skip to content


Early Middle English for today

full menu

simplification of noun paradigms in eME

Comparing Early Middle English (eME) to Old English (OE), we note these key changes to noun paradigms:

Note: unless specified otherwise, eME denotes the normalised early East Midland used in this site.

core vs optional grammar

The changes to noun paradigms which were complete by 1150 pass to both the core grammar and the optional grammar of eME. Changes to noun paradigms which were underway in early Middle English pass to the core grammar but not to the optional grammar. For a detailed discussion, see Normalisation 3: grammar.

The core grammar, which has fewer anomalies and exceptions, is aimed at the beginner. This is the grammar that appears in Audrey and the attercop, book 1 of Englisc buten taeres (the first 800 words). The optional grammar, which inherits more of OE's anomalies and exceptions, appears in normalised versions of OE and ME texts, and in the weblog of this site.

"the modern paradigm"

As Henry Alexander remarked in 'The Story of Our Language' (p.90): "Of the many types of nouns in OE, very few are left in ME, and in those that surive the number of forms is scarcely greater than today." Burrow and Turville-Petre in 'A Book of Middle English' (p.23) point out that "this diversity of forms was simplified from an early date in northern and eastern parts of the country. In the mid-twelfth century, The Peterborough Chronicle has what is essentially the modern paradigm":

sg. nom./acc. tun
gen. tunes
dat. tun or tune
pl. (all cases) tunes

"After prepositions the noun in the singular sometimes has the dative -e, but is as often uninflected" (my emphasis).

All OE noun declensions have fused into one. This single essentially modern paradigm applies to the vast majority of nouns in eME, regardless of OE provenance.

back to top

Irregular plurals

The irregular plurals used in this site are those found in East Midland texts1 - the Peterborough Chronicle (PC2), Ormulum Homily (Orm), Cloud Of Unknowing (Clo), Sir Orfeo (SO), Chaucer2 (Ch), as well as ModE.

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 has these same irregular plurals, as well as a few more, which are highlighted in the table below. There are 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 OE PC2/Orm/Ch ModE
1. plurals with internal vowel change
mi__s my_s mys Ch mice
li__s ly_s - lice
ge__s ge_s gees Ch geese
fe__t fe_t fet PC2, feet Ch feet
te__t` te_t` teeth Ch teeth
men menn men PC2/Ch (mennes Ch) men
wi__fmen wi_fmenn wimmen PC2 (wommennes Ch) women
ki__ cy_ keen Ch cows
gaet gae_t gaet Orm goats
2. plurals in -(e)n
oxen oxan oxen Ch oxen
be__n be_on been/bees Ch bees
pisen pisan pesen Ch peas
e__gen eagan ey%h`ne Orm pl.dat., (e)yen Ch eyes
ascen ascan asshen Ch ashes
hosen hosan hose/hosen Ch hose
halgen halgan hally%h`enn Orm, halechen PC2 hallows
beriy%en berian berien AW/SO berries
ta__n ta_n toon/toos Ch toes
(i)fa__n3 g`efa_n foon/foos Ch foes
wa__wen (optional) wa_wan wawenn Orm miseries
3. no plural ending (i.e. unchanged)
sce__p sce_ap (e_) sheep Ch sheep
de__r de_or deer Ch deer
naet ne_at neet Ch, neat OED = beasts, oxen
bro__t`er/bret`re4 bro_d`or/brod`ra brethren Ch brothers/brethren
dohter/dohtre dohtor/dohtra do(u)ghtren/doghtres Ch daughters
swester/sustre sweoster sustren/sustres Ch sisters
winter/wintre winter wintre PC2, winter Ch winters/years
y%aer g`e_ar yeer/yeres Ch years
t`ing t`ing thing(s) Ch things
wunder wunder wunder PC2 wonders/atrocities
hors hors hors(es) Ch horses
mi__l mi_l mile SO miles
pu__nd5 pund pound Ch pounds
niht niht night Ch nights
~nes(se) (e.g. kindenes[se]) ~nes (e.g. cyndnes) kindenes Clo kindnesses
4. plurals in -re
cildre cildru chilldre Orm, children Ch children
plural in -nes
le__nes (optional) le_on6 le(o) le(o)ness Orm, leo(n) Lmn lions


