Old English letters are usually pronounced the same way we pronounce them in modern English, however, below you will find the three Old English letters no longer used in modern English. To hear their pronunciation, select their IPA symbol.
Old English Letters
Ð / ð
TH (as in this)
Þ / þ
TH (as in thick)
Æ / æ
A (as in cat)
Old English has no silent letters, so you should pronounce every letter in a word. Remember, when in doubt, pronounce the word like you would in modern English. So long as you remember to pronounce every letter, how we pronounce the word in modern English is usually a good guide on how to pronounce in Old English.
Introduction to Old English Cases – Learn Old English
In modern English, word order is generally what determines the role of a word in a sentence. Modern English word order generally follows the pattern: subject, verb, object.
The dog Subject
the man Direct Object
The man Subject
the dog Direct Object
For example, in ‘the dog bites the man’, the dog is the subject (what is performing the action); bites is the verb (the action); and the man is the direct object (the object being acted upon). If you reverse the order of the words, the man bites the dog, the meaning of the sentence changes. This is not strictly true for Old English.
Old English is an inflected language. What this means is that the endings of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives change depending on their grammatical function, or case. How a word declines also depends on its number; its grammatical gender; and its grammatical strength. Grammatical gender and strength are not related to the meaning of the word and will be explored in more detail in later modules.
There are four major cases: The Nominative Case indicates the subject of the sentence. The Accusative Case indicates the direct object of a sentence. The Genitive Case indicates possession. The Dative Case indicates the indirect object of a sentence.
You can see case systems in many modern languages such as Icelandic, Russian or German, though modern English has mostly lost its inflectional case system. Using strong masculine nouns, let’s look at how Old English cases work in more detail.
Nominative and Genitive Strong Nouns
The terms nominative and genitive refer to the grammatical role or ‘case’ of a noun. The nominative is used for the subject of a sentence and the genitive is used to denote possession or a specific relationship. In þæs cyninges þegen – The King’s thane, the thane is the subject, and he ‘belongs’ to the king, so þegen is in the nominative and cyninges is in the genitive.
þæs cyninges Genitive
The ending a noun takes is not just determined by its role in a sentence, but also its number. For example, in þæs cyninges biscopas – the king’s bishops, biscop has an ‘as’ ending, which is different to þegen above. This is because þegen is singular while biscopas is plural.
þæs cyninges Genitive
The genitive case also has a plural form, as can be seen in þara cyninga biscopas — the kings’ bishops. In this sentence there are multiple bishops belonging to multiple kings so the endings of cyning changes to cyninga.
þara cyninga Genitive
In many ways, Old English can be quite similar to modern English. The singular form of the nominative is the ‘plain’ form of the word, and is what you will use to look up words in dictionaries. The nominative form of strong masculine nouns such as cyning, biscop, þegen and stan all add ‘as’ to become plural, much like how (s) is added to the end of most nouns to make them plural in modern English. Similarly, the singular genitive is made by adding ‘es’, much like how (‘s) is added in English. The plural genitive is the one that differs the most, as in modern English we’d write it as (kings’), adding an apostrophe after the s, while Old English simply adds the suffix ‘a’.
This can best be visualised by use of a table or paradigm like the one below. Select biscop, þegen, or stan (‘stone’) to see their declensions.
Strong Masculine Nouns
You now know the basics of the nominative and genitive cases. The next thing to do is practice what you have learned. Feel free to use the table to help you with the first batch of questions. You can hide the table at any point by clicking the orange ‘Hide Table’ button. Otherwise you can continue on to the next topic.
Return to Introduction to CasesContinue to Acc and Dat Strong Masc Nouns
Test Your Declensions
In the textboxes below, fill out the fully declined version of the word in brackets.