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2) Adjectives

Grammatical categories:

  1. Number;

  2. Case;

  3. Gender;

  • Degrees of comparison.

  • Declensions: strong and weak.

Adjectives in Old English always agreed in case, number and gender with the nouns they modified.

Adjectives normally belonged to two declensions: the assignment of declension in adjectives was syntactically determined:

  • weak declension: if the adjective was in a definite NP (usually made definite by a demonstrative or possessive): þæt weste land ‘that waste land’;

  • elsewhere the strong declension was used: þa menn sindon gōde ‘the men are good’

Always strong: eall, manig, ōþer

Always weak: adjectives in comparative or superlative degree, ordinal numerals, the adjective ilca

Strong adjectives declined like strong nouns:


Masc. Neut. Fem.

Nom. sum sum sumu

Gen. sumes sumes sumre

Dat. sumum sumum sumre

Acc. sumne sum sume

Instr. sume sume


Masc. Neut. Fem.

Nom. sume sumu suma

Gen. sumra sumra sumra

Dat. sumum sumum sumum

Acc. sume sumu suma

The weak adjective forms were identical to the forms of the n-declension nouns:

Masc. Neut. Fem. Pl.

Nom. suma sume sume suman

Gen. suman suman suman sumra

Dat. suman suman suman sumum

Acc. suman sume suman suman

Degrees of Comparison

In OE the periphrastic (=formed by a combination of words rather than by inflection) comparison with an equivalent of more, most was relatively rare and mostly restricted to late texts.

POE suffixes:

  • *-ora, *-ost, (with the -o- of the comparative being lost): e.g. earm, earmra, earmost

  • *-ira, *-ist (in those cases i-mutation is found): e.g. eald, yldra, yldest

A few very common adjectives formed their comparison by suppletion (by taking the compared form from another root): gōd, betra, betst;

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