Introduction: Introduction - Grammar - Orthography - I-mutation
Grammar: Nouns - Pronouns - Articles - Adjectives - Numbers - Verbs - Participles - Adverbs - Conjunctions - Prepositions - Interjections - Appositives - Word Formation -
Nouns are words which indicate a person, place, animal, thing, or idea, like "thing", "animal", "Samuel", and "Buddhism" in Modern English.
In Old English they have 3 genders (masculine, neuter, feminine), 2 numbers (singular, plural), and 5 cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental). Note that the so-called "genders" were purely grammatical genders - they very often did not correspond to natural gender. For example the word wīf - "woman" is actually of the neuter gender, not the feminine.
In Old English, nouns were inflected (they changed how they were written and spoken) to add little bits of extra information to communicate their function within the sentence and the number of things a noun represented. Although learning a language with three different genders might seem hard, it isn't really very hard - it can easily enough be done if you just make sure to memorize nouns along with their definitive article. For example, don't just remember the word "ġiefu" - remember "sēo ġiefu", so you'll always know it's a feminine noun - you can easily just not say the article if you don't need to; on the other hand, if you don't know the gender of a noun, it might be annoying.
Nouns were the essential element to a noun phrase (either a noun or a pronoun had to be in a noun phrase), which is an important part of most sentences. Also in the noun phrase you could put noun modifiers, like numbers, adjectives (words that describe, like "cool" or "special"), articles ("the" or "a/an), and demonstratives ("this" and "that"). All other words within a noun phrase had to agree with the noun in gender, number, and case. In addition, most adjectives (but not most numerals) could either be declined strong or weak, according to whether or not the adjectives were preceded by a possessive pronoun (like mīn - "my" or þīn - "your"), the article, or a demonstrative. For more information on adjectives, see the adjectives page.
Nouns are divided into two main, broad categories of declension in Old English, the so called Strong and Weak nouns. There are other minor declensions, as well, but most nouns fall into these two classifications.
The strong noun paradigm declines for case, gender and singular/plural.
|Nominative||--||-as||--||-u / --||-u / --||-a, -e|
|Accusative||--||-as||--||-u / --||-e||-a, -e|
In the Nominative Plural and Accusative Plural of the Strong Neuter declension, an -u follows only after short syllables (1 short vowel and 1 consonant), while neuters with long syllables (short vowel and 2 consonants or long vowel and one consonant) have no ending. This is also the case with singular feminine nominative nouns.
|Nominative||stān||stān-as||sċip / þing||sċip-u / þing||ġief-u / sorg||ġief-a / sorg-a, -e|
|Accusative||stān||stān-as||sċip / þing||sċip-u / þing||ġief-e / sorg-e||ġief-a / sorg-a, -e|
|Genitive||stān-es||stān-a||sċip-es / þing-es||sċip-a / þing-a||ġief-e / sorg-e||ġief-a / sorg-a|
|Dative||stān-e||stān-um||sċip-e / þing-e||sċip-um / þing-um||ġief-e / sorg-e||ġief-um / sorg-um|
Some masculine and some feminine nouns belong to the u-declension. They were either short-stemmed and two-syllabled (like "sunu"), or long-stemmed one-syllabled (like "hand").
They had the same endings for both genders, but slightly different endings depending on which of the two types mentioned above a word was. Here are two examples of this declension:
Other nouns in this category are feld - field (masc.), weald - forest, wood (masc.), and sunu - son (masc.)
Nouns whose stem ended in -u or -o (the two were interchangeable) would turn this -u/o to a -w- before a vowel of a grammatical suffix. For example:
|searu (neut.) - device, machine|
Note that this applied to the other genders, as well. There are quite a few nouns like this, and it is fairly easy to remember that their stem ends with -u/o, so I won't list them here. But do make sure you don't confuse nouns like this with u-nouns (see above) or strong feminine nouns with the grammatical ending -u.
A small handful of nouns in Old English take the i-mutation in parts of their declension. This is for historical reasons, which are not delved into here. Some of these nouns actually have survived into Modern English with their i-mutation in the plural, for example "goose" and "geese", "mouse" and "mice", "louse" and "lice", and "man" and "men". All i-mutation nouns in Old English are either masculine or feminine. Here is an example of the declension:
|Nominative||mann||menn||bōc, hnutu||bēċ, hnyte|
|Accusative||mann||menn||bōc, hnute||bēċ, hnyte|
|Dative||menn||mannum||bēċ, hnyte||bōcum, hnutum|
|Genetive||menn||manna||bēċ, hnyte||bōca, hnuta|
As you can see, the i-mutation affects the stem vowels in singular dative and genetive, and plural nominative and accusative. Other masculine i-mutation nouns with their i-mutated forms are:
- frēond (frīend) - "friend"
- fēond (fīend) - "fiend", "enemy"
- fōt (fēt) - "foot"
- tōþ (tēþ) - "tooth"
Other feminine i-mutation nous with their i-mutated forms are:
- mūs (mȳs) - "mouse"
- lūs (lȳs) - "louse"
- burg (byriġ) - "city"
- āc (ǣċ) - "oak tree"
- gāt (gǣt) - "goat"
- gōs (gēs) - goose
Note that sometimes these usually i-mutated nouns were declined just like other strong nouns.
The weak paradigm is more simplified and has less variation between the genders and cases.
Note that the plural weak declension is the same for all genders.
There are very many other weak masculine and feminine nouns, so they aren't list them here; but there is only one other weak neuter noun, and that is ēare - "ear".
Make sure not to confuse weak feminine nouns with some strong masculine or neuter nouns that end with -e.
Some nouns are indeclinable, or can optionally be treated as indeclinable. This means that they do not change at all according to case or number, but words that modify them, such as adjectives, still do; and verbs that they are used with also still change according to number.
One large category of such nouns are feminine nouns ending in -o/-u, such as lengu - "length" and strengu - "strength". Sometimes these nouns had weak feminine equivalents that were otherwise identical. Also, country names borrowed from Latin, often ending in "-a", could usually optionally be treated as indeclinable. There are a few more indeclinable nouns, which should be memorized as you go.
In Old English, as in Modern English, nouns could sometimes be used similarly to an adjective to modify another noun. These are called appositives. One example of appositives in Modern English is in titles: "Queen Elizabeth", "Brother John", "General Schwartzkopf", where "Queen", "Brother", and "General" are all nouns used to modify other nouns.
To get a better understanding of how appositives were used in Old English, see the appositives page.