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Table X - sound & spelling changes OE > eME

from Old English (early West Saxon) to Early Middle English (East Midland c 1200)

The main changes can be summarised as follows:

  1. monopthongisation: ea, e_a, eo, e_o, ie, i_e > a, ae_, e, e_, e, e_ respectively
  2. smoothing: eah, e_ah > eh, e_h
  3. unrounding: y, y_ > i, i_
  4. lengthening of short vowels before ld, nd, ng1
  5. shortening of long vowels before ht, pt, st, fd
  6. loss of initial h before l, n, r
  7. merging of vowels before y` (new diphthongs): ae_g`, eg`, e_g` > ey`; ig`, i_g` > iy`; aeg` > ay`
  8. all unaccented short vowels > e /@`/
  9. miscellaneous: ae > a /a/
  10. spelling k: c /k/ before e, i, y and at the end of a word > k
  11. spelling y`: g` /j/ > y`


Peterborough Chronicle (EM 1154)
Ormulum (EM 1161)
Owl & Nightingale (SE 1200?)
Layamon (WM 1220?)
Ancrene Wisse (WM 1220?)
Proclamation of Henry III (SW 1258)
Sir Orfeo (EM 1300?)
Chaucer (EM 1368)
Early Middle English
Old English
Modern English
Comparison Table
sound (change)2 OE spelling eME spelling OE examples eME equivalents PC2/Orm Ch ModE
/a/ > /a:/ a + ng a_ + ng strang, lang (o) stra_ng, la_ng lange stroong, long(e) strong, long3
/ae/ > /a/ ae a waes, t`aet, aet was, t`at, at was, t`at, at was, that, at was, that, at
/ae:/ > /e/ ae_ + g` ey` ae_g`t`er ey`t`er ey`y`t`err, eit`er Owl eyther either
/ae:/ > /a/ ae_ + fd/st a + fd/st lae_fdig`e, lae_stan lafdiy`, lasten laffdiy`, lastede lady, laste(n) lady, last
/ae:/ > /E`:/ ae_ ae_ sae_, wae_pen, hae_lan, lae_dan sae_, wae_pen, hae_len, lae_den laed, laeden Lmn - sea, weapon, heal, lead
/ae:/ > /e:/5 ae_ e_5 dae_d, strae_t, slae_pan, grae_dig`, nae_dl5 de_d, stre_t, sle_pen, gre_diy`, ne_del5 dede, slepen de(e)de, strete, sle(e)p deed, street, sleep, greedy, needle5
/k/ c + e/i/y k + e/i cynn, cy_t`an, ascian kinn, ki_t`en , asken kinn, kit`enn aske(n) kin, ask
/k/ final c k a_c, bo_c, e_ac (e_c) a_k, bo_k, e_k ac, boc (boke), ec book book
/tS`/ > /k/ c` + ea c + a c`ealf calf callf - calf4
/E`A`/ > /a/ ea a eall, c`ealf, g`eaf all, calf, y`af all, iaf all, yaf all, calf
/E`:A`/ > /E`:/ e_a ae_ g`e_ar, e_ar y`ae_r, ae_r gaer, aer ye(e)r, ere year
/E`A`/ > /e/ ea + h e + h eahta ehte ey`te PH3 eight eight
/E`:A`/ > /e:/ e_a + h (g, c) e_ + h (g, k) ne_ah, he_ah, e_agen, e_ac, c`e_ace ne_h, he_h, e_gen, e_k, ce_ke neh, heh, ey`hne, ec negh, heigh, eyghen, eek nigh, high, eye, cheek
/E`A`/ > /a:/ ea + ld a_ + ld eald, healdan a_ld, ha_lden ald, haldenn oold, holde(n) old, hold
/e:/ > /e/ e_ + g` ey` be_g`en, wre_g`en bey`en, wrey`en beien, wrey`enn - -
/eo/ > /2`/ > /e/ eo e eort`e, heorte, feoh ert`e, herte, feh ert`e, he(o)rrte, fehh erthe, herte earth, heart, fee
/e:o/ > /2`:/ > /e:/ e_o e_ t`e_ostrode, le_of, le_oma t`e_strede, le_f, le_me t`estrede, le(o)me leef -
/e:/ > /e/ e_ + pt e + pt ce_pte kepte keppte - kept (cp. keep)
/j/ g` y` ong`e_an, g`i_et, manig`, daeg`, pleg`an, weg`, manig` ony`ae_n, y`e_t, maniy`, day`, pley`en, wey`, maniy` onny`aen, y`et, daei, day`y`, maniy` ayen, yet, day, wey, many yet, day, play, way, many
/j@`/ > /i:/ g`e (prefix) i_ g`ehwilc`, g`ehaten, g`ecleoped ihwilc, ihaten, icleped iwhillc, y`ehatenn which, yclept which
/h/ > /-/ h + l/n/r l/n/r hlae_fdig`e, hnesce, hreowsung lafdiy`, nesce, rewsing laffdiy`, nesshe, rewwsunng lady lady
/h/ > /-/ final h - 7 mearh, seolh, wealh, feoh, sc`o_h mar, sel, wal, fe_, sco_ fehh, fe dat, sco nom fee, mare, sho(o) mare, seal, Wales, walnut, fee, shoe
/@`/(s) > /G``@`s/ final e(s) -ges 7 fe_ores, slo_s, wo_s, fe_ares
gen sg
ferges, slo_ges, wo_ges, farges woy`h`e, woge dat, iferhet AW slow/slough slough, farrow
/i@`/ > /e/ ie e g`iefan, g`ieman, wiersa y`efen, y`emen, werse y`emenn, y`ifenn, waerse yeve(n), werse(e)  
/i:@`/ > /e:/ i_e e_ hi_eran, a_nli_epig` he_ren, a_nle_piy` anlepiy` he(e)ren hear
/i@`/ > /e:/ ie + ld e_ + ld bieldan be_lden beldenn - -
/ij@`/ > /ij/ ig`e iy` hlae_fdig`e lafdiy` laffdiy` lady lady
/i:/ > /i/ i_ + g`(e) iy` Fri_g`edaeg` Friy`day` Fridaei Friday Friday
/i/ > /i:/ i + ld/nd i_ + ld/nd c`ild, findan ci_ld, fi_nden child, findenn /i:/ child, fynde(n) child, find /ai/
/indg/ > /ing/ i + ndg i + ng8 mindgian mingen mynged Gaw, mingen MED - -
/u/ > /u:/ u + nd u_ + nd hund hu_nd hund /u:/   hound
/u:/ > /u/ u_ + st u + st du_st dust dusst   dust
/u/ (-) > /w@`/ final u (-) -we 6 beadu, sinu, sc`eadu, searu, mae_d, lae_s
nom sg
badwe, sinwe, scadwe, sarwe, mae_dwe, lae_swe schadewe AW synwes, shad(e)we, medewe sinew, shadow, meadow, leasow obs
/w@`/(s) > /@`s/ final we(s) -es 6 bealwes, melwes, smerwes
gen sg
bales, meles, smeres mele, smere acc bale dat bale's, meal's, smear's
/y/ > /i/ y i hyll, synn hill, sinn hill, sinne synne /i/ hill, sin
/y:/ > /i:/ y_ i_ my_s, fy_r mi_s, fi_r fir fyr(e) /i:/ mice, fire /ai/
/y/ > /i:/ y + nd i_ + nd cynd ki_nd kinde /i:/   kind /ai/


