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Wright 1 on wa_- and wo_-stems

more detail on the fluctuating w and vowel length in OE wa_- and wo_-stems

The following is an excerpt from Wright's Old English Grammar1 pages 176-83. The footnotes and references at the bottom of this pages are mine. They are not from Wright's text.

1. The a-declension.


c. wa-stems.

§ 359.
Nom. Acc. bearu, -o, grove t`e_o, servant
Gen. bearwes t`eowes
Dat. bearwe t`eowe
Nom. Acc. bearwas t`eowas
Gen. bearwa t`eowa
Dat. bearwum t`eowum

In the inflected forms the masc. wa-stems have the same endings as the pure a-stems. After the loss of prim. Germanic -az, -an in the nom. and acc. singular, the w being final became vocalized to -u which remained after short vowels followed by a consonant, but with a preceding short vowel it combined to form a diphthong (§ § 264-5); thus prim. Germanic *barwaz, -an, *t`ewaz, -an regularly became bearu (later bearo), t`e_o. After a long vowel the -u regularly disappeared, as in sna_, snow, from *snaiwaz, -an. At a later period the w in the inflected forms was levelled out into the nom. acc. singular, whence t`e_ow, sna_w beside older t`e_o, sna_. And then from t`e_ow there was often formed a new gen. t`e_owes beside the regular form t`eowes265). On forms like gen. bearuwes beside bearwes, see § 220.

§ 360. Like t`e_o, t`e_ow are declined be_aw, gadfly; de_aw (also neut), dew; la_re_ow from la_r + t`e_ow, teacher 2; la_tte_ow from la_d + t`e_ow, leader 3; t`e_aw, custom; bri_w (Goth. *breiws), pottage, porridge; gi_w 4, ge_ow, griffin, vulture; i_w 5, i_ow, e_ow, yew; sli_w (Goth. *sleiws), tench (a fish).

§ 361.
Nom. Acc. bealu, -o, evil cne_o, knee
Gen. bealwes cneowes
Dat. bealwe cneowe
Nom. Acc. bealu, -o cne_o
Gen. bealwa cneowa
Dat. bealwum cneowum

The neuter wa-stems have the same endings as the masculine except in the nom. acc. plural. What has been said in § 359 about the history of the w also applies to the neuters. It should be noted that the nom. acc. plural bealu, cne_o are from older *beal(w)u, *kne(w)u266), whereas the nom. acc. sing, bealu, cne_o, are from older *bealw-, *knew-265). On the svarabhakti vowel in the inflected forms like gen. bealuwes beside bealwes, see § 220. Besides the regular nom. acc. pl. cne_o, there also occurs cne_ow with w from the inflected forms; and also cneowu 6 with -u from forms like bealu. In late OE. the pl. also ended in -wa, see § 215, Note.

§ 362. Like bealu are declined c(w)udu, cud; teoru 7, tar; meolu, melu, meal, flour; searu, device; smeoru, fat.

§ 363. Like cne_o, cne_ow are also declined ancle_ow (orig. masc), ankle; be_ow, barley; g`ehlo_w, lowing, bellowing; g`ehre_ow, lamentation; hle_o(w), protection, covering; se_aw (also masc.), juice; stre_a(w), straw; tre_o(w), tree.

2. The o_-declension.

§ 364. The o_-declension contains feminine nouns only, and corresponds to the Latin and Greek a_-declension, for which reason it is sometimes called the a_-declension. The o_-declension is divided into pure o_-stems, jo_-stems, and wo_-stems.


c. wo-stems.

§ 379.

Nom. beadu, -o, battle mae_d, meadow
Acc. Gen. Dat. beadwe mae_dwe
Nom. Acc. beadwa, -e mae_dwa, -e
Gen. beadwa mae_dwa
Dat. beadwum mae_dwum

In the nom. singular the prim. Germanic ending -wo regularly became -wu214), then the w disappeared before the -u266). The -u remained after consonants preceded by an original short vowel, but disappeared after consonants preceded by a long vowel (§ 215). When the -u was preceded by a it combined with it to form a diphthong, as cle_a from *cla(w)u, claw, t`re_a from *t`ra(w)u, threat75), pl. nom. acc. cle_a, dat. cle_am from *cla(w)um; beside the regular nom. sing, forms cle_a, t`re_a new nominatives clawu, t`rawu were made from the stemform of the oblique cases. The final -u from older -w also regularly disappeared after long vowels and diphthongs (§ 215), but the w was restored again from the inflected forms already in the oldest period of the language, as hre_ow, repentance; sto_w, place; tre_ow90), faith, truth.

In the inflected forms the wo_-stems had the same endings as the wo_-stems except that they never had the ending -(e)na in the gen. plural. On the svarabhakti vowel in forms like gen. beaduwe beside beadwe, see § 220.

§ 380. Like beadu are declined sinu, sionu, sinew; sceadu, shadow; and the plurals fraetwe, ornaments; geatwe, armaments, armour.

§ 381. Like mae_d are declined blo_d(es)lae_s, blood-letting, bleeding; lae_s, pasture.

simplification of noun paradigms OE > eME

References & footnotes

  1. Wright, Joseph & Wright, Elizabeth Mary, Old English Grammar, London : H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1914, pp. 176-183
  2. note: BH 1175 lart`eow, TH 1200 lard`ewes, Prov.Alf. 1150 lort`eu, VH 1150 lard`eawes, LH 1225 lard`ewe, Wint.Ben.Rule 1225 lart`eawes, MED lor-theu
  3. note that the w in this and the two previous compound words based on t`e_o(w), is not marked as optional
  4. main entry in Clark Hall J.R., A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 1960
  5. main entry in Ibid.
  6. twin diacritics in Wright indicate either short or long vowel for this form
  7. [tere] n tar | OE teoru (e/a) m teorwe dat | HA tyrwan dat, VH tirwan dat, Gen. & Ex. 1250 ter dat, Newc. Galley 1296 ter gen/dat, MED ter | HA 1200, VH 1225