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3. Old English grammatical system.

The Noun

Nouns in Old English had three grammatical categories: gender, number and case. Gender is actually not a grammatical category in a strict sense of the word, for every noun with all its forms belongs to only one gender; but case and number had a set of endings.There were two numbers – singular and plural, and four cases – Nominative, Genitive, Dative and Accusative.

Types of Stems

The nouns in Old English are commonly classified as belonging to strong and weak declension. Nouns of n-stem belong to weak declension, nouns of the other types of stems (a-stem, o-stem, i-stem, u-stem, root stem, -es-stem, r-stem) belong to strong declension. The names of the stem types mean that in pre-historic times there was a suffix between the root and the ending. This suffix could be –a-, -u- -o, etc. Types of stems are given their names according to these extinct suffixes.

The Adjective

The adjective in Old English had the following categories:

  • the number – singular and plural;

  • the case – Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, partly Instrumental;

  • the gender – masculine, neuter, feminine (one and the same adjective could have all three genders: each gender had its own declension system in the singular and the plural);

  • the degrees of comparison – positive, comparative, superlative.

The Degrees of Comparison

The degrees of comparison – positive, comparative, superlative; their forms were made by adding suffixes –ra and –ost/-est; (earm – earmra –earmost /MnE poor) The adjectives 3od (good), yfel (bad), mycel (much), lytel (little) had supplelive forms of degrees of comparison. The adjectives had two types of declension – strong and weak. Adjectives used after a demonstrative or a personal pronoun, as well as after a noun in the Genitive case belonged to weak declension.

The Pronoun. Personal Pronouns

Old English personal pronouns had the following grammatical categories:

  • the person – 3 persons (the first, the second, the third);

  • the number – 3 numbers ( singular, plural and the remains of the dual number in the first and in the second persons);

  • the gender – 3 genders (in the 3rd person singular);

  • the case – 4 cases (Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative).

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns se and pes had the categories of number, gender and case (2 numbers – singular and plural, three genders and four or five cases; the Instrumental case was added in the masculine and neuter singular).

OE pes – MnE this

OE se – MnE that or MnE the The definite article developed from the Old English demonstrative pronoun se.

The Verb

All English verbs were divided into 7 classes of strong verbs and 3 classes of weak verbs.All strong verbs had the gradation of the root vowel in the basic forms. Classes of strong verb were distinguished according to the type of the gradation and the nature of the root vowel.Weak verbs formed their basic forms with the help of the dental suffix.

Strong Verbs

Strong Verbs had 4 basic forms: the Infinitive, Past Singular, Past Plural, Participle II. Each form was marked by the ending of its own.

The Infinitive - an

Past Singular - (zero)

Past Plural - on

Participle II - en

  • I – the Infinitive, the Present Tense;

  • II – Past Singular (1st, 3rd persons);

  • III – Past Plural (+ 2nd person singular and the Subjunctive Mood);

  • IV – Participle II.

Weak Verbs

Weak Verbs had 3 basic forms: the Infinitive, the Past Tense and Participle II. They formed the Past Tense and Participle II with the help of the dental suffix –d and its variants. There were 3 classes of Weak Verbs in Old English: Class1 - Initially the verbs of this class had the suffix –j which caused the doubling of the final consonant in the position after the short root vowel.Weak verbs of the first class were formed from nouns and adjectives:Dom (n) – dom + jan = deman (v)

Infinitive Past Tense Participle II

-an -(e)de - ed Class2 - It’s a productive class. It’s formed from nouns and adjectives with the help of the suffix –ian (intitially –oja):Mete (n) (MnE meat) – metian (v) (MnE to feed) As a result the forms of the Past Tense and Participle II had o before the dental suffix:Macian – macode – macod (MnE to make)

Infinitive Past Tense Participle II

-ian -ode -od

Class3 - In this class of weak verbs the suffix –j is present in the forms of the Infinitive and the Present Tense and is absent in the forms of the Past Tense and Participle II. This caused the umlaut and the doubling of the final consonant in the Infinitive and the Present Tense and the absence of these processes in the Past Tense and Participle II. The dental suffix is added without an intermediate element:Sec3an – sae3de – sae3d (MnE to say)The verbs of this class weren’t formed according to one common principle.

Infinitive Past Tense Participle II

-an -de -d

The Categories of the OE Verb

Tense. There were only two tenses in Old English: Present and Past. Future was expressed by lexical means. Aspect. Some verbs had the prefix 3e- which showed that the action was completed. Some scholars consider this prefix to be the mark of the completed aspect, but most scholars deny the existence of the aspect as a category. Mood. There were 3 moods: the Indicative, the Imperative and the Subjunctive.

  • The Indicative mood expressed the objective facts.

  • The Imperative mood expressed commands, requests, permission.

  • The Subjunctive mood expressed the suppositional, desirable, conditional, unreal action.

Voice. This category didn’t exist in Old English.

Person and Number. These categories had a well-developed system of forms which was represented in the system of conjugation of the verb. All the categories were expressed synthetically. But there were also some analytical formations in Old English.

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