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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.

Ðā wearð borda gebræc;         brimmen wōdon,
gūðe gegremode;         gār oft þurhwōd
fǣges feorhhūs.

  • ðā -- adverb <þā> then, when -- then
  • wearð -- strong verb, class III; 3rd person singular preterite of <weorðan, wearð, wurdon, worden> become, happen -- (there) was
  • borda -- noun, neuter; genitive plural of <bord> board, shield -- of shields
  • gebræc -- strong verb, class IV; 3rd person singular preterite of <gebrecan, gebræc, gebrǣcon, gebrocen> break, destroy, subdue -- (a) breaking
  • brimmen -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <brim-man> sailor, lit. sea man -- seamen
  • wōdon -- strong verb, class VI; 3rd person plural preterite of <wadan, wōd, wōdon, waden> wade, stride over -- advanced
  • gūðe -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <gūð> battle -- by battle
  • gegremode -- weak verb, class II; past participle; nominative plural masculine of <gegremian, gegremode, gegremod> enrage -- enraged
  • gār -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <gār> spear -- spear
  • oft -- adverb <oft> often, frequently -- often
  • þurhwōd -- strong verb, class VI; 3rd person singular preterite of <ðurhwadan, ðurhwōd, ðurhwōdon, ðurhwaden> pierce, penetrate -- pierced
  • fǣges -- adjective; accusative singular masculine of <fǣge> doomed, fated -- (a) doomed
  • feorhhūs -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <feorh-hūs> body, lit. life-house -- body

        Forð þā ēode Wīstān,
Þūrstānes sunu,         wið þās secgas feaht;

  • forð -- adverb <forð> forth, thence -- forth
  • þā -- adverb <þā> then, when -- then
  • ēode -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <gān> go, walk, move -- went
  • Wīstān -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Wīstān> Wistan -- Wistan
  • Þūrstānes -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Þūrstān> Thurstan -- Thurstan's
  • sunu -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <sunu> son -- son
  • wið -- preposition <wið> against, along -- against
  • þās -- demonstrative article; accusative plural of <ðes, ðēos, ðis> 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

hē wæs on geþrange         hyra þrēora bana,
ǣr him Wīgelmes bearn         on þām wæle lǣge.

  • -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • wæs -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- in
  • geþrange -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <geþrang> throng, tumult -- the throng
  • hyra -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive plural of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- of them
  • þrēora -- numeral; genitive plural of <þrīe, þrēo, þrēo> three -- of three
  • bana -- weak noun, masculine; nominative singular of <bana> bane, slayer -- the slayer
  • ǣr -- adverb <ǣr> ere, before, formerly -- before
  • him -- 3rd person pronoun; dative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- ...
  • Wīgelmes -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Wīgelm> Wigelin -- Wigelin's
  • bearn -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <bearn> child -- son
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- among
  • þām -- definite article; dative singular masculine of <se, sēo, ðæt> the -- the
  • wæle -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <wæl> carnage; battlefield -- dead
  • lǣge -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular preterite subjunctive of <licgan, læg, lǣgon, legen> lie, extend, be situated -- lay

Þǣr wæs stīð gemōt:         stōdon fæste
wigan on gewinne;

  • þǣr -- adverb <þǣr> there, where -- there
  • wæs -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • stīð -- adjective; nominative singular neuter of <stīð> stiff, stern, brave -- (a) brave
  • gemōt -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <gemōt> meeting, council, assembly -- meeting
  • stōdon -- strong verb, class VI; 3rd person plural preterite of <standan, stōd, stōdon, standen> stand -- stood
  • fæste -- adverb <fæste> 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

        wīgend cruncon,
wundum wērige;         wæl fēol on eorþan.

