Degrees of Comparison
§ 187.Like adjectives in other languages, most OE adjectives distinguished between three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative and superlative. The regular means used to form the comparative and the superlative from the positive were the suffixes -ra and -est/ost. Sometimes suffixation was accompanied by an Interchange of the root-vowel (see Table 8).
Comparison of Adjectives in Old English
|Means of form-building||Positive||Comparative||Superlative||NE|
|Suffixation plus vowel interchange||ʒlæd||ʒlædra||ʒladost||glad|
The root-vowel interchanges in long, eald, ʒlæd go back to different sources. The variation [a ~ æ] is a purely phonetic phenomenon; retraction of [æ] before the back vowel in the suffix -ost is not peculiar to the adjective (see § 163 for similar interchanges in nouns and § 117 for pertinent phonetic changes). The interchange in long and eald is of an entirely different nature: the narrowed or fronted root-vowel is regularly employed as a marker of the comparative and the superlative degrees, together with the suffixes. The mutation of the root-vowel was caused by i-umlaut in Early OE. At that stage the suffixes were either -ira, -ist or -ora, -ost. In the forms with -i- the root vowel was fronted and/or made narrower (see palatal mutation § 125 ff); later -i- was lost or weakened to -e- — but the mutated root-vowel survived as an additional formal marker of the comparative and superlative degrees.
Some adjectives had parallel sets of forms: with and without a vowel interchange. These sets could arise if the adjective had originally employed both kinds of suffixes; or else the non-mutated vowel was restored on the analogy of the positive degree and other adjectives without sound interchanges.
§ 188. The adjective ʒōd had suppletive forms. Suppletion was a very old way of building the degrees of comparison (it can be illustrated by the forms of adjectives in other IE languages: G gut, besser, beste, Fr mal, pire, R хороший, лучше).
§ 189.The OE verb was characterised by many peculiar features. Though the verb had few grammatical categories, its paradigm had a
very complicated structure: verbs fell into numerous morphological classes and employed a variety of form-building means. All the forms of the verb were synthetic, as analytical forms were only beginning to appear. The non-finite forms had little in common with the finite forms but shared many features with the nominal parts of speech.
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