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Comparing Characteristics of Old and Middle English

Characteristic Old English Middle English

• Nouns could be of three genders: masculine, feminine or neuter. These • Middle English lost the case suffixes at the ends of nouns.
were assigned arbitrarily. • The generalized plural marker became -s, but it still competed with -n.
Nouns • Numbers could be either singular or plural.
• There were four cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive.
• There were seven groups of declensions for nouns.
• The infinitive of verbs ended in -an. • The third person singular and plural was marked with -(e)th; but the
• In the present tense, all verbs had markers for number and person. singular also competed with -(e)s
Verbs • The weak past tense added –de.
• The strong past tense usually involved a vowel change.
• Old English also had many more strong verbs than modern English.
• Adjectives could be weak or strong. • Adjectives lost agreement with the noun, but the weak ending -e still
• If preceded by a determiner, the weak ending was added to the adjective. remained.
Adjectives • If no determiner preceded the adjective, then the strong endings were used.
• Adjectives agreed in gender, case and number with the nouns they
• Adverbs were formed by adding -e to the adjective, or -lic. • The adverb ending -lič became -ly;
• The syntax of Old English was much more flexible than modern English • Syntax was stricter and more prepositions were used.
syntax because of the declensions of the nouns. • New compound tenses were used,
• The use of the verbs will and shall for the future tense were first used too
• Pronunciation was characterized by a predictable stress pattern on the first • Pronunciation changes:
syllable. o Loss of initial h in a cluster (hleapan - to leap; hnutu - hut)
Pronunciation • The length of the vowels was phonemic as there were 7 long and 7 short o [w] lost between consonant and back vowel (w is silent in two, sword,
vowels. answer)
o [v] lost in middle of words (heofod - head; hæfde - had)
• Characters Used in Old English Writing • The writing system changed dramatically in Middle English:
o æ (a ligature of "a" and "e) o þ and ð were replaced by th
o œ (a ligature of "o" and "e.") o c before i or e became ch
Writing system o þ (now written "th) o sc became sh
o ß (for the "ss" or "sz" sound) o an internal h was added after g
o hw became wh
o cw became qu
• Old English had distinctive forms for all genders, persons, and cases • The dual number disappeared in the pronouns
• Old English had a set of forms for two people or two things—the dual • The dative and accusative became the object forms of the pronouns.
number • “She” started being used for the feminine singular subject pronoun
Pronouns o ic (I) • “You” (plural form) was used in the singular as a status marker for the
o wit (we two) formal.
o wē (we plural)