  1. Lmn (a West Midland text) had the irregular plural word - word;
  2. Chaucer's plural forms in -(e)n are ignored where both OE and ModE have -(e)s, e.g. shoon for eME scho_s (OE sco_s, ModE shoes);
  3. an alternative form to OE g`efa_ was fah, with plural fa_; Lmn had i-fa, i-fo and fo for ModE foe while Sir Orfeo had fo and Ch had fo(o);
  4. The eME equivalent of ModE brothers/brethren is an interesting case. OE had two plural forms - an unchanged bro_d`er and less often - bro_d`ra. This should give bro_t`er and brot`re in eME. But Chaucer has brethren (and brethehed for ModE brotherhood). Possibly there were several competing forms in eME - bro_t`er, brot`re(n), bret`re(n).
  5. in fact most units of measure for time or space were singular in Ch;
  6. also acc/gen/dat sg; a weak noun borrowed from Latin in which the nominative case is leo and genitive - leonis; an alternative with regular possessive and plural ending -es, is the additional eME form lion, introduced early from Anglo-Norman and found in Lmn, AW, SO and Ch;

back to top

wa- and wo- stems and a- stems ending in <h>

an overview

There is no stem alternation in nouns (or adjectives) in the core grammar of eME. The <w> of OE wa- and wo- stems and the final <h> of certain OE a-stems, is either dropped or extended, throughout the paradigm, in all cases. See Normalisation 3: grammar for the application of principles 3 & 4 in general, as well as a summary of their application to the reflexes of wa- and wo- stems and a- stems ending in <h>. A detailed account of the treatment of wa- and wo- stems and a- stems ending in <h> can be found below.

For most of the OE nouns which exhibit stem alternation, a pre-1250 form enables us to level the paradigm. The stem levelling aspect of that pre-1250 form (i.e the insertion or deletion of <w> or <h/g>), is extended to the other forms within the paradigm via principle 3. And the paradigm levelling of the majority of wa- and wo- stems and a- stems ending in <h> can be extended to the remaining few words in those groups, courtesy of principle 4. For those same few words, the ModE test decides the final form - with or without <w> or <h/g>.

back to top

wa- and wo_-stems

Neuter (and masculine) wa-stems

There are two main types of wa-stems in OE. The first group has an ending in -u for nom/acc singular and plural and an ending in -w~ for all other cases. All but one are neuter. Masculine bearu is similar but has the expected nom/acc plural forms (with -w~):

sg. nom. melu
acc. melu
gen. melwes
dat. melwe
pl. nom. melu
acc. melu
gen. melwa
dat. melwum
sg. nom. bearu
acc. bearu
gen. bearwes
dat. bearwe
pl. nom. bearwas
acc. bearwas
gen. bearwa
dat. bearwum

Neuter nouns like melu melwes (meal/flour) include: bealu bealwes (evil), smeoru smeorwes (fat), searu searwes (device) and teoru teorwes (tar). The lone masculine noun of its type is bearu bearwes (grove).

The second group, again mainly neuter nouns, has a dual stem with alternation of vowel length: -e_o (or -e_a) in nom/acc singular and plural, and -eow~ (or -eaw~) in all other cases. Masculine t`e_o(w) is similar but has the expected nom/acc plural forms (with -w~):

sg. nom. cne_o
acc. cne_o
gen. cneowes
dat. cneowe
pl. nom. cne_o
acc. cne_o
gen. cneowa
dat. cneowum
sg. nom. t`e_o
acc. t`e_o
gen. t`eowes
dat. t`eowe
pl. nom. t`eowas
acc. t`eowas
gen. t`eowa
dat. t`eowum

Neuter nouns like cne_o(w) cneowes include: hle_o(w) hleowes, tre_o(w) treowes and stre_a(w) streawes. There are very few masculine nouns with possible loss of <w> like t`e_o(w) t`eowes (servant). Clark Hall 4 lists all of these nouns except hle_o with a final <w>. See Wright 5 (pp 176-83 are available in this site at Wright on wa_- and wo_-stems) and Normalisation 3: grammar for more detail.

