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Early Middle English for today

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At a glance

The key differences between Early Middle English (eME) and Modern English (ModE):

  1. the posessive ending has no apostrophe: -(e)s (not -'s);
  2. the plural/possessive ending is always -es unless the noun ends in a vowel (in which case, it is simply -s);
  3. there are more irregular plurals than in ModE;
  4. a handful of common nouns do not add -es in their possessive form;
  5. nouns add an -e when preceded by a preposition [optional];

-es is the marker for plurals and possessives

Just as ModE marks plural nouns with a final -s or -es, so eME generally marked its plural nouns with -es. However, while in ModE, -es is only added to nouns that end in -s or -x, in eME -es was added to all nouns, except those which ended in a vowel. For example, where ModE has storms but foxes, eME has stormes and foxes. Note that the plurals of eME nose and sco_ are noses and sco_s. Because these end in a vowel, only -s is added.

Possessives were also generally marked with -es, rather than the ModE -'s. For example, where ModE has the man's finger, eME has t`e mannes finger.

Here's a table of noun endings in ModE and eME. As you can see, the two barely differ:

sg. nom./acc./dat. town
gen. (= poss.) town's
- -
pl. (all cases) towns
sg. nom./acc. tu_n
gen. tu_nes
dat. tu_n or tu_ne1
pl. (all cases) tu_nes

Irregular plurals

ModE has a small number of irregular plurals which aren't formed by adding -(e)s: mice, lice, geese, feet, teeth, men, oxen, children, brethren, sheep, deer.

eME had these same irregular plurals, as well as a few more, which are highlighted in the table below2. There were four types of irregular plurals in eME, the first three of which are still found in ModE:

  1. plurals with internal vowel change;
  2. plurals in -(e)n;
  3. no plural ending (i.e. unchanged);
  4. plurals in -re;
eME plural eME singular ModE plural ModE singular
1. plurals with internal vowel change
mi_s mu_s mice mouse
li_s lu_s lice louse
ge_s go_s geese goose
fe_t fo_t feet foot
te_t` to_t` teeth tooth
men man men man
wi_fmen wi_fman women woman
ki_ cu_ cows cow
2. plurals in -(e)n
oxen oxe oxen ox
be_n be_ bees bee
pisen pise peas pea
e_gen e_ge eyes eye
ascen asce ashes ash
hosen hose hose (=tights/leggings) hose leg
halgen halge hallows (saints) hallow
beriy`en beriy` berries berry
ta_n ta_ toes toe
(i)fa_n (i)fa_ foes foe
3. no plural ending (i.e. unchanged)
sce_p sce_p sheep sheep
de_r de_r deer deer
nae_t nae_t =beasts/oxen =beast/ox
bro_t`er/bret`re3 bro_t`er brothers/brethren brother
dohter/dohtre dohter daughters daughter
swester/sustre swester/suster sisters sister
winter/wintre winter winters winter
y`ae_r y`ae_r years year
t`ing t`ing things thing
wunder wunder wonders (atrocities) wonder
hors hors horses horse
mi_l mi_l miles mile
pu_nd4 pund pounds pound
niht niht nights night
~nes (e.g. kindenes) ~nes5 ~nesses (e.g. kindnesses) ~ness
4. plurals in -re
cildre ci_ld children child
ey`re ey` eggs egg

Unchanged possessives

A few possessives take no ending. These are mainly nouns of relation ending in <r> - fader, mo_der, suster, bro_t`er, dohter. Others are lafdi_ and herte. Sa_wle adds an e.

So ModE my father's house becomes eME mi_n fader hu_s.

add an -e after a preposition?

Grammarians sometimes refer to nouns which follow prepositions as being in the dative case. In the PC2 and Orm, after prepositions the noun in the singular did sometimes have the dative -e. But it was just as often uninflected. In Ch we find to bedde, to shippe, on fire, with childe and especially on live, but these - apart from the last, are exceptions. Accordingly, in eME the dative -e is optional. If you'd rather simply leave it out, then go right ahead. Undoubtedly many East Midlanders did just that, even in the mid-twelfth century.

Note - if -e is added to a noun after a preposition, and that noun normally ends in -en, -er or -el, the e which precedes the n/r/l may drop out; e.g. silfer/of silfre, minster/in t`e minstre.

irregular stem

The lone noun in eME with an irregular stem is le_ (lion). Its possessive and plural form is le_nes. The optional dative form - after a preposition - is le_ne.

That complication is something eME has inherited from Latin, via OE. In Latin the nominative case is leo, which many will know from the zodiac, while the genitive is leonis.

Of course, you could simply use lion. It was introduced to eME very early from Anglo-Norman. And it has no stem - just the regular possessive and plural form.

See also optional grammatical variations.

  1. the -e ending is optional - see notes on the dative;
  2. for a full table with OE equivalents and examples from eME texts, see Irregular plurals at simplification of noun inflexions in eME;
  3. brot`re is also permissible; 3 forms?! - see footnote 8 at the bottom of simplification of noun inflexions in eME;
  4. in fact most units of measure for time or space lacked a plural marker;
  5. also ~nesse sg/pl