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Old English Online

Lesson 6

Jonathan Slocum and Winfred P. Lehmann

A century after Alfred the Great, Danish Vikings still controlled a substantial part of Northumbria -- an area referred to as the Danelaw. From there and elsewhere, they continually raided southern areas of England. In an Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for the year 991, there is a simple report that Alderman Byrhtnoth was slain at Maldon; no other details are preserved in that source. However, a surviving fragment of an epic poem records the event and, in so doing, presents what is surely the most magnificent portrait of Anglo-Saxon comitatus loyalty in Old English literature.

In August of that year, Danish forces had sailed to the mouth of the Panta (now Blackwater) River in Essex, and established a garrison on an island; Byrhtnoth arrived with an Essex levy, intending to drive the invaders away. As the tide ebbed and the Vikings struggled to cross a narrow ford, easily defended by the English, the Danish leader boldly asked to be allowed to advance unimpeded and establish a position on the shore prior to resuming a proper fight. Byrhtnoth -- proud and over-confident -- acceded to this request. It was a fatal mistake. Byrhtnoth and many noble comrades fell in battle, and the English suffered utter defeat.

Reading and Textual Analysis

The Battle of Maldon seems to have been written not long after the engagement itself, although the poet has no doubt put his own words into the mouths of the warriors. Those attributed to Byrhtwold in lines 312-319, after Byrhtnoth had fallen, capture the spirit of the brave who stayed to fight though the battle was lost: "Thought must be the sterner, heart the bolder, mood must be the stouter, as our strength lessens. Here lies our lord all cut down, brave on the ground; forever may he lament who thinks now to run away from this battle. I am old in life: I will not go away, but I resolve to lie myself beside my lord, by the man so loved."

This speech must have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien a thousand years later, though he gave different words to the lone "Anglo-Saxon" rider of Rohan who would defend the body of the king from the Nazgûl Lord and his fell beast: "Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may. ... You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him" (from The Battle of the Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King).

The Battle of Maldon represents the last known Old English epic poem written before the Norman invasion. Our selection includes lines 295-325, found on p. 120 in: Charles T. Onions, ed. (1959), Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader in Prose and Verse, 14th edition, Oxford: Clarendon.

wear borda gebrc;         brimmen wdon,
ge gegremode;         gr oft urhwd
fges feorhhs.

  • -- adverb <> then, when -- then
  • wear -- strong verb, class III; 3rd person singular preterite of <weoran, wear, wurdon, worden> become, happen -- (there) was
  • borda -- noun, neuter; genitive plural of <bord> board, shield -- of shields
  • gebrc -- strong verb, class IV; 3rd person singular preterite of <gebrecan, gebrc, gebrcon, gebrocen> break, destroy, subdue -- (a) breaking
  • brimmen -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <brim-man> sailor, lit. sea man -- seamen
  • wdon -- strong verb, class VI; 3rd person plural preterite of <wadan, wd, wdon, waden> wade, stride over -- advanced
  • ge -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <g> battle -- by battle
  • gegremode -- weak verb, class II; past participle; nominative plural masculine of <gegremian, gegremode, gegremod> enrage -- enraged
  • gr -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <gr> spear -- spear
  • oft -- adverb <oft> often, frequently -- often
  • urhwd -- strong verb, class VI; 3rd person singular preterite of <urhwadan, urhwd, urhwdon, urhwaden> pierce, penetrate -- pierced
  • fges -- adjective; accusative singular masculine of <fge> doomed, fated -- (a) doomed
  • feorhhs -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <feorh-hs> body, lit. life-house -- body

        For ode Wstn,
rstnes sunu,         wi s secgas feaht;

  • for -- adverb <for> forth, thence -- forth
  • -- adverb <> then, when -- then
  • ode -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <gn> go, walk, move -- went
  • Wstn -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Wstn> Wistan -- Wistan
  • rstnes -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <rstn> Thurstan -- Thurstan's
  • sunu -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <sunu> son -- son
  • wi -- preposition <wi> against, along -- against
  • s -- demonstrative article; accusative plural of <es, os, is> this -- the
  • secgas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <secg> man, warrior -- men
  • feaht -- strong verb, class III; 3rd person singular preterite of <feohtan, feaht, fuhton, fohten> fight -- fought

h ws on gerange         hyra rora bana,
r him Wgelmes bearn         on m wle lge.