There are a handful of masculine wa-stems which don't lose final w and don't have alternation of vowel length: de_aw (dew), t`e_aw (custom), be_aw (gadfly) la_re_ow (teacher), la_tte_ow (leader), bri_w (pottage, porridge), g`i_w (griffin, vulture), i_w (yew) and sli_w (tench [fish]). These don't present an issue and pass as expected to eME - daew daewes, t`aew t`aewes, bri__w bri__wes, y%i__w y%i__wes etc.

Feminine wo_-stems

There are two main types of wo_-stems in OE. The first group has an ending in -u for nom singular and an ending in -w~ for all other cases.

A second group is similar but has a long stem vowel and no final vowel in the nominative singular.

-u in nom. sg.
sg. nom. sinu
acc. sinwe
gen. sinwe
dat. sinwe
pl. nom. sinwa
acc. sinwa
gen. sinwa
dat. sinwum
no final vowel in nom. sg.
sg. nom. mae_d
acc. mae_dwe
gen. mae_dwe
dat. mae_dwe
pl. nom. mae_dwa
acc. mae_dwa
gen. mae_dwa
dat. mae_dwum

Nouns of the sinu sinwe (sinew) type are: beadu beadwe (battle), and sceadu sceadwe (shade). freatwe (ornaments) and geatwe (armour) have no singular form. gearu (equipment) occurs more often as gearwe (in all cases), in OE texts.

Nouns of the mae_d mae_dwe (meadow) type are: lae_s lae_swe (pasture) and blo_dlae_s ~lae_swe (blood-letting).

There are a handful of feminine wo_-stems which don't lose final w and don't have alternation of vowel length: hre_ow (repentance), sto_w (place) and tre_ow(t`) (faith). These pass to eME as hre__w hre__wes, sto__w sto__wes, tre__wt` tre__wt`es.

reflexes of wa- and wo_-stems in ModE

The reflexes of these nouns in ModE reveal a pattern. This may not be clear at first, since some have <w>, and some don't: meal, bale, smear, tar, knee, lee, tree, straw, sinew, shade/shadow, meadow (mead) arch, (leasow) obs. It is interesting to note however that none of the neuter nouns have retained <w> except straw, while all the surviving feminine nouns have a form with <w>. This is no doubt due to the fact that in OE feminine wo_-stems, only one case - nom sg is without <w>, whereas in OE neuter wa-stems, four cases are without <w> - nom/acc sg & nom/acc pl.

In ModE reflexes of the wo_-stems with alternation of vowel length, only one of the two stems has survived, with two exceptions (see below). Thus we have knee, tree, lee (refuge, shelter) and straw, but not *knew (in the sense of 'knee'), *trew, *lew or *strea.

Just two examples of the stem alternation evident in OE wa- and wo_-stems have survived to ModE - shade/shadow and mead/meadow. Note that there are subtle shades of meaning which distinguish shade from shadow, while mead is rarely used outside of poetry.

development of wa- and wo_-stems in ME

Not surprisingly, Middle English texts have considerable variation, which goes beyond the two doublets of ModE. In fact, all the ME reflexes of the wa- and wo_-stems have forms with and without <w>.

