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The productive stems in the strong declension were –a- for the masculine and neuter genders and –ō- for the feminine gender.

Nouns in OE

Old English nouns had grammatical gender (masculine, feminine, neuter), singular and plural number, and four cases used in Old English: nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative.

In Modern English almost all nouns are declined in pretty much the same way: we add -s to make plurals and -'s to make possessives. There are notable exceptions, however. The plural of ox is not oxes, but oxen, and the plural of child has the same ending, but preceded by -r-. And of course several very common nouns make plurals by changing their vowels: for example, tooth/teeth and mouse/mice.

Nouns with -s plurals, nouns with -en plurals, the noun with -r-, and the nouns that change their vowels used to belong to different declensions--classes of nouns that were declined in similar ways. Old English there were several major declensions and several more minor ones.

In Modern English we do not think of nouns as having gender; rather, the things they refer to have gender (or they do not, in which case they are "neuter"). But gender is an attribute of every Old English noun, and the grammatical gender of a noun does not necessarily correspond to the natural gender of the thing it refers to. For example, wīf 'woman' is neuter and wīfman'woman' is masculine; and nouns that refer to inanimate objects are very often masculine or feminine (for example, masculine stān'stone', feminine benċ 'bench'). Further, different endings are added to nouns of different gender (for example, the nominative plural of masculine wer 'man' is weras, of neuter scip 'ship' scipu, and of feminine cwēn 'queen' cwēna).

Most nouns fell into one of two major declensions, conventionally called "strong" and "weak." There are also several minor declensions. Nouns are referred to this or that declension/stem depending on 3 factors: - stem-building suffix;

- gender;

- phonetic structure (the length of the root syllable).

You can make the job of learning the nouns easier by looking for patterns within the paradigms. Take particular note of these:

  • Neuter and masculine genitive singular forms are the same within each major declension -es
  • All dative singular forms are the same within each major declension -e
  • All genitive plural forms end in -a
  • All dative plural forms end in -um

Strong nouns (with vocalic stems –a-, -ō-, -i-, -u-)

The productive stems in the strong declension were –a- for the masculine and neuter genders and –ō- for the feminine gender.

Table 1. Strong masculines and neuters (-a-stem)
  masculine short neuter long neuter
singular nominative stān 'stone' scip 'ship' þing 'thing'
genitive stānes scipes þinges
dative stāne scipe þinge
plural nominative stānas scipu þing
genitive stāna scipa þinga
dative stānum scipum þingum


From this table you can see that ending –(e)s, an almost universal ending of the plural in Modern English, goes back to OE ending –as of nouns of -a-stem, masculine gender. Zero ending (like in sheep, fish) goes back to –a-stem, neuter gender, long root syllable.

Feminine nouns (table 2) look much less familiar than masculines or even neuters. The feminines do not have the masculine/neuter genitive -es or the masculine plural -as, which give us the dominant Modern English noun endings.

Table 2. Strong feminines
  short stem long stem
singular nominative ġiefu 'gift' sorg 'sorrow'
accusative ġiefe sorge
plural nominative ġiefa, -e sorga, -e
genitive ġiefa sorga
dative ġiefum sorgum

Weak nouns (with consonantal stems:-r-, -s-, -n-, -nd-)

The productive stem of the weak declension was –n-stem. The group of –n-stem nouns consisted of nouns of all 3 genders. Ending –an, the ending of the plural nominative and accusative of the –n-stem nouns, is the ancestor of the Modern English ending –en (like in oxen).

Table 3. Shows the endings of the weak declension, ancestor of the Modern English nouns with anomalous plural -en.

Table 3. Weak noun endings
  masculine neuter feminine
singular nominative -a -e -e
accusative -an -e -an
genitive -an -an -an
dative -an -an -an
plural nominative -an -an -an
genitive -ena -ena -ena
dative -um -um -um


Table 4. adds these endings to three common nouns.

Table 4. Weak nouns
  masculine neuter feminine
singular nominative nama 'name' ēage 'eye' tunge 'tongue'
accusative naman tungan
genitive ēagan
plural nominative naman ēagan tungan
genitive namena ēagena tungena
dative namum ēagum tungum

Within consonantal stems there were unproductive but interesting types of stems:

Date: 2015-04-20; view: 1308

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