  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • ws -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- in
  • gerange -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <gerang> throng, tumult -- the throng
  • hyra -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive plural of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- of them
  • rora -- numeral; genitive plural of <re, ro, ro> three -- of three
  • bana -- weak noun, masculine; nominative singular of <bana> bane, slayer -- the slayer
  • r -- adverb <r> ere, before, formerly -- before
  • him -- 3rd person pronoun; dative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- ...
  • Wgelmes -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Wgelm> Wigelin -- Wigelin's
  • bearn -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <bearn> child -- son
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- among
  • m -- definite article; dative singular masculine of <se, so, t> the -- the
  • wle -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <wl> carnage; battlefield -- dead
  • lge -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular preterite subjunctive of <licgan, lg, lgon, legen> lie, extend, be situated -- lay

r ws st gemt:         stdon fste
wigan on gewinne;

  • r -- adverb <r> there, where -- there
  • ws -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • st -- adjective; nominative singular neuter of <st> stiff, stern, brave -- (a) brave
  • gemt -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <gemt> meeting, council, assembly -- meeting
  • stdon -- strong verb, class VI; 3rd person plural preterite of <standan, std, stdon, standen> stand -- stood
  • fste -- adverb <fste> fast, firmly, securely -- fast
  • wigan -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <wiga> warrior -- fighters
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- in
  • gewinne -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <gewinn> battle, strife, struggle -- the strife

        wgend cruncon,
wundum wrige;         wl fol on eoran.

  • wgend -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <wgend> warrior -- warriors
  • cruncon -- strong verb, class III; 3rd person plural preterite of <cringan, crong, crungon, crungen> cringe, yield; die -- died
  • wundum -- noun, feminine; dative plural of <wund> wound -- (by) wounds
  • wrige -- adjective; nominative plural of <wrig> weary, exhausted -- exhausted
  • wl -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <wl> carnage; battlefield -- the slain
  • fol -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person singular preterite of <feallan, foll, follon, feallen> fall, flow -- fell
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- to
  • eoran -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <eor> earth -- earth

swold and Ealdwold         ealle hwle,
bgen gebrru,         beornas trymedon,

  • swold -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <swold> Oswold -- Oswold
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • Ealdwold -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Ealdwold> Ealdwold -- Ealdwold
  • ealle -- adjective; accusative singular feminine of <eall> all -- all
  • hwle -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <hwl> while, time -- the while
  • bgen -- pronoun; nominative dual masculine of <bgen> both -- both
  • -- definite article; nominative plural of <se, so, t> the -- the
  • gebrru -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <gebror> brother -- brothers
  • beornas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <beorn> man, nobleman -- the men
  • trymedon -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person plural preterite of <trymian, trymede, trymed> exhort, encourage -- encouraged

hyra winemgas         wordon bdon
t h r t earfe         olian sceoldon,
unwclce         wpna notan.

  • hyra -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive plural of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- their
  • winemgas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <wine-mg> dear-, lit. friend-kinsman -- kinsmen
  • wordon -- noun, neuter; instrumental plural of <word> word, speech -- by words
  • bdon -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person plural preterite of <biddan, bd, bdon, beden> bid, beseech, urge -- beseeched
  • t -- demonstrative used as relative pronoun; nominative singular neuter of <s, so, t> who, which, that -- that
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative plural of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- they
  • r -- adverb <r> there, where -- there
  • t -- preposition <t> at, against -- against
  • earfe -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <earf> need, requirement -- need
  • olian -- weak verb, class II; infinitive of <olian, olade, olad> endure, hold out -- endure
  • sceoldon -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class IV; 3rd person plural preterite indicative of <sculan, sceal, sculon, scolde> shall, ought to -- should
  • unwclce -- adverb <unwclce> bravely, unwaveringly -- unwaveringly
  • wpna -- noun, neuter; genitive plural of <wpen> weapon -- (their) weapons
  • notan -- strong verb, class II; infinitive of <notan, nat, nudon, noden> use, employ -- use

