Homonymity of forms in Old English and its influence on the further development of noun forms


In the prehistoric period of the development of the English language each case had an ending typical of its uninflected form. In the course of the development of the English language, however, due to various semantic and phonetic changes different cases began to develop similar endings within one and the same paradigm; this phenomenon gave rise to the well-marked homonymity of case-forms in English. The twenty four word-forms which built up the noun paradigm had but nine materially different endings. The most distinct among them are:

-es – genitive singular, masculine and neuter

-a/ena– genitive plural, all genders

-um – dative plural, all genders

-as – nominative and accusative plural, masculine


As for the rest of the forms their mutual homonymity is considerable. For example, nouns with the stem originally are ending in –a show gender differences only in the plural, all the forms in the singular but the nominative being homonymous, irrespective of gender and case differences.

The existence of different endings of nouns grammatically alike and homonymous ending of nouns grammatically different testifies to a certain inadequacy of the morphological devices of the Old English noun to show the relation of the noun to other words in the sentence and a need for the development of new means to denote the grammatical meanings formerly denoted morphologically.



Reference table of the principal grammatical noun suffixes in Old English

Gender Case Masculine a i u n Feminine ō i u n Neuter a i n
Singular Nominative Genitive Dative Accusative   - e u/o a es es a an e e a an - e a an   u - u/o e e e a an e e a an e -/e a an   - -/e e es es an e e an - e e
Plural Nominative Genitive Dative Accusative   as e/es a ana a a a ena um um um um as e/as a an   e a a n a a a ena um um um um a e a an   u/o u an a a ena um um um u/o/- u an


The pronoun


The following classes of pronoun were to be observed in Old English: personal, possessive, demonstrative, interrogative, relative and indefinite pronouns.

The system of declension of the pronoun was not the same for all the classes. It has at least two subsystems that should be singled out: the declension of personal pronouns on the one hand and the declension of other pronouns. Although the grammatical categories of each subsystem were the same, i.e. gender, number, case, the number of the categorical forms composing those categories was different.


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