Middle English | morphology

Morphology

Nouns

Middle English retains only two distinct noun-ending patterns from the more complex system of inflection in Old English. The Early Middle English nouns engel ("angel") and name ("name") demonstrate the two patterns:

Strong (engel) Singular Plural Weak (name) Singular Plural
Nominative engel engles Nominative name namen
Accusative Accusative
Dative engle engle(n)/englem Dative namen namen/namem
Genitive engles[18] engle(ne)[19] Genitive namen(e)

Some nouns of the engel type have an -e in the nominative/accusative singular, like the weak declension, but otherwise strong endings. Often these are the same nouns that had an -e in the nominative/accusative singular of Old English (they, in turn, were inherited from Proto-Germanic ja-stem and i-stem nouns.)

The distinct dative case was lost in early Middle English. The genitive survived, however, but by the end of the Middle English period, only the strong -'s ending (variously spelt) was in use.[20]

The strong -(e)s plural form has survived into Modern English. The weak -(e)n form is now rare and used only in oxen and, as part of a double plural, in children and brethren. Some dialects still have forms such as eyen (for eyes), shoon (for shoes), hosen (for hose(s)), kine (for cows), and been (for bees).

Pronouns

Middle English personal pronouns were mostly developed from those of Old English, with the exception of the third-person plural, a borrowing from Old Norse (the original Old English form clashed with the third person singular and was eventually dropped). Also, the nominative form of the feminine third-person singular was replaced by a form of the demonstrative that developed into sche (modern she), but the alternative heyr remained in some areas for a long time.

As with nouns, there was some inflectional simplification (the distinct Old English dual forms were lost), but pronouns, unlike nouns, retained distinct nominative and accusative forms. Third-person pronouns also retained a distinction between accusative and dative forms, but that was gradually lost: the masculine hine was replaced by him south of the Thames by the early 14th century, and the neuter dative him was ousted by it in most dialects by the 15th.[21]

The following table shows some of the various Middle English pronouns, together with their modern (in quotation marks) and (sometimes) Old English equivalents. Many other variations are noted in Middle English sources because of differences in spellings and pronunciations at different times and in different dialects.[22]

Person (gender) Subject Object (Accusative) Object (Dative) Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive Old English forms (N, A, D, G)
Singular
First
modern
ic/ich/I
"I"
me/mi
"me"
min/minen (pl.)
"my"
min/mire/minre "mine" min one/mi selven "myself" iċ, mec/mē, mē, mīn
Second
modern (archaic)
þou/þu/tu/þeou
"you" (thou)
þe
"you" (thee)
þi/ti
"your" (thy)
þin/þyn
"yours" (thine)
þeself/þi selven
"yourself" (thyself)
þū, þec/þē, þē, þīn
Third Masculine
modern
he

"he"

hine
"him"
him
"him"
his/hisse/hes
"his"
his/hisse

"his"

him-seluen

"himself"

hē, hine, him, his
Feminine
modern
sche[o]/s[c]ho/ȝho
"she"
heo/his/hie/hies/hire
"her" "her"
hio/heo/hire/heore
"her"
"hers" heo-seolf
"herself"
hēo, hīe, hiere, hiere
Neuter
modern
hit

"it"

hit

"it"

him

"it"

his

"its"

his

"its"

hit sulue

"itself"

hit, hit, him, his
Plural
First
modern
we

"we"

us/ous

"us"

ure[n]/our[e]/ures/urne

"our"

oures

"ours"

us self/ous silve

"ourselves"

wē, ūsic, ūs, ūser/ūre (dual: wit, etc.)
Second
modern (archaic)
ȝe/ye
"you" (ye)
eow/[ȝ]ou/ȝow/gu/you

"you"

eower/[ȝ]ower/gur/[e]our

"your"

youres

"yours"

ȝou self/ou selve ''yourselves'' ġē, ēowic, ēow, ēower

(dual: ġit, etc.)

Third From Old English heo/he his heo[m]/þo/þem heore/her - þam-selue hīe, hīe, heom, heora
From Old Norse þei þem þeir - þem-selue
Modern English they them them their theirs themselves

Verbs

As a general rule, the indicative first person singular of verbs in the present tense ends in -e ("ich here" I hear), the second person in -(e)st ("þou spekest" thou speakest), and the third person in -eþ ("he comeþ" he cometh/he comes). (þ (the letter 'thorn') is pronounced like the unvoiced th in "think", but, under certain circumstances, it may be like the voiced th in "that"). The following table illustrates the conjugation pattern of but one dialect.[23]

Type of verbs Strong verbs (singen) Weak verbs (baþen) to be to have to want
Tense Present Past Present Past Present Past Present Past Present Past
Person ich singe sang baþe baþede am wæs have hadde will wolde
þu singest songest baþest baþedest art were hast haddest wilt woldest
he/sche/hit sing sang baþ baþede is wæs haþ hadde will wolde
we/ȝe/þei singen songen baþen baþeden aren weren haven hadden wollen wolden
Participle singende ȝesungen baþende baþede bende ȝeben havende ȝehad willende ȝewolde
Infinitive singen baþen ben haven willen

Plural forms vary strongly by dialect, with Southern dialects preserving the Old English -eþ, Midland dialects showing -en from about 1200 and Northern forms using -es in the third person singular as well as the plural.[24]

The past tense of weak verbs is formed by adding an -ed(e), -d(e) or -t(e) ending. The past-tense forms, without their personal endings, also serve as past participles with past-participle prefixes derived from Old English: i-, y- and sometimes bi-.

Strong verbs, by contrast, form their past tense by changing their stem vowel (binden becomes bound, a process called apophony), as in Modern English.