Byrhtwold maelode,         bord hafenode,
s ws eald genat,         sc cwehte,
h ful baldlce         beornas lrde:

  • Byrhtwold -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Byrhtwold> Byrhtwold -- Byrhtwold
  • maelode -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person singular preterite of <maelian, maelode, maelod> speak, address, harangue -- spoke
  • bord -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <bord> board, shield -- (his) shield
  • hafenode -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person singular preterite of <hafenian, hafenode, hafenod> raise, lift up -- raised
  • s -- demonstrative used as 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <s, so, t> he, she, it -- he
  • ws -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • eald -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <eald> old -- (an) old
  • genat -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <genat> companion, retainer -- retainer
  • sc -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <sc> ash (tree), spear; boat, ship -- (his) ash spear
  • cwehte -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <cweccan, cwehte, cweht> shake, brandish; quiver -- shook
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • ful -- adverb <ful> fully, completely -- full
  • baldlce -- adverb <bald-lce> boldly -- boldly
  • beornas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <beorn> man, nobleman -- the men
  • lrde -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <lran, lrde, lred> teach, advise, exhort -- exhorted

'Hige sceal heardra,         heorte cnre,
md sceal mre,         re mgen ltla.

  • hige -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <hyge> heart, mind, soul -- thought
  • sceal -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class IV; 3rd person singular present indicative of <sculan, sceal, sculon, scolde> shall, ought to -- must be
  • -- adverb <> the -- the
  • heardra -- adjective; comparative of <heard> stern, strong -- sterner
  • heorte -- noun, feminine; nominative singular of <heorte> heart -- heart
  • -- adverb <> the -- the
  • cnre -- adjective; comparative of <cne> bold -- bolder
  • md -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <md> mood, mind -- mood
  • sceal -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class IV; 3rd person singular present indicative of <sculan, sceal, sculon, scolde> shall, ought to -- must be
  • -- adverb <> the -- the
  • mre -- adjective; comparative of <m> great, stout -- stouter
  • -- conjunction <> as -- as
  • re -- 1st person pronoun; genitive plural of <ic> I -- our
  • mgen -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <mgen> might, strength -- strength
  • ltla -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person singular present of <ltlian, ltlode, ltlod> lessen, diminish -- lessens

Hr l re ealdor         eall forhawen,
gd on grote;

  • hr -- adverb <hr> here -- here
  • l -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular present of <licgan, lg, lgon, legen> lie, extend, be situated -- lies
  • re -- 1st person pronoun; genitive plural of <ic> I -- our
  • ealdor -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <ealdor> elder, parent, prince -- lord
  • eall -- adverb <eall> all -- all
  • forhawen -- strong verb, class VII; past participle; nominative singular masculine of <forhawan, forhow, forhowon, forhawen> hew, cut down -- cut down
  • gd -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <gd> good, excellent -- brave
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- on
  • grote -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <grot> grit, dust, earth -- the ground

        mg gnornian
s e n fram s wgplegan         wendan ence.

  • -- adverb <> always, ever -- forever
  • mg -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class V; 3rd person singular present indicative of <magan, mg, magon, meahte> may, be able to -- may
  • gnornian -- weak verb, class II; infinitive of <gnornian, gnornode, gnornod> mourn, lament -- lament
  • s -- demonstrative used as 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <s, so, t> he, she, it -- he
  • e -- relative particle <e> that, which, who -- who
  • n -- adverb <n> now -- now
  • fram -- preposition <fram> from -- away from
  • s -- demonstrative article; instrumental singular masculine of <es, os, is> this -- this
  • wgplegan -- noun, masculine; instrumental singular of <wg-plega> battle, lit. war-play -- battle
  • wendan -- weak verb, class I; infinitive of <wendan, wende, wended> wend, turn, go -- to run
  • ence -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular present of <encan, hte, ht> think, intend, resolve -- thinks

Ic eom frd fores:         fram ic ne wille,
ac ic m be healfe         mnum hlforde
be sw lofan men         licgan ence.'