  • wīgend -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <wīgend> 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
  • wērige -- adjective; nominative plural of <wērig> weary, exhausted -- exhausted
  • wæl -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <wæl> carnage; battlefield -- the slain
  • fēol -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person singular preterite of <feallan, fēoll, fēollon, feallen> fall, flow -- fell
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- to
  • eorþan -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <eorð> earth -- earth

Ōswold and Ealdwold         ealle hwīle,
bēgen þā gebrōþru,         beornas trymedon,

  • Ōswold -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Ōswold> 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
  • hwīle -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <hwīl> while, time -- the while
  • bēgen -- pronoun; nominative dual masculine of <bēgen> both -- both
  • þā -- definite article; nominative plural of <se, sēo, ðæt> the -- the
  • gebrōþru -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <gebrōþor> 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 winemāgas         wordon bǣdon
þæt hī þǣr æt ðearfe         þolian sceoldon,
unwāclīce         wǣpna nēotan.

  • hyra -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive plural of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- their
  • winemāgas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <wine-mǣg> dear-, lit. friend-kinsman -- kinsmen
  • wordon -- noun, neuter; instrumental plural of <word> word, speech -- by words
  • bǣdon -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person plural preterite of <biddan, bæd, bǣdon, beden> bid, beseech, urge -- beseeched
  • þæt -- demonstrative used as relative pronoun; nominative singular neuter of <sē, sēo, ðæt> who, which, that -- that
  • -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative plural of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- they
  • þǣr -- adverb <þǣr> there, where -- there
  • æt -- preposition <æt> at, against -- against
  • ðearfe -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <ðearf> need, requirement -- need
  • þolian -- weak verb, class II; infinitive of <ðolian, ðolade, ðolad> 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
  • unwāclīce -- adverb <unwāclīce> bravely, unwaveringly -- unwaveringly
  • wǣpna -- noun, neuter; genitive plural of <wǣpen> weapon -- (their) weapons
  • nēotan -- strong verb, class II; infinitive of <nēotan, nēat, nudon, noden> use, employ -- use

Byrhtwold maþelode,         bord hafenode,
sē wæs eald genēat,         æsc ācwehte,
hē ful baldlīce         beornas lǣrde:

  • Byrhtwold -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Byrhtwold> Byrhtwold -- Byrhtwold
  • maþelode -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person singular preterite of <maðelian, maðelode, maðelod> 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
  • -- demonstrative used as 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <sē, sēo, ðæt> he, she, it -- he
  • wæs -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • eald -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <eald> old -- (an) old
  • genēat -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <genēat> companion, retainer -- retainer
  • æsc -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <æsc> ash (tree), spear; boat, ship -- (his) ash spear
  • ācwehte -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <ācweccan, ācwehte, ācweht> shake, brandish; quiver -- shook
  • -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • ful -- adverb <ful> fully, completely -- full
  • baldlīce -- adverb <bald-līce> boldly -- boldly
  • beornas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <beorn> man, nobleman -- the men
  • lǣrde -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <lǣran, lǣrde, lǣred> teach, advise, exhort -- exhorted

'Hige sceal þē heardra,         heorte þē cēnre,
mōd sceal þē māre,         þē ūre mægen lȳtlað.

  • 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
  • þē -- adverb <þȳ> the -- the
  • heardra -- adjective; comparative of <heard> stern, strong -- sterner
  • heorte -- noun, feminine; nominative singular of <heorte> heart -- heart
  • þē -- adverb <þȳ> the -- the
  • cēnre -- adjective; comparative of <cēne> bold -- bolder
  • mōd -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <mōd> 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
  • þē -- adverb <þȳ> the -- the
  • māre -- adjective; comparative of <> great, stout -- stouter
  • þē -- conjunction <ðē> as -- as
  • ūre -- 1st person pronoun; genitive plural of <ic> I -- our
  • mægen -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <mægen> might, strength -- strength
  • lȳtlað -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person singular present of <lȳtlian, lȳtlode, lȳtlod> lessen, diminish -- lessens

Hēr līð ūre ealdor         eall forhēawen,
gōd on grēote;

  • hēr -- adverb <hēr> here -- here
  • līð -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular present of <licgan, læg, lǣgon, legen> lie, extend, be situated -- lies
  • ūre -- 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
  • forhēawen -- strong verb, class VII; past participle; nominative singular masculine of <forhēawan, forhēow, forhēowon, forhēawen> hew, cut down -- cut down
  • gōd -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <gōd> good, excellent -- brave
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- on
  • grēote -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <grēot> grit, dust, earth -- the ground

        ā mæg gnornian
sē ðe nū fram þīs wīgplegan         wendan þenceð.

