Old English/Adverbs

Adverbs are a large category of words that includes:

  • words that modify adjectives - "He is really tall"
  • words that modify verbs - "I run quickly"
  • words that modify other adverbs - "The dog whined very loudly"

Although we call all of these kinds of words adverbs, not all adverbs can be used in all of these ways. For example, in Modern English "very" is an adverb that can be used to modify only other adverbs and adjectives, not verbs. For example, one does not say, "I very will kick you" (because "very" cannot modify the verb "will" or "kick"); but one can say "I am very angry" (where "very" modifies the adjective "angry"). Likewise in Old English, not all adverbs can be used in all of the above ways.

Adverb formation in Old English


Most adverbs form themselves from adjectives with one of two suffixes:

  • -līċe (whence we get the Modern English "-ly" ending) (for example, ƿundor-līċe - "wondrously")
  • -e (for example, ƿrāþ-e - "fiercely")

There are also some other suffixes sometimes used less commonly:

  • -unga (for example, eall-unga - "entirely, completely")

Note that the dative, accusative, and genitive cases of most nouns or adjectives of time and length can be used as adverbs, e.g.:

  • hƿīlum - "sometimes"
  • þrēo ȝeardas - "(for) three yards" (as in: "He ran for three yards and then stopped" - Hē earn aƿeȝ þrēo geardas and stōd)
  • tū ȝēar - "(for) two years" (as in: "The baby lived for only two years" - Þæt ċild lifode efne tū ȝēar)

These "adverbs" formed by declining a noun or an adjective do not have the comparative or superlative degrees.

In addition, many words are in and of themselves adverbs, without the need for any derivation from other kinds of words, for example:

  • nū - now
  • þā - then
  • þær - there
  • hider - hither
  • þider - thither
  • hēr - here
  • heonan - hence
  • sōna - soon/directly
  • oft - often
  • eft - back/again
  • sƿā - so
  • þus - thus, in this way

Comparative and superlative degrees


Adverbs form their comparative (e.g. "better" or "more") and superlative (e.g. "best" or "most") degrees using suffixes similar to those used for adjectives (for which see here), but adverbs are never declined according to case, number, gender, or in any way.

Adverbs usually take the -or ending for comparative and the -ost ending for the superlative. Here is an example:

  • oft ("often") - oftor ("more often") - oftost ("most often")

There are some adverbs which are affected by i-mutation in the comparative and superlative degrees; these usually take no comparative ending, and "-est" instead of "-ost" for superlative:

  • lange ("long, for a long time") - leng ("longer") - lenġest ("longest")

There are also some adverbs which are irregular in the comparative and superlative degrees:

  • (well) ƿel - bet - betst