Here is a list of extracts from the MED entries for each of the OE wa- and wo_-stems cited above. East Midland and pre-1250 examples predominate:

neuter ~u/~wes

masculine ~u/~wes

neuter ~e_o(w)/~eowes

masculine ~e_o(w)/~eowes

feminine ~u/~we

feminine -/~we


What can we conclude from this? Unfortunately early East Midland (Orm and PC2) examples are scarce. However Ch and Gow (East Midland c 1380) clearly indicate a preference for forms without <w>, even in the plural (and dat sg), in reflexes of neuter wa-stems. Conversely, Ch has nom sg forms with <w> in reflexes of feminine wo_-stems. This is the pattern observed in ModE - neuter wa-stems end up dropping the <w> in the possessive and plural forms while feminine wo_-stems keep the <w> and spread it to the nom sg. But this tendency is evident earlier than Ch. In fact a majority of reflexes of wa- and and wo_-stems show levelling before 1250.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, most reflexes of the wo_-stems with alternation of vowel length, still have doublets, as in OE. The difference is that the old paradigms with stem alternation have been joined by simpler paradigms with a single stem. Plural forms can be found with and without w. So Orm has both tres and trewwess pl and cnes pl, alongside forms that mirror OE. Ch has singular forms stree and straw 12, as well as a plural stres. How best to deal with these duelling paradigms?

Normalising the reflexes of wa- and wo_-stems

The key, particularly in regard to the early stages of learning a language, is to offer the simplest route. This is where principles 3 & 4 come into play. The upshot is that while OE wa- and wo_-stems have a dual stem, their reflexes in the core grammar of eME, have a single stem.

The approach is as follows:

  1. we start with a noun paradigm that exhibits stem alternation, e.g. bale balwes or scade scadwes;
  2. in a pre-1250 text we find a form which removes the stem alternation for either the nom sg or gen sg or pl; e.g. balwes pl > bales pl and scade nom sg > scadwe nom sg;
  3. via principle 3 the stem levelling of one form (e.g. pl) is extended to the remaining form (e.g. gen sg) within the paradigm; so bales pl is extended to bales gen sg;
  4. courtesy of principle 4, the paradigm levelling of the majority of wa- and wo- stems can be extended to the remaining few words in that group; e.g. the bale bales pattern is extended to mele meles and scadwe scadwes to sinwe sinwes;

Thus we have:

pre-1250 removal of stem alternation:
bales, smeres, tere, barwe, tre__s, cne__s, le__, t`ew, scadwe, maedwe, [laeswe?]
via principle 3 - extend removal of stem alternation throughout paradigm:
bale bales, smere smeres, tere teres, barwe barwes, tre__ tre__s, cne__ cne__s, le__ le__s, t`ew t`ewes, scadwe scadwes, maedwe maedwes, [laeswe laeswes?]
via principle 4 - extend pattern of simplified paradigm to entire group:
mele meles, sinwe sinwes, straw strawes, laeswe laeswes
special cases - via principle 4 but without ModE reflex:
sarwe sarwes, badwe badwes


  1. for the principle 4 group (above), the surviving ModE form decides whether the nom sg stem (without <w>) or the inflected stem (with <w>) is applied throughout the paradigm; see the ModE test for more detail;
  2. in the absence of an additional eME form and a ModE reflex, the OE inflected stem (with <w>) is applied throughout the paradigm; that is the case for the two "Special cases" above;
  3. in the case of laeswe, there is doubt about the only example of pre-1250 levelling, which happens to be a name; for that reason the noun is enclosed in square brackets above and shifted to the principle 4 group;
  4. however, the reflexes of most strong feminine nouns with a long stem vowel have a final <e> in eME nom sg, following the pattern of oblique OE forms, whereas the corresponding OE nom sg ended in a consonant; e.g. glo_f glo_fe > glo__fe glo__fes; on that basis, laeswe as nom sg (along with maedwe) might be justified without explicit pre-1250 support;
  5. in the reflexes of feminine wo- stems, principle 3 is skipped, since there is only one form which exhibits stem alternation - nom sg; e.g. once scade becomes scadwe via principle 2, the entire paradigm is levelled;
  6. for cne__, le__ and tre__, the genitive and plural forms are obtained by simply adding s, (while the dative form in optional grammar is unchanged from the nominative);
  7. straw nom sg becomes strawes gen & pl; since the inflected form is applied across the paradigm, the strae(w) form(s) are ignored in the core grammar; see normalisation 5: issues for further discussion;
  8. eME optional grammar contains forms derived from the standard OE forms, which display stem alternation, e.g. - cne__ tre__ nom sg with cnewe trewe dat and cnewes trewes gen/pl, strae nom sg with strawe dat and strawes gen/pl, bale nom with balwe dat and balwes gen/pl, sine nom with sinwe dat and sinwes gen/pl etc;
  9. the MED records only entries with <w> (or <u>) for t`ew (servant);
  10. with one exception, all of the pre-1250 forms that are deployed under principle 3 above, also happen to be additional eME forms which emerge courtesy of principle 2 of the normalisation of eME; that exception is barwe (grove) which has no modE reflex.

