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Old English/Conjunctions

< Old English

A conjunction (abbreviated here cnj.) is a type of word that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together, and shows something about their relationship to each other.

There are three groups of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, and subordinating conjunctions. Coordinating conjunctions join two or more items of equal importance together, like the Modern English words "and", "or", "but", and others. Correlative conjunctions are like coordinating conjunctions in that they also join two or more equal items, but they work work in groups, like the Modern English words "either... or...", "neither... nor...", "both... and...", and more. Subordinating conjunctions are conjunctions that join items of unequal importance, for example Modern English "because", "although", "unless", and more.


Coordinating conjunctionsEdit

Here are some important Old English coordinating conjunctions:

  • and - and
  • ac - but
  • ne - nor
  • oþþe - or

Examples of these conjunctions in usage:

  • Hē wæs grēat and hēo wæs strang - He was big and she was strong
  • Iohannes cwōm hraðe, ac hē ne cūðe þone yfelan hund findan - John came quickly, but he couldn't find the bad dog
  • Wit noldon þæt dōn, ne woldon hīe - We two didn't want to do that, nor did they want to
  • Þonne þæt mōd ymbe hwæt twēonode, oðþe hit hwæs wilnode tō witanne... - When the mind doubted that, or it wanted to know something...

Conjunctions that introduce dependent clausesEdit

And here are some that introduce dependent clauses:

  • for þȳ þe/for þȳ/for þǣm þe/for þǣm - because
  • swā þæt - so that
  • þæt, þe, þætte - that (in indirect speech, like "He said that she said"; also to show desired or intended effect, as in "I desired that you would come")
  • þonne - than (used with comparative)
  • þēah (þe) - although

Examples of these conjunctions in usage:

  • Hē wolde cwelan for þȳ þe hē wæs swīðe earm - He wanted to die because he was so miserable
  • Ic dyde þæt swā þæt þū ne wēpe - I did it so that you wouldn't cry
  • Þās hādas sægdon þætte þis land is heora - These people say that this land is theirs
  • Iohannes is māra þonne Æðelweard - John is greater than Athelward
  • Se cniht nolde feohtan þēah þe hē wel strang wæs - The youth didn't want to fight even though he was quite strong

Correlative conjunctionsEdit

Here are some that acted as correlative conjunctions:

  • ġif(... þonne....) - if(... then...)
  • ne... ne... - neither... nor...
  • oþþe... oþþe... - either... or...

Examples of these correlative conjunctions:

  • Ġif þū cume, þonne ic þec ofslēa - If you come, I'll kill you
  • Ne þæt wīf ne hire cild wǣron gladu - Neither the woman nor her child were glad
  • Oþþe hē oþþe se hund bite þisne pleġan - Either he or the dog bit this toy


Note that even the most scholarly Old English writers had no qualms about writing "and" at the beginning of a sentence (Wulfstān did so very often in "Sermo Lupi ad Anglos") - so that is totally fine. (It alse means that, in spite of some insisting that it is bad practice or bad grammar in Modern English, the practice is over a thousand years old.)