  • ā -- adverb <ā> always, ever -- forever
  • mæg -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class V; 3rd person singular present indicative of <magan, mæg, magon, meahte> may, be able to -- may
  • gnornian -- weak verb, class II; infinitive of <gnornian, gnornode, gnornod> mourn, lament -- lament
  • -- demonstrative used as 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <sē, sēo, ðæt> he, she, it -- he
  • ðe -- relative particle <þe> that, which, who -- who
  • -- adverb <> now -- now
  • fram -- preposition <fram> from -- away from
  • þīs -- demonstrative article; instrumental singular masculine of <ðes, ðēos, ðis> this -- this
  • wīgplegan -- noun, masculine; instrumental singular of <wīg-plega> battle, lit. war-play -- battle
  • wendan -- weak verb, class I; infinitive of <wendan, wende, wended> wend, turn, go -- to run
  • þenceð -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular present of <ðencan, ðōhte, ðōht> think, intend, resolve -- thinks

Ic eom frōd fēores:         fram ic ne wille,
ac ic mē be healfe         mīnum hlāforde
be swā lēofan men         licgan þence.'

  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • eom -- anomalous verb; 1st person singular present indicative of <is> be, become, exist -- am
  • frōd -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <frōd> old, wise, experienced -- old
  • fēores -- 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
  • -- 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
  • mīnum -- 1st person pronoun; used as adjective; dative singular masculine of <ic> I -- my
  • hlāforde -- strong noun, masculine; dative singular of <hlāford> lord, master -- lord
  • be -- preposition <be> at, by, near -- by
  • swā -- adverb <swā> so, thus -- so
  • lēofan -- adjective; dative singular of <lēof> lief, dear, beloved -- loved
  • men -- strong noun, masculine; dative singular of <monn> man, person -- the man
  • licgan -- strong verb, class V; infinitive of <licgan, læg, lǣgon, legen> lie, extend, be situated -- to lie
  • þence -- weak verb, class I; 1st person singular present of <ðencan, ðōhte, ðōht> think, intend, resolve -- resolve

Swā hī Æþelgāres bearn         ealle bylde
Godrīc tō gūþe:

  • swā -- adverbial conjunction <swā> so, thus -- so
  • -- 3rd person pronoun; accusative plural of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- them
  • Æþelgāres -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Æþelgār> 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
  • Godrīc -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Godrīc> Godric -- Godric
  • -- preposition <> (in)to -- in
  • gūþe -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <gūð> battle -- battle

        oft hē gār forlēt,
wælspere windan         on þā wīcingas,
swā hē on þām folce         fyrmest ēode,
hēow and hȳnde,         oð þæt hē on hilde gecranc;

  • oft -- adverb <oft> often, frequently -- often
  • -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • gār -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <gār> spear -- spear
  • forlēt -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person singular preterite of <forlǣtan, forlēt, forlēton, forlǣten> leave, abandon -- loosed
  • wælspere -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <wæl-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
  • þā -- definite article; accusative plural of <se, sēo, ðæt> the -- the
  • wīcingas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <wīcing> Viking, pirate -- Vikings
  • swā -- adverbial conjunction <swā> so, thus -- as
  • -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- into
  • þām -- definite article; dative singular masculine of <se, sēo, ðæt> the -- the
  • folce -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <folc> folk, people -- host
  • fyrmest -- adjective; superlative of <forma> first -- foremost
  • ēode -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <gān> go, walk, move -- went
  • hēow -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person singular preterite of <hēawan, hēow, hēowon, hēawen> hew, cut down, kill -- killed
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • hȳnde -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <hȳnan, hȳnde, hȳned> despise, injure, insult -- injured
  • oð þæt -- adverbial conjunction <oð þæt> until -- until
  • -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, 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

næs þæt nā se Godrīc         þe ðā gūðe forbēah.