back to top

OE a-stem nouns ending in <h>

For OE masculine (and neuter) a-stem nouns ending in <h>, the rule set down in most grammars regarding the formation of the plural, is that the <h> dropped and the vowel lengthened (if short) before (a)s was added. Hence: fearh - fe_aras (pig), mearh - me_aras (horse), seolh - se_oles (seal), wealh - we_alas (foreigner), sco_h - sco_s (shoe), slo_h - slo_s (mire), wo_h - wo_s (wrong, depravity), eolh - e_oles (elk), sealh - se_ales (willow), healh - he_ales (corner, nook), ealh - e_ales (temple), eoh - e_os (war-horse) and horh - ho_res (phlegm, impurity). Neuter feorh (life, spirit) and feoh4 (money, property) behaved similarly, except that they were unchanged in the plural.

final consonant + <h>
sg. nom. wealh
acc. wealh
gen. we_ales
dat. we_ale
pl. nom. we_alas
acc. we_alas
gen. we_ala
dat. we_alum
final vowel + <h>
sg. nom. sc`o_h
acc. sc`o_h
gen. sc`o_s
dat. sc`o_
pl. nom. sc`o_s
acc. sc`o_s
gen. sc`o_na
dat. sc`o_m

development of a-stems ending in <h> in ME

Here is a list of extracts from the MED entries for each of the OE a-stems cited above. East Midland and pre-1250 examples predominate:

MED extracts:

alt OE forms

pre-1250 & ModE support for dropping of <h/g> in nom sg:

pre-1250 & ModE support for retention of <h/g> (or <c>) in gen sg & pl:


There are a couple of points to note initially. Firstly, OE itself had variants without <h> in the nominative singular (nom sg), for most of these words. And in at least three cases - slo_h, wo_h and sealh, there were variant oblique forms with <g>. In other words, dropping <h> throughout the paradigm and extending <h/g> throughout the paradigm, predates eME.

Secondly, the MED drops final <h> in the headword of the entries for most of the reflexes of the words listed above, but also cites nom sg examples with final <h> (or <g/y%(h)> or even <k>) for each, as well as oblique forms with <g/y%(h)>.

The early East Midland examples, i.e. those found in Orm and PC2, are somewhat scarce, and inconclusive. Orm has a nom sg with <h> - fehh, a nom sg without <h> - sho, oblique forms with <y%h`> (a reflex of OE medial <g>) - woy%h`e dat, and oblique forms without <h> - fe dat. PC1 has woge dat. Although not early ME, East Midland Ch has fee, mare and sho(o), all <h>-less nom sg. Early West Midland sources - Lmn, AW and Owl have a similar set of forms to Orm.

The ME forms recorded in the MED show two main changes from the standard OE forms. These changes are dealt with below:

retention of short vowel when final <h> was lost

An issue which needs to be investigated a little further is the stem vowel in the oblique cases and plural forms when <h> was dropped, in OE. If short, was it lengthened, as many OE grammars indicate? Bosworth & Toller 8 gives a short vowel in all its examples of oblique cases and plural forms of mearh, wealh, feorh and seolh. And the fact that we have Wales in ModE - a direct descendant of the plural of OE wealh, would suggest that the ea in OE wealas5 was short. *We_alas would give us ModE Weals. Similarly, OE me_aras and se_olas would give ModE *mears and *seels respectively, while OE mearas and seolas would give the expected ModE forms *mares6 and seals7.