  1. and less frequently or consistently, before mb and rd as well
  2. the values assigned to OE diphthongs in this table are often approximations and/or simplifications; greater detail is given in the development of sounds from OE in this site; however for a clearer and more accurate picture of OE sounds, please consult Lass 1, particulaly the chapter on Phonology & Morphology, or Wikipedia's Old English Phonology, or a reputable OE grammar
  3. but OE sang ( of singan) > ModE sang
  4. but OE cealc > ModE chalk
  5. ModE test; rule is as follows: where OE has ae_ and ModE has ee, eME has e_; complete list of affected forms is given here;
    note: the usual reflex of OE ae_ is ModE ea, e.g. sae_, wae_pen > sea, weapon; however OE WS ae_ appeared as e_ in OE A in a small number of words where the ancestral vowel was WGmc or Lat a_;
  6. ModE test; rule is as follows: final -u > -e where ModE has reflex without final -ow, otherwise -u > -we; complete list of affected forms is given here;
  7. ModE test; rule is as follows: final -h drops where ModE has reflex without final -gh or -ow; otherwise -h remains and gen & pl are formed with -g; complete list of affected forms is given here;
  8. see reduction of consonant clusters; note - this sound change is not covered in Johannesson 2
Unchanged spelling in eME; changed in alternate eME
sound OE spelling alt. eME spelling OE examples eME equivalents PC2/Orm Ch ModE
/tS`/ c` ch c`iric`e, c`i_ese, c`ild, g`emaec`c`a circe, ce_se , ci_ld, macce circe, caese, child, macche chirche, chese church, cheese, child, match
/v/ f (intervocalic) v de_ofol, ae_fre de_fel, ae_fre deofell, deoules, aefre, aeure devel, ever(e) devil, ever
/G``/ g (medial) y` a_gen, bolgen, lagu a_gen, bolgen, lage a_y`h`enn, bolly`h`enn, lay`h`e owen, lawe own, law
/xw/ hw wh hwaet, hwa_, hwi_l hwat, hwa_, hwi_l whatt, wha, whil what, who, whil(e) what, who, while
/S`/ sc sch scolde, flae_sc, scearp scolde, flae_sc, scarp sculde, flesc, scarp s(c)holde, flessh should, flesh, sharp


  1. Lass, Roger. The Cambridge History of the English Language Volume II 1066-1479, Cambridge University Press 1992
  2. Johannesson, Nils-Lennart. East Midland dialect features in Orrmulum Project, 2017. NB - follow the numbered links for details on Phonology and the lengthening and shortening of vowels. Installing fonts will make these pages easier to read.