  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • eom -- anomalous verb; 1st person singular present indicative of <is> be, become, exist -- am
  • frd -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <frd> old, wise, experienced -- old
  • fores -- strong noun, masc/neut; genitive singular of <feorh> life -- life
  • fram -- preposition <fram> from -- away
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • ne -- adverb <ne> not -- not
  • wille -- anomalous verb; 1st person singular present indicative of <willan> wish, be willing -- will
  • ac -- conjunction <ac> and, but, however -- but
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • m -- 1st person pronoun; accusative singular of <ic> I -- myself
  • be -- preposition <be> at, by, near -- be-
  • healfe -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <healf> half, part, side -- side
  • mnum -- 1st person pronoun; used as adjective; dative singular masculine of <ic> I -- my
  • hlforde -- strong noun, masculine; dative singular of <hlford> lord, master -- lord
  • be -- preposition <be> at, by, near -- by
  • sw -- adverb <sw> so, thus -- so
  • lofan -- adjective; dative singular of <lof> lief, dear, beloved -- loved
  • men -- strong noun, masculine; dative singular of <monn> man, person -- the man
  • licgan -- strong verb, class V; infinitive of <licgan, lg, lgon, legen> lie, extend, be situated -- to lie
  • ence -- weak verb, class I; 1st person singular present of <encan, hte, ht> think, intend, resolve -- resolve

Sw h elgres bearn         ealle bylde
Godrc t ge:

  • sw -- adverbial conjunction <sw> so, thus -- so
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; accusative plural of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- them
  • elgres -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <elgr> Aethelgar -- Aethelgar's
  • bearn -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <bearn> child -- son
  • ealle -- adjective; nominative plural masculine of <eall> all -- all
  • bylde -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <byldan, bylde, bylded> cheer, encourage -- cheered
  • Godrc -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Godrc> Godric -- Godric
  • t -- preposition <t> (in)to -- in
  • ge -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <g> battle -- battle

        oft h gr forlt,
wlspere windan         on wcingas,
sw h on m folce         fyrmest ode,
how and hnde,         o t h on hilde gecranc;

  • oft -- adverb <oft> often, frequently -- often
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • gr -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <gr> spear -- spear
  • forlt -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person singular preterite of <forltan, forlt, forlton, forlten> leave, abandon -- loosed
  • wlspere -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <wl-spere> deadly spear -- deadly spear
  • windan -- strong verb, class III; infinitive of <windan, wond, wundon, wunden> wind, twist, turn -- to spin
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- into
  • -- definite article; accusative plural of <se, so, t> the -- the
  • wcingas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <wcing> Viking, pirate -- Vikings
  • sw -- adverbial conjunction <sw> so, thus -- as
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- into
  • m -- definite article; dative singular masculine of <se, so, t> the -- the
  • folce -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <folc> folk, people -- host
  • fyrmest -- adjective; superlative of <forma> first -- foremost
  • ode -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <gn> go, walk, move -- went
  • how -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person singular preterite of <hawan, how, howon, hawen> hew, cut down, kill -- killed
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • hnde -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <hnan, hnde, hned> despise, injure, insult -- injured
  • o t -- adverbial conjunction <o t> until -- until
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- in
  • hilde -- strong noun, feminine; dative singular of <hild> battle, war -- battle
  • gecranc -- strong verb, class III; 3rd person singular preterite of <gecringan, gecranc, gecrungon, gecrungen> cringe, fall, perish -- fell

ns t n se Godrc         e ge forbah.

  • ns -- contraction; adverb <ne> not + anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was not
  • t -- demonstrative pronoun; nominative singular neuter of <s, so, t> that -- that
  • n -- adverb <n> no, nor, not (at all) -- ... # double negative, for emphasis
  • se -- definite article; nominative singular masculine of <se, so, t> the -- the
  • Godrc -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Godrc> Godric -- Godric
  • e -- relative particle <e> that, which, who -- who
  • -- definite article; accusative singular feminine of <se, so, t> the -- the
  • ge -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <g> battle -- fight
  • forbah -- strong verb, class II; 3rd person singular preterite of <forbgan, forbah, forbugon, forbogen> flee from -- fled from

Lesson Text

wear borda gebrc;         brimmen wdon,
ge gegremode;         gr oft urhwd
fges feorhhs.
        For ode Wstn,
rstnes sunu,         wi s secgas feaht;

h ws on gerange         hyra rora bana,
r him Wgelmes bearn         on m wle lge.

r ws st gemt:         stdon fste
wigan on gewinne;
        wgend cruncon,
wundum wrige;         wl fol on eoran.

swold and Ealdwold         ealle hwle,
bgen gebrru,         beornas trymedon,

hyra winemgas         wordon bdon
t h r t earfe         olian sceoldon,
unwclce         wpna notan.