It seems that a short stem vowel was not lengthened when final <h> was lost, where a consonant preceded <h> in OE. However if lengthening did take place, it was short-lived, and had been reversed by the beginning of the 13th century.

final <h> becomes <e>

The MED not only drops final <h> in the headword of the entries for each of the reflexes of the words listed above, but also has final <e>, where a consonant preceded <h> in OE.

This feature isn't exclusive to later ME. It begins early. From Body and Soul, one of The Worcester Fragments, ca 1225, we find: Ic t`in wale iweart`, hu so [t`u wol]dest. From 1300, we we have: T`ar þe child is kinge and t`e cherl is alderman and t`e wale [L Exterus] biscop, wa t`ene lede. And The Proverbs of Alfred ca 1150 gives us: Nis no wurt woxsen in wude ne in felde t`at efre muy`e þe feiy`e fere uphelden.

In short, it seems that final <h> was not just dropped, but also replaced by <e>, where a consonant preceded <h> in OE.

Normalising the reflexes of a-stems with final <h>

The approach is the same as that taken with the wa- and wo_-stems. Principles 3 & 4 are applied, to offer the simplest route for beginners. The upshot is that while OE a-stems with final <h> have a dual stem, their reflexes in the core grammar of eME, have a single stem:

  1. we start with a noun paradigm that exhibits stem alternation, e.g. wealh we_ales or slo_h slo_s;
  2. in a pre-1250 text we find a form which removes the stem alternation for either the nom sg or gen sg or pl; e.g. walh nom sg > wale nom sg and slo__s gen sg > slo__ges pl;
  3. via principle 3 the stem levelling of one form (e.g. gen sg) is extended to the remaining form (e.g. pl) within the paradigm; so slo__ges gen sg is extended to slo__ges pl;
  4. courtesy of principle 4, the paradigm levelling of the majority of a-stems with final <h> can be extended to the remaining two words in that group; e.g. the wale wales pattern is extended to sele seles and slo__h slo__ges to farh farges;

Thus we have:

pre-1250 removal of stem alternation:
wale, mare, fere, fe__, sco__, slo__ges, wo__ges, elkes, salges
via principle 3 - extend removal of stem alternation throughout paradigm:
wale wales, mare mares, fere feres, fe__ fe__s, sco__ sco__s, slo__h slo__ges, wo__h wo__ges, elk elkes, salh salges
via principle 4 - extend pattern of simplified paradigm to entire group of nouns:
sele seles, halh halges
special cases - via principle 4 but without ModE reflex:
farh farges, alh alges, eh eges, horh horges

All of the discussion in this section can be neatly summarised in the following table:

stem levelling in reflexes of OE a-stems with final <h>
OE alt OE PC2/Orm pre-1250 MED ModE eME
wealh - we_alas foreigner we_al, wal- - 1225 wale wale Wales wale - wales
mearh - me_aras mear - AW meare, 1200 mare mere mare - mares mare - mares
seolh - se_olas seol - [1300 Hav sele] sele seal - seals sele - seles
feorh - fe_ores gen; life, spirit fe_or - 1150 PA fere acc fere - fere - feres
feoh - fe_os fe_o - Lmn feo/faei acc fee fee - fees fe__ - fe__s
sc`o_h - sco_s sco_ Orm sho 1200 TH sho sho shoe - shoes sco__ - sco__s
slo_h - slo_s swamp, mire slo_ges gen - [1275 atte Slough] slough slough - sloughs slo__h - slo__ges
wo_h - wo_s wrong, depravity wo_ges gen, wo_ge dat Orm woy%h`e dat, PC1 woge dat Lmn woy`e dat, AW wohe dat, Owl woy`e dat, 1200 wohy`e dat wough [OED wough] wo__h - wo__ges
fearh - fe_aras little pig - - [AW iferhet p ptc; given birth to piglets] [1425 faren pl; piglets/farrows?; farwen inf; give birth to piglets] [farrow - farrows litter of piglets; give birth to piglets] farh - farges
eolh - e_oles elk eolc, eolces gen - [1279 elk] elk elk elk - elkes
sealh - se_ales willow salhas pl, saligum pl dat - [Ch salwes] salou(e) sallow European willow salh - salges
healh - he_ales corner, nook; land by a stream - - 1250 Crumhale, [1280 Halghton] hale haugh meadow by river halh - halges
ealh - e_ales temple - - - - - alh - alges
eoh - e_os war-horse, charger - - - - - eh - eges
horh - ho_res phlegm, mucus; dirt, impurity [horwes gen sg] - [1200 horewe dat, 1300 horwy`] hor(e) - horh - horges


