skip to content


Early Middle English for today

full menu

Sounds and spelling

in Early Middle English (eME)

Comparing Early Middle English (eME) to Modern English (ModE), we note these key differences:

  1. ModE usually represents long vowels with a pair of letter, e.g. ee, oo, oa, whereas in eME, long vowels are indicated by a single letter with a short stroke (or diacritic) above it - e.g. e_, o_, a_;
  2. eME long vowels are long versions of the corresponding short vowels - in other words, e_ is essentially a doubled e; the same is not true of ModE however - ee does not sound like a drawn-out e;
  3. some eME sounds no longer exist in ModE1 - long o_ and e_, as well as g and h in the middle or at the end of a word (/o:/,/e:/,/G``/,/x/ respectively);
  4. some letters used in eME are no longer used in ModE - y`, t`, ae_;
  5. some letters used in ModE are rarely used in eME, and generally only in words borrowed from French, Latin or Greek - j, qu, v, and z.

Short Vowels

Long Vowels


In general, consonants are pronounced as in ModE. However note the following:

Transform ModE spelling to eME spelling

Here are some simple rules which allow us to transform modE spelling to eME spelling and pronunciation:

oa/o*e > a_
broad, oak, boat, stone, home > bra_d, a_c, ba_t, sta_n, ha_m;
ee > e_
greet, deer, sleep, been, feet > gre_ten, de_r, sle_pen, be_n, fe_t;
i*e/y > i_
wide, wife, while, bite, fire, mine, by > wi_d, wi_f, hwi_l, bi_ten, fi_r, mi_n, bi_;
oo > o_
good, book, doom, flood, foot, goose, blood, moon, stool, tooth > go_d, bo_k, do_m, flo_d, fo_t, go_s, blo_d, mo_n, sto_l, to_t`;
ou/ow > u_
mouth, louse, house, now, cow > mu_t`, lu_s, hu_s, nu_, cu_;
ea > ae_
deal, stream, read, beam, leap > dae_l, strae_m, rae_den, bae_m, lae_pen;


  1. this is true for most dialects of ModE, including southern England, North America and Australasia; however some of these sounds do still exist in the English of parts of Northern England, Scotland and Ireland;
  2. note - eME short o should be pronounced the 'British' (or Australasian) way - /O`/; North Americans should either round their lips and cut their o short or look at the directions for eME long o_ and produce a shorter, sharper version of that; also note - Lass 1 maintains that all eME short vowels were simply short versions of their long counterparts; in other words, that eME short e i o /e i o/ weren't identical to ModE short e i o /E` I` O`/;
  3. j and v were simply variant forms of i and u respectively; they weren't separate entities in eME; their usage wasn't fixed until late in the ME period;
  4. and in the middle of a word, after l and r;
  5. in theory, k would be used before ae_ as well, but there are no examples at present;


  1. Lass, Roger. The Cambridge History of the English Language Volume II 1066-1479, Cambridge University Press, 1992; p50