Byrhtwold maelode,         bord hafenode,
s ws eald genat,         sc cwehte,
h ful baldlce         beornas lrde:

'Hige sceal heardra,         heorte cnre,
md sceal mre,         re mgen ltla.

Hr l re ealdor         eall forhawen,
gd on grote;
        mg gnornian
s e n fram s wgplegan         wendan ence.

Ic eom frd fores:         fram ic ne wille,
ac ic m be healfe         mnum hlforde
be sw lofan men         licgan ence.'

Sw h elgres bearn         ealle bylde
Godrc t ge:
        oft h gr forlt,
wlspere windan         on wcingas,
sw h on m folce         fyrmest ode,
how and hnde,         o t h on hilde gecranc;

ns t n se Godrc         e ge forbah.

Translation

Then there was a breaking of shields; seamen advanced, enraged by battle; often spear pierced a doomed body. Then Wistan went forth, Thurstan's son, (and) fought against the men; he was the slayer of three of them in the throng, before Wigelin's son lay among the dead. There was a brave meeting: fighters stood fast in the strife; warriors died, exhausted by wounds; the slain fell to earth. Oswold and Ealdwold all the while, both the brothers, encouraged the men, beseeched their kinsmen by words that against need they should endure there, (and) unwaveringly use their weapons.
Byrhtwold spoke, (and) raised his shield; he was an old retainer; he shook his ash spear (and) full boldly exhorted the men: "Thought must be the sterner, heart the bolder, mood must be the stouter, as our strength lessens. Here lies our lord all cut down, brave on the ground; forever may he lament who thinks now to run away from this battle. I am old in life: I will not (go) away, but I resolve to lie myself beside my lord, by the man so loved." So Aethelgar's son Godric cheered them all in battle: often he loosed spear, deadly spear to spin into the Vikings, as he went foremost into the host; he killed and injured, until he fell in battle; that was not the Godric who fled from the fight.

Grammar

26. The Anomalous Verb gn

The text in lesson 2 introduced the suppletive 3rd person singular preterite indicative form ode of the anomalous verb gn 'go, walk, move', also found in this lesson text. (Contrast with the modern English go, went, where the preterite form was borrowed from that of the verb wend, went.) The text in lesson 3 added the plural odon. These and other forms are reflected in the following table:

gn 'go'   Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative
1 Sg. Pres.   g   g    
2 Sg. Pres.   gst   g   g
3 Sg. Pres.   g   g    
Pl. Pres.   g   gn   g
             
1 Sg. Pret.   ode   ode    
2 Sg. Pret.   odest   ode    
3 Sg. Pret.   ode   ode    
Pl. Pret.   odon   oden    

The present participle was gangende (or gnde) and the past participle was gegn (with ge- optional: see §29 below). Of course, spelling differences might replace eth with thorn in present indicative and imperative forms.

27. Old English, a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) language

The basic word order of Old English, a.k.a. Anglo-Saxon, came to have the subject in first position and the verb in the second position. The order is not as consistent as in modern English, however, but is often modified for reasons of emphasis. The structure is clearest in prose, but also observed in verse when the poet does not modify it for emphasizing elements or in keeping with metrical requirements. In Beowulf line 5 (lesson 1), for example, the verb oftah is final in the verse because of the meter, but in line 6 egsode precedes the object in accordance with the basic order.