  1. slo__h, wo__h, salh and farh retain (and extend) final <h> for different reasons: slo__h and salh via principle 2 since vestiges of final <h/g> remain in the ModE reflexes (as either <gh> or <w>) and oblique forms with <g> and <y%(h)> are found in pre-1250 sources; wo__h and farh because they qualify via principle 4 but without a clear ModE noun reflex, thus invoking the OE nom sg form (see ModE test);
  2. halh halges doesn't qualify via principle 2 because the pre-1250 support is for *hale nom sg (see names) while the ModE form haugh supports halh halges;
  3. in line with the existing eME convention whereby final -h /x/ regularly becomes -g- /G``/ before a vowel (e.g. burh burges), slo__h, wo__h and farh have gen sg & pl forms slo__ges, wo__ges and farges respectively; see also OE slo_ges wo_ges;
  4. ModE farrow (litter of piglets) may be a reflex of OE fearh, via ME *farowe, *farghe (found only in plural faren); or it may be a nominalisation of farrow (give birth to piglets) from ME farwen (possibly from an unattested OE *fearg(i)an); OE consonant + <g> + vowel routinely becomes ModE <ow>, e.g. folgian > follow; see Normalisation issues for a comparison with mearh;
  5. OE feoh may not have had a plural; Bosworth & Toller 9 doesn't list a plural form, however the MED gives pl gen fe_ona;
  6. for wealh we_ales there are several OE examples with a rather than ea - Walas/Walena/Wala; it's not clear whether the <Wal> in the compound names Walebroc, Waleie, Wallewurd is a nom sg form without <h> or a special oblique combining form;
  7. some dictionaries (e.g. the American Heritage Dictionary) give the etymology of ModE mare as OE miere (mare), influenced by forms of mearh (horse, steed); the MED gives the source of mere (riding horse, steed) as OE me_ares (ea), me_are (ea), etc. (infl. forms of mearh, *merh 'horse') & WS my_re (y), A *me_re (e) 'mare'; it seems more likely that the source of ModE mare is ultimately OE mearh via ME mare, an alternate form listed under mere in the MED;
  8. in disyllabic words with an open first syllable, the short vowels /a e o/ in the first syllable were lengthened during the first half of the thirteenth century, so cneden > /knE`:d@`n/ > knead, speken > /spE`:k@`n/ > speak and seles > /sE`:l@`s/ > seals;
  9. were horh and horu two separate words? see Normalisation issues;
  10. with two exceptions, all of the pre-1250 forms that are deployed under principle 3 above, also happen to be additional eME forms which emerge courtesy of principle 2 of the normalisation of eME; those two exceptions are wo__h wo__ges and fere feres which have no ModE reflex; wough is listed in the OED but the latest entries (also in the MED) date from 1500, which is on the cusp of the ModE era.

back to top

Masculine ja-stems (and other anomalies)

Only OE here herig`es presents variation in the stem. This variation doesn't survive to the ME period. The MED has no entries with <y/y`/g`>. Orm, Lmn and Owl, for example, all have here dat.

The stem alternation in OE haele haelet`- has been ignored, for the simple reason that haelet` is often found in nom sg as well. Lmn has haeled` nom sg. The MED and OED both give heleth.

