8. Old English Morphology

1.Define OE nouns and verbs in terms of grammatical categories they expressed.


gender → masculine, neuter, feminine

number → singular, dual, plural

case → nominative (S), accusative (Od), genitive (possession), dative (Oi), instrumental (instrument)

2 categories of declensionstrong (it declines for case, gender and number), a/o/u stem X weak (less variation between gender and cases)


person → 1st, 2nd, 3rd

number → singular, plural

tense → present, preterite

mood → indicative, subjunctive (unreality, supposition, volition), imperative

(aspective meaning expressed by past or present participle, but no category of aspect)

strong inflection = change of tense is indicated by vowel change (ablaut), 7 classes

weak inflection = change of tense is indicated by the addition of an ending, weak 1 (short X long), weak 2

preterite present verbs = originally strong verbs, they combine features of S and W verbs. The past tense acquired present tense meaning, afterwards a new preterite form (WEAK) was created. The preterite-present verbs developed into PDE modals.

2. Explain the principal difference in the functioning of sound change and analogy.

– both analogy and sound change create new forms in a language

– but sound change is often regular but it often creates irregular patterns, whereas analogy is irregular and causes regularity (e.g. regular sound change umlaut brother → brethren X irregular analogical change using the non-alternating singular/plural pattern in such nouns as sister → sisters: brother → brothers)

Examples from PG → OE

Sound change: PG *beró > GT baíra, EOE 1. sg. beru > LOE bere

Analogy: PG. 3. pl. weak vbs.*–ánthi>OE 3. (later 1.&2.) pl. –að (např. berað) → all plural indicative forms end with að

3. Explain the following concepts: class/stem; thematic/athematic; strong/weak; strong/weak adjectives; strong/weak verbs; syncretism; allomorphy; levelling of endings; grammatical gender; dual; preterite present verb.

class/stem: the stem consists of what was in proto-germanic root and theme (e.g. stainaz → stain = root, a = theme, z = ending, the root is therefore “staina”). Etymology: PGM “stainaz” → OE “stan”. The classes of nouns are classified accordingly to what was the theme, therefore the OE word “stan” belongs into the group of “a-stem nouns” because in the Proto-germanic there was a-theme.

OE verbs conjugate by a stem modification (strong verbs) and inflectional suffixes (weak verbs).

Strong verbs are divided into 7 classes by how the ablaut operates (the vowel in the stem changes).

Weak verbs → the stem remains the same, conjugation formed by endings. Classification: 1st class - short X long (by the stem-vowel), 2nd class with “ian” (instead of “an”) thematic/athematic

thematic formation = the proto-germanic word consists of root + theme + ending, the ending is attached to the theme (e.g. stain + a + z)

athematic formation = there is no theme so the ending is attached directly to the root (e.g. fot+iz)

strong/weak adjectives

strong adj. = there are more endings and there is no need for the adjective to co-occur with a determiner as the ending itself is able to express all grammatical categories on its own

weak adj. = there are just few distinct endings but there is a grammatical need of the adjective to cooccur with a determiner (e.g. demonstrative/possessive pronoun) strong/weak verbs

strong verbs = based on vowel change – ablaut (OE singan, sang, sungon,... PDE sing sang sung, Czech beru, sbírat, bral)

weak verbs = based on the addition of the agglutinating dental/alveolar suffix

syncretism – the fusion of two or more originally different inflectional forms (=merging of endings), e.g. case system replaced by a system based on WO and formal words. allomorphy – alternation of two or more forms in a morphological or lexical unit. (*allomorph = different phonological variation of a morpheme, e.g. variation between plural /s/ /z/ /iz/)

levelling of endings – generalization of inflections, this is done by sound change and analogy

grammatical gender – category of OE nouns – masculine, feminine, neuter. Often the grammatical gender doesn't correspond with the natural gender (se wīfman (“woman”) – masculine gender). This clash is one of the reasons why the grammatical gender was lost (other reasons: phonetic, morphological)

dual – category of number marking nouns, adjectives, pronouns (not verbs), meaning “two”

preterite-present verb – originally strong verbs, they combine features of S and W verbs. The past tense acquired present tense meaning, afterwards a new preterite form (WEAK) was created. The preterite-present verbs developed into PDE modals. (OE durran “to dare” (but PDE must!)