinite article), the weak forms — with the meaning of " definiteness" (corresponding to the meaning of the definite article). Therefore the weak forms were regular­ly used together with demonstrative pronouns. The formal and semantic opposition between the two declensions of adjectives is regarded by some historians as a grammatical category which can be named “the category of definiteness/indefiniteness” (A. I. Smirnitsky).

§ 188. It follows that potentially OE adjectives could distinguish up to sixty forms. In reality they distinguished only eleven. Homonymy of forms in the adjec­tive paradigms was three times as high as in the noun. It affected the grammatical categories of the adjective to a varying degree.

Neutralisation of formal oppositions reached the highest level in the category of gender: gender distinctions were practically non-existent in the pl, they were lost in most cases of the weak declension in the sg; in the strong declension Neut. and Masc. forms of adjectives were almost alike.

Formal distinction of number, case and the strong and weak forms was more consistent. As seen from Table 7, number and case were well distinguished in the strong declension, with only a few instances of neutralisation; the distinction of number was lost only in the Dat. case, Masc. and Neut. Cf.:

æ fter feawum daʒ um — Dat. pl ‘after a few days’ and

he folʒ ode ā num burʒ sittendum menn — Dat. sg ‘he followed a town-dwelling man’.

The forms in the weak declension were less distinctive, as thirteen forms out of twenty ended in -an.

The formal difference between strong and weak forms was shown in all cases and both numbers, the only homonymous forms being Dat. pl and Gen. pl, — if it took the ending -ra.

In later OE the distinction of forms in the adjective paradigm became even more blurred. The Instr. case fell together with the Dat. Numerous variant forms with phonetically reduced endings or with markers borrowed from other forms through analogy impaired the distinction of categorial forms.

Degrees of Comparison

§ 187. Like adjectives in other languages, most OE adjectives dis­tinguished between three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative and superlative. The regular means used to form the comparative and the superlative from the positive were the suffixes -ra and -est/ost. Sometimes suffixation was accompanied by an Interchange of the root-vowel (see Table 8).

Table 8

Comparison of Adjectives in Old English

Means of form-build­ing Positive Comparative Superlative NE
Suffixation soft softra softost soft
  wē riʒ wē riʒ ra wē riʒ ost weary
Suffixation plus vowel interchange ʒ læ d ʒ læ dra ʒ ladost glad
lonʒ lenʒ ra lenʒ est long
eald ieldra ieldest old
(also: ealdra ealdost, ealdest)  
Suppletion ʒ ō d bettra bet(e)st good
  lӯ tel lǣ ssa lǣ st little
  micel mā ra mǣ st much

The root-vowel interchanges in long, eald, ʒ læ d go back to different sources. The variation [a ~ æ ] is a purely phonetic phenomenon; retrac­tion of [æ ] before the back vowel in the suffix -ost is not peculiar to the adjective (see § 163 for similar interchanges in nouns and § 117 for pertinent phonetic changes). The interchange in long and eald is of an entirely different nature: the narrowed or fronted root-vowel is regularly employed as a marker of the comparative and the superlative degrees, together with the suffixes. The mutation of the root-vowel was caused by i-umlaut in Early OE. At that stage the suffixes were either -ira, -ist or -ora, -ost. In the forms with -i- the root vowel was fronted and/or made narrower (see palatal mutation § 125 ff); later -i- was lost or weak­ened to -e- — but the mutated root-vowel survived as an additional for­mal marker of the comparative and superlative degrees.

Some adjectives had parallel sets of forms: with and without a vow­el interchange. These sets could arise if the adjective had originally employed both kinds of suffixes; or else the non-mutated vowel was re­stored on the analogy of the positive degree and other adjectives without sound interchanges.

§ 188. The adjective ʒ ō d had suppletive forms. Suppletion was a very old way of building the degrees of comparison (it can be illustrat­ed by the forms of adjectives in other IE languages: G gut, besser, beste, Fr mal, pire, R хороший, лучше).


§ 189. The OE verb was characterised by many peculiar features. Though the verb had few grammatical categories, its paradigm had a

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



Последнее изменение этой страницы: 2016-04-10; Просмотров: 1272; Нарушение авторского права страницы

lektsia.com 2007 - 2024 год. Все материалы представленные на сайте исключительно с целью ознакомления читателями и не преследуют коммерческих целей или нарушение авторских прав! (0.11 с.)
Главная | Случайная страница | Обратная связь