Unchanged possessives (optional)

One of the optional features of eME grammar is that a few possessives take no <(e)s> ending. These are mainly nouns of relation, descended from OE stems in -r of the minor declension, in which a genitive marker was absent: fader nom/gen and similarly - mo__der, suster, bro__t`er, dohter. An OE feminine ō-stem of the strong declension, in which the genitive marker (along with acc & dat) was a final <e>: sa_wol sa_wle produced sa__wle nom/gen. On the other hand, lafdiy% and herte are descended from OE weak declension nouns, in which the genitive marker (along with acc & dat) was a final <an>: hlae_fdig`e hlae_fdig`an, heorte heortan.

Examples of nouns of relation with no ending for gen sg are: Orm brot`err nom/gen, Ch fader nom/gen, PC1 faeder gen, Orm moderr nom/gen and Ch modir gen. Ch also has modres gen. Other counter-examples prior to 1250 include moderes (Genesis and Exodus 1250) and faderes (Poema Morale 1175).

Examples of possessives without ending from the weak declension group are: Ch ladi lady gen and herte gen. Ch also has hertes gen as does his contemporary Gower. Orm consistently has he(o)rrtess as the genitive.

As for feminine ō-stems, Orm has both sawle gen and sawless gen.

Given that possessive endings in <(e)s> can be found for each of these groups of nouns prior to 1250, unchanged possessives are not a feature of the core eME grammar. See Normalisation: grammar for more on the application of principle 4.

back to top

nominative form of strong feminine nouns gains a final <e> in eME

The pattern for strong feminine nouns in OE differed slightly, depending on vowel length. If the noun had a short internal vowel, like scinu, it ended in <u>. But if the noun had a long internal vowel, like glo_f, it had no final vowel. However, in all the oblique cases (accusative, genitive, dative) in the singular, there was always a final vowel - <e>, whether the noun had a long or short internal vowel.

So the various cases for OE glo_f, in the singular, ran like this:

It's not surprising then that many from this group of OE nouns - i.e. strong feminine (o_-stems) with long internal vowel, turned up in Middle and Modern English with a final <e>, in nom sg. ModE glove is one example. Leave (permission) from OE le_af is another.

Some examples in Orm are lefe (laefe), lare, sawle, while from OE le_af, la_r, sa_wel, hwi_l.

While this isn't a pattern applied consistently in eME, it's common enough to warrant recognition of strong feminine (o_-stems) with long internal vowel as a group to be dealt with under principle 4, and thus to give all eME reflexes a final <e>.

Note - strong masculine and neuter nouns didn't develop this way in eME. Nouns such as sto(o)n in Chaucer and daei in the Peterborough Chronicle, never have a final <e> in the nominative singular. The decisive factor is undoubtedly the lack of final vowel in acc sg as well as nom sg in OE masculine a_-stems:

feminine o_-stems
sg. nom. sa_wol
acc. sa_wle
gen. sa_wle
dat. sa_wle
pl. nom. sa_wla
acc. sa_wla
gen. sa_wla
dat. sa_wlum
masculine a_-stems
sg. nom. sta_n
acc. sta_n
gen. sta_nes
dat. sta_ne
pl. nom. sta_nas
acc. sta_nas
gen. sta_na
dat. sta_num

back to top


  1. c1225 Body & Soul.(2) (Wor F.174) :: The Worcester Fragments, ed. D. Moffat (1987). 62-81.
  2. a1300 Þar þe child is (Dgb 53) :: M. Förster, Frühmittelenglische Sprichwörter, ESt. 31 (1900). 15.
  3. a1250 (?c1150) Prov.Alf. (Glb A.19) :: The Proverbs of Alfred, ed. O. Arngart (1955). bottom of even pp. 104-10, bottom of pp. 120, 122, 124, 126-29
  4. Clark Hall J.R., A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 1960
  5. Wright, Joseph & Wright, Elizabeth Mary, Old English Grammar, London : H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1914, pp 176-83
  6. Clark Hall op. cit.
  7. Bosworth, Joseph. "Mae_d." In An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online, edited by Thomas Northcote Toller, Christ Sean, and Ondřej Tichy. Prague: Faculty of Arts, Charles University, 2014.
  8. Bosworth op. cit..
  9. ibid.