Old English/Syntax

Statement syntaxEdit

The most common word order for simple statements in Old English was as follows:


Here is a sentence which shows it:

God ġesēah hine
God saw him

Variations of word order is commonly more varied than in Modern English, but it is not totally flexible - there is such a thing as a wrong word order, and changes in order often change the emphasis of a sentence.

Putting the object at the start of the sentence emphasized the object:

Hine iċ cƿealde
I killed him
Þā ofet aƿearp sē mann
The person threw away the fruit

NOTE: If the subject is a pronoun, in object-emphasizing sentences, it comes before the verb. If it is a noun, it comes after the verb (as shown above).

Question syntaxEdit

To ask yes-no questions, place the verb before the subject. If there is an auxillary verb in the sentence ("can", "should", etc), then it is the one which goes at the start, and the infinitive verb may occupy any of its usual positions later in the sentence:

Dyde hē þæt?
Did he do that?
Hoppodest þū?
Did you dance?
Ƿilt þū cuman mid mē?
Do you want to come with me?

In "wh-" questions, the questions word usually starts the sentence, and the verb is second. Then, the subject goes before any objects.

Hƿæt eart þū?
Who are you?
Hƿone ācƿealde hē?
Who did he kill?
Hƿylċe ġife ƿilt þū him ġifan?
Which gift do you want to give to him?

Pronoun syntaxEdit

Syntax rules and norms for nouns and pronouns differ somewhat in Old English.

Pronouns, when subjects, almost always come before the verb. Some scenarios where they follow the verb are:

  • yes-no questions, the pronoun must follow the verb (as with nouns): "dyde hē þæt?" - "did he do that?"
  • following quotations: '"Gā āƿeġ," cƿæð Iōhannes' - '"Go away", said John'
  • following ne, þonne, þā, , sƿā: "ne dyde iċ þæt" - "I did not do that"
  • in subjunctive constructions: "sȳ hē ahangen" - "may he be hanged"

Direct object pronouns go before indirect object pronouns:

Iċ ġeaf þæt him
I gave that to him
Þā hyssas dydon hit mē
The young men did it for me

Pronoun objects can go before verbs:

Se ƿer hine lufode
The man loved him
Þæt fisċ him folgode
The fish followed him