  • næs -- contraction; adverb <ne> not + anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was not
  • þæt -- demonstrative pronoun; nominative singular neuter of <sē, sēo, ðæt> that -- that
  • -- adverb <> no, nor, not (at all) -- ... # double negative, for emphasis
  • se -- definite article; nominative singular masculine of <se, sēo, ðæt> the -- the
  • Godrīc -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Godrīc> Godric -- Godric
  • þe -- relative particle <þe> that, which, who -- who
  • ðā -- definite article; accusative singular feminine of <se, sēo, ðæt> the -- the
  • gūðe -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <gūð> battle -- fight
  • forbēah -- strong verb, class II; 3rd person singular preterite of <forbūgan, forbēah, forbugon, forbogen> flee from -- fled from

Lesson Text

Ðā wearð borda gebræc;         brimmen wōdon,
gūðe gegremode;         gār oft þurhwōd
fǣges feorhhūs.
        Forð þā ēode Wīstān,
Þūrstānes sunu,         wið þās secgas feaht;

hē wæs on geþrange         hyra þrēora bana,
ǣr him Wīgelmes bearn         on þām wæle lǣge.

Þǣr wæs stīð gemōt:         stōdon fæste
wigan on gewinne;
        wīgend cruncon,
wundum wērige;         wæl fēol on eorþan.

Ōswold and Ealdwold         ealle hwīle,
bēgen þā gebrōþru,         beornas trymedon,

hyra winemāgas         wordon bǣdon
þæt hī þǣr æt ðearfe         þolian sceoldon,
unwāclīce         wǣpna nēotan.


Byrhtwold maþelode,         bord hafenode,
sē wæs eald genēat,         æsc ācwehte,
hē ful baldlīce         beornas lǣrde:

'Hige sceal þē heardra,         heorte þē cēnre,
mōd sceal þē māre,         þē ūre mægen lȳtlað.

Hēr līð ūre ealdor         eall forhēawen,
gōd on grēote;
        ā mæg gnornian
sē ðe nū fram þīs wīgplegan         wendan þenceð.

Ic eom frōd fēores:         fram ic ne wille,
ac ic mē be healfe         mīnum hlāforde
be swā lēofan men         licgan þence.'

Swā hī Æþelgāres bearn         ealle bylde
Godrīc tō gūþe:
        oft hē gār forlēt,
wælspere windan         on þā wīcingas,
swā hē on þām folce         fyrmest ēode,
hēow and hȳnde,         oð þæt hē on hilde gecranc;

næs þæt nā se Godrīc         þe ðā gūðe forbēah.

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 gān

The text in lesson 2 introduced the suppletive 3rd person singular preterite indicative form ēode of the anomalous verb gān '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 ēodon. These and other forms are reflected in the following table:

gān 'go'   Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative
1 Sg. Pres.        
2 Sg. Pres.   gǣst    
3 Sg. Pres.   gǣð      
Pl. Pres.   gāð   gān   gāð
             
1 Sg. Pret.   ēode   ēode    
2 Sg. Pret.   ēodest   ēode    
3 Sg. Pret.   ēode   ēode    
Pl. Pret.   ēodon   ēoden    

The present participle was gangende (or gānde) and the past participle was gegān (with ge- optional: see §29 below). Of course, spelling differences might replace eth ð with thorn þ 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 oftēah 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), Nū wē sculan herian heofonrīces 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 hē wæs 'he was', hē for 'he went', hē 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 wæs æfter cenned 'was then born' and in line 20 of Bede's account (in lesson 2) Wæs... 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 nōht 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 forlēt which indicates an ongoing process. Other forms with ge- may be examined in the same way for their implication, such as geseah, gesette, gewāt, and gesceōp 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.