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Declension of Adjectives in Late Middle English

Table 3

  sg pl
Strong blind blinde
Weak blinde blinde

This paradigm can be postulated only for monosyllabic adjectives ending in a consonant, such as ME bad, good, long. Adjectives ending in vowels and polysyllabic adjectives took no endings and could not show the difference between sg and pl forms or strong and weak forms: ME able, swete, bisy, thredbare and the like were uninflected.

Nevertheless certain distinctions between weak and strong forms, and also between sg and pl are found in the works of careful 14th c. writ­ers like Chaucer and Gower. Weak forms are often used attributively after the possessive and demonstrative pronouns and after the definite article. Thus Chaucer has: this like worthy knight ‘this same worthy knight’; my deere herte ‘my dear heart’, which are weak forms, the strong forms in the sg having no ending.

But the following examples show that strong and weak forms could be used indiscriminately:

A trewe swynkere and a good was he (Chaucer)

(‘A true labourer and a good (one) was he.’)

Similarly, the pl and sg forms were often confused in the strong declen­sion, e. g.:

A sheef of pecok-arves, bright and kene,

Under his belt he bar ful thriftily (Chaucer)

(‘A sheaf of peacock-arrows, bright and keen,

Under his belt he carried very thriftily.’)

The distinctions between the sg and p; forms, and the weak and strong forms, could not be preserved for long, as they were not shown by all the adjectives; besides, the reduced ending -e [ə] was very unsta­ble even in 14th c. English. In Chaucer’s poems, for instance, it is always missed out in accordance with the requirements of the rhythm.

The loss of final -e in the transition to NE made the adjective an en­tirely uninflected part of speech.


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Decay of Declensions and Grammatical Categories | Degrees of Comparison

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