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Other Classes of Pronouns (Interrogative, Indefinite, Relative)

§ 453. The other classes of OE pronouns — interrogative and in­definite — were subjected to the same simplifying changes as all nomi­nal parts of speech. The paradigm of the OE interrogative pronoun hwā was reduced to two forms — who, the Nom. case, and whom, the Obj. case. In ME texts the two cases were carefully distinguished, but in Ear­ly NE they were commonly confused: Who is there?... Between who? (Shakespeare); Who would you speak with? (Ben Jonson). Who Nom. is used here instead of whom.[52]

The Gen. case of OE hwā, hwæthwæs — developed into a sepa­rate interrogative pronoun, similarly with the Gen. case of personal pronouns — ME and NE whose. OE hwi, the former Instr. case of the same pronouns continued to be used as a separate pronoun why; OE hwelc, ME which, formerly used only with relation to person widened its appli­cation and began to be used with relation to things. ME whether (from OE hwæper) was used as an interrogative pronoun in the meaning ‘which of the two’ but later was mainly preserved as a conjunction.

§ 454. Most indefinite pronouns of the OE period simplified their morphological structure and some pronouns fell out of use. For instance, man died out as an indefinite pronoun; OE derived pronouns with the prefixes ā-, ǣʒ-, ne- were replaced by phrases or simplified: OE ǣʒhwelc, āʒhwilc, ǣlc yielded ME eech, NE each; OE pyslic, puslic, pullic, swelc were replaced by such; nān-pinʒ (from ne+ān+pinʒ) became nothing, etc. Eventually new types of compound indefinite pronouns came into use — with the component -thing, -body, -one, etc; in NE they developed a two-case paradigm like nouns: the Comm. and the Poss. or Gen. case: anybody — anybody's. (For the development of the pronoun ān into the indefinite article see § 450.)

§ 455. OE demonstrative and interrogative pronouns became the source of a new type of pronouns — relative. Their growth is described and exemplified in the paragraphs dealing with the development of the complex sentence. (§ 543 ff.)


Decay of Declensions and Grammatical Categories

§ 456. In the course of the ME period the adjective underwent great­er simplifying changes than any other part of speech. It lost all its grammatical categories with the exception of the degrees of comparison.

In OE the adjective was declined to show the gender, case and num­ber of the noun it modified; it had a five-case paradigm and two types of declension, weak and strong.

By the end of the OE period the agreement of the adjective with the noun had become looser and in the course of Early ME it was practically lost. Though the grammatical categories of the adjective reflected those of the noun, most of them disappeared even before the noun lost the re­spective distinctions.

The geographical direction of the changes was generally the same as in the noun declensions. The process began in the North and North- East Midlands and spread south. The poem ORMULUM, written in c. 1200 in the North-East Midland dialect reveals roughly the same state of adjective morphology as the poems of G. Chaucer and J. Gower writ­ten in the London dialect almost two hundred years later.

§ 457. The decay of the grammatical categories of the adjective pro­ceeded in the following order. The first category to disappear was Gen­der, which ceased to be distinguished by the adjective in the 11th c.

The number of cases shown in the adjective paradigm was reduced: the Instr. case had fused with the Dat. by the end of OE; distinction of other cases in Early ME was unsteady, as many variant forms of differ­ent cases, which arose in Early ME, coincided. Cf. some variant endings of the Dat. case sg in the late 11th c.:

mid miclum here, mid miclan here, ‘with a big army’ mid eallon his here ‘with all his army’

In the 13th c. case could be shown only by some variable adjective endings in the strong declension (but not by the weak forms); towards the end of the century all case distinctions were lost.

The strong and weak forms of adjectives were often confused in Early ME texts. The use of a strong form after a demonstrative pronoun was not uncommon, though according to the existing rules, this position belonged to the weak form, e. g.:

in pere wildere sǣ ‘in that wild sea’ instead of wilden sǣ.

In the 14th c. the difference between the strong and weak form is sometimes shown in the sg wilh the help of the ending -e (see the paradigm and the examples below).

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

In other places delitables. (Chaucer)

('In other delightful places.')

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

Declension of Adjectives in Late Middle English

Table 3

  sg pl
Strong blind blinde
Weak blinde blinde

This paradigm can be postulated only for monosyllabic adjectives ending in a consonant, such as ME bad, good, long. Adjectives ending in vowels and polysyllabic adjectives took no endings and could not show the difference between sg and pl forms or strong and weak forms: ME able, swete, bisy, thredbare and the like were uninflected.

Nevertheless certain distinctions between weak and strong forms, and also between sg and pl are found in the works of careful 14th c. writ­ers like Chaucer and Gower. Weak forms are often used attributively after the possessive and demonstrative pronouns and after the definite article. Thus Chaucer has: this like worthy knight ‘this same worthy knight’; my deere herte ‘my dear heart’, which are weak forms, the strong forms in the sg having no ending.

But the following examples show that strong and weak forms could be used indiscriminately:

A trewe swynkere and a good was he (Chaucer)

(‘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 sheef of pecok-arves, bright and kene,

Under his belt he bar ful thriftily (Chaucer)

(‘A sheaf of peacock-arrows, bright and keen,

Under his belt he carried very thriftily.’)

The distinctions between the sg and p; forms, and the weak and strong forms, could not be preserved for long, as they were not shown by all the adjectives; besides, the reduced ending -e [ə] was very unsta­ble even in 14th c. English. In Chaucer’s poems, for instance, it is always missed out in accordance with the requirements of the rhythm.

The loss of final -e in the transition to NE made the adjective an en­tirely uninflected part of speech.

Degrees of Comparison

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

In OE the forms of the comparative and the superlative degree, like all the grammatical forms, were synthetic: they were built by adding the suffixes -ra and -est/ost, to the form of the positive degree. Some­times suffixation was accompanied by an interchange of the root-vowel; a few adjectives had suppletive forms (see § 187).

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

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

§ 460. The most important innovation in the adjective system in the ME period was the growth of analytical forms of the degrees of com­parison.

The new system of comparisons emerged in ME, but the ground for it had already been prepared by the use of the OE adverbs mā, bet, betst, swipor — ‘more’, ‘better’, ‘to a greater degree’ with adjectives and par­ticiples. It is noteworthy that in ME, when the phrases with ME more and most became more and more common, they were used with all kinds of adjective, regardless of the number of syllables and were even pre­ferred with mono- and disyllabic words.

Thus Chaucer has more swete, better worthy, Gower — more hard for ‘sweeter’, ‘worthier’ and ‘harder’. The two sets of forms, synthetic and analytical, were used in free variation until the 17th and 18th c., when the modern standard usage was established.

§ 461. Another curious peculiarity observed in Early NE texts is the use of the so-called “double comparatives” and “double superla­tives”:

By thenne Syr Trystram waxed more fressher than Syr Marhaus. (Malory) (‘By that time Sir Tristram grew more angry than Sir Marhaus’.)

Shakespeare uses the form worser which is a double comparative. A “double superlative” is seen in:

This was the most unkindest cut of all. (Shakespeare)

The wide range of variation acceptable in Shakespeare’s day was condemned in the “Age of Correctness” — the 18th c. Double compara­tives were banned as illogical and incorrect by the prescriptive grammars of the normalising period.

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

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