Lecture 16



Middle English

System of Declensions

Old English

The Development of the Noun

Lecture 15



1. Cardinal ān (one), twēζen (two), þrēō (three) had the categories of Gender and Case. All the other cardinal numerals were unchangeable.

2. Ordinal were unchangeable.


As it has been mentioned in Lecture 14, the Noun had the following categories in OE:

Number Singular (Sg) and Plural (Pl).

Case Nominative (Nom), Genitive (Gen), Dative (Dat), Accusative (Acc).


Gender Masculine (M), Feminine (F), Neuter (N):

Originally (in PG) it was a semantic division (he/she/it associated with the lexical meaning of a noun), but in OE this principle did not work any more (e.g. wīf (wife) = Neuter);

In OE the nouns [A31] started to be groupped into genders according to the suffix:

- -þu (F) e.g. lenζþu (length);

- -ere (M) e.g. fiscere (fisher).

Though the stem-suffixes merged with the root, declensions were still existent in OE and were based on the former IE stem-suffixes:

a-stem the most numerous declension and proved to be productive (M, N):


Case Masculine Neuter
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nom, Acc fisc fiscas dēor dēor!
Gen fisces fisca dēores dēora
Dat fisce fiscum dēore dēorum


Traces of a-stem in Modern English:[A32]

-es (M, Sg, Gen) à s (students book) Possessive Case;

-as (M, Pl, Nom) à -(e)s (watches, books) plural ending for the majority of nouns;

-(N, Pl, Nom) à zero ending(deer, sheep) homogeneous Sg and Pl.

n-stem(M, N, F):


Case Masculine
Singular Plural
Nom nama naman
Gen naman namena
Dat naman namum
Acc naman naman


Traces of n-stem in Modern English[A33] :

-an (M, Pl, Nom) à -en (oxen, children, brethren) irregular plural ending.

root-stem never had stem-suffix, words consisted of just a root(M, F):

Case Masculine
Singular Plural
Nom, Acc fōt fēt
Gen fotes fōta
Dat fēt fōtum

Traces of root-stem in Modern English:

root-sound interchange (M, Pl, Nom) à root-sound interchange (men, geese, mice) irregular Plural.

Most changes occurred to the Noun in ME.

System of Declensions[A34]

In ME the declensions disappeared due to the reduction of endings. As far as the Case endings were reduced to one or two, there remained no distinction between the Case forms of different declensions and there was no necessity any more to distinguish these declensions.


The Gender in OE was not supported semantically. It was only a classifying feature for the declensions and as far as the declensions disappeared there was no necessity to preserve the Gender. It disappeared by the 11th 12th c.

The quantity of the Number endings was also reduced as far as the declensions disappeared. The markers of the Plural became more uniform (-s, -en, root-sound interchange). The preference of the consonantal endings[A36] can be explained by the fact that the vowels were more apt to change and reduction then the consonants that in general proved to be more stable.

The Case system was contracted in ME due to the reduction of endings. As far as the Case endings were reduced to one or two, there remained no distinction between the Case forms and there was no necessity any more to distinguish 4 Cases:


OE Cases ME Cases Peculiarities
Nominative à Dative à Accusative à   Common à (Subject) (former Nom) à (direct Object) (former Acc) à (prepositional/indirect Object) (former Dat)
Genitive à Genitive (Possessive) The usage of the Genitive became more limited. In Singular it was marked by -s. In the 17th 18th c.the apostrophe () started to be used in Pl, Gen as far as the plural Genitive ending was lost but some distinction between the Common and the Genitive case in Plural should be preserved.

Causes for Decay of Case System:

1.Influence of the Scandinavian Dialects that were grammatically simpler in comparison with OE Dialects and this influence led to the minimization of grammar.

2.Phonetic reduction of final unstressed syllables (inflections).

Consequences of Case System Decay:

1.The number of prepositions started to grow to help to replace the former Case forms.[A37]

2.As far as there was no distinctions between the Cases, the distinction between the Subject and the Object of a sentence was lost à fixed word order appeared (The Subject almost always took the first place and was followed by the Object).


1. After reading the material of the lecture, use the glossary of A Reader in the History of English by .. and analyse the following nouns: ēaζan, sunu, daζas, fæder, brēðer. Plan of analysis:

initial form;

type of declension;




Modern English equivalent;



2. Find all the nouns in the abstract from Beowulf on p. 8 in A Reader in the History of English by .. and analyse them according to the plan given above.

3. Find the proofs of the changes in the Noun in ME in the abstract from the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (lines 1-14) on p. 33-34 in A Reader in the History of English by .. .


  3. LECTURE 1. Contrastive Stylistic as a Linguistic Discipline
  4. Lecture 12. Evolution of the ME Lexical System.
  5. LECTURE 13
  6. Lecture 14. Evolution of the ME Nominal Morphology.
  7. Lecture 16
  8. Lecture 4

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