The order is more closely maintained in the less rigorous verse of Caedmon in lesson 2, as in his first sentence (line 41), N w sculan herian heofonrces Weard 'Now we shall praise the Lord of heaven', and in much of Bede's preceding prose, as in line 21 and following with the sequences h ws 'he was', h for 'he went', h geseah 'he saw', but modified for the sake of emphasis in the first two words of the passage and later as well. From other evidence it is clear that, earlier in time, the verb was placed last in the sentence as in the first three lines of Beowulf, but that the order was not as strict as in modern English.

28. Word Order in Clauses with Compound Verbs

Compound verbs made up of auxiliaries and participles generally place the participle last in the clause, as in Beowulf 12 ws fter cenned 'was then born' and in line 20 of Bede's account (in lesson 2) Ws... geseted 'was... appointed'. This order is also generally observed for infinitives introduced by other auxiliaries, as in line 20 of Beowulf sceal... gewyrcean 'should... accomplish' and in passages such as line 23 of Bede's account Ne con ic nht singan 'I can not sing', though not in line 41 cited above. As in simple clauses, the order is more free than in modern English. Several clauses in our lesson text, poetry though it be, bear this out.

29. The Prefix ge- Indicating Completed Action

The prefix ge- is used with verbs in the past tense to indicate completed action in contrast with continuing action. In the passage in lesson 2, for example, geleornade 'learned' implies 'had acquired mastery' [though of course negated in that passage by other words], as opposed to the prefix for- in forlt which indicates an ongoing process. Other forms with ge- may be examined in the same way for their implication, such as geseah, gesette, gewt, and gescep in lesson 2, and numerous examples in other lesson texts; it has the same implication when used with the past participle, e.g. gegremode in the second line of our text.

30. Noun Inflection

Noun inflection is used to signal case and number. Six cases are reconstructed for Proto-Germanic (PGmc): nominative, vocative, genitive, dative, accusative, and instrumental. In Old English, the first two forms had merged into one, as had dative and instrumental for nouns; for that matter, many OE nouns had a single form for nominative and accusative, meaning there were but three distinct forms in the singular and three in the plural. This is an unmistakable sign that word order was becoming an increasingly important component of syntax, which trend continued into the modern English period. The OE cases and their basic uses are:

  • Nominative, the case of the subject and the predicate noun;
  • Accusative, the case of the direct object, also following prepositions that indicate direction or movement;
  • Genitive, the case indicating possession and relationship;
  • Dative, the case of the indirect object, also following certain prepositions that indicate place or agent;
  • Instrumental (not distinguished from dative among nouns), the case indicating means of action.

In Indo-European languages, noun inflection is effected through suffixes known as endings. In Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and early PGmc, endings were attached directly to roots. But affixes were added to roots already in late PIE to form bases, also known as stems, and endings were then attached to these stems. When a stress accent evolved in PGmc, it generally fell on the root; weakly stressed syllables (affixes and endings) were then often reduced. However, the declension classes in late PGmc and, accordingly, OE are labelled based on the earlier stems. These fall into 3 broad categories:

  1. root nouns (few members);
  2. vocalic stems (most common);
  3. consonant stems.

Nouns are assigned to specific declension classes on the basis of their PGmc stem affixes (as in categories 2 and 3 above) or lack thereof (as in category 1) because these left traces -- if not always obvious to the student -- in Old English. Gender may have an effect on the stem affixes, and therefore on inflection: nouns are not inflected to show gender, but rather are inflected based [in part] on it. Declension classes may be strongly, even exclusively, associated with gender. We list, here, three examples of common noun inflections; elaboration of declension classes will follow in subsequent lessons.

Case   Masc. Sg.   Masc. Pl.   Fem. Sg.   Fem. Pl.   Neut. Sg.   Neut. Pl.
Nom/Acc.   eorl 'earl'   eorlas   lufu 'love'   lufu   word 'word'   word
Gen.   eorles   eorla   lufe   lufa   wordes   worda
Dat/Inst.   eorle   eorlum   lufe   lufum   worde   wordum

Because OE instrumental case forms of nouns (though not yet of pronouns and adjectives) had merged with the datives, so that those forms were the same, the instrumental case forms of nouns are not elaborated in our grammar. But while OE accusative noun forms were merging with the nominatives, there were yet some differences; therefore, accusative forms are listed, even though they are often the same as the nominative forms.