Middle English Morphology



-es for genitive singular and all plurals

noun class distinctions disappeared, generalized to the strong masculine declension of OE

weak declension endings (-n) survived into early ME then merged with strong declension(some survivals: children, brethren, oxen; some ME words had plurals with -n: eye, ear, shoe, foe, hand

Unmarked genitives: a few s-less genitives: e.g. formerly feminine nouns (his lady grace), kinship terms (thi brother wif, hir doghter name); nouns ending in sibilant sounds took no s in the genitive (for peace sake)

Unmarked plurals: some OE strong neuter nouns had no ending in the nominative and accusative plural, continued in ME (year, thing, winter, word); unmarked plurals for animal names (derived from OE unmarked neuter plurals); measure words without -s in the plural (mile, pound, fathom, pair, score), derived perhaps from s-less plurals of year and winter or from use of genitive plural -a after numerals; mutated plurals survived in ME



greatest inflectional losses; totally uninflected by end of ME period; loss of case, gender, and number distinctions

distinction strong/weak preserved only in monosyllabic adjectives ending in consonant: singular blind (strong)/blinde (weak), plural blinde(strong)/blinde(weak); causes in loss of unstressed endings, rising use of definite and indefinite articles

some French loans with -s in plural when adjective follows noun: houres inequales, plages principalis, sterres fixes, dayes naturales; cf. dyverse langages, celestialle bodies, principale divisiouns

comparative OE -ra>ME -re, then -er (by metathesis), superlative OE -ost, -est>ME -est; beginnings of periphrastic comparison (French influence): swetter/more swete, more swetter, moste clennest, more and moste as intensifiers

ME continued OE use of adjectives as nouns, also done in French; also use of 'one' to support adjective (e.g. "the mekeste oone")


Personal Pronouns

preservation of gender, number, case, and person categories; merger of dative and accusative into single object case; dual number disappeared; gender became biological instead of grammatical

use of 2nd person plural (ye) to address one person as polite form (French influence), eventual loss of singular forms in 18th c.

First-person singualr: ich/I; loss of unstressed alveo-palatal c led to first person singular form 'I' (pronounced as the 'i' in K/i/d); 'me' object case; min(e) and mi before word beginning with vowel and consonant respectively

First person plural: we; 'us' object case; ure/our possessive forms; emergence of absolute pronominal forms (ours, cf. hers, yours, theirs)

Second person singular: pu, thou; th>t after verb, wiltou (wilt thou), seiste (sayest thou)

Second person plural: ye; change in stress of diphthong in object case OE eow> ME you , your for possessive; ye sometimes used for you;

Third person singular: he, him, his; 3rd person sing., feminine, heo/sche, hire, alveopalatal s appeared first in North and East Midlands, allowed distinction from masculine; 3rd person sing. neuter hit/it, accusative form of the neuter, (h)it, prevailed over the dative him

Third person plural, he, hem, here; then borrowing of pronouns from Old Norse (nom. peir, dat. peim, gen. peira> thei, them, their) to prevent confusion with other forms, especially in the singular and feminine


Demonstrative pronouns

development of indeclinable definite article (the); only one singular and one plural form for each of the two OE demonstratives (that and this); singular based on OE neuter forms; plural of pæt, pa>po(s)> those, plural of pis, pise


Interrogative pronouns

accusative merged with dative into object case whom; instrumental hwy became interrogative adverb why; masc./fem.: who, whom, whos, neuter: what, what/whom, whos; phonological loss of w in who; which and whether also used as interrogative pronouns in ME


Other pronouns

indeclinable pat as all-purpose relative pronoun; then by 14th c. interrogative pronouns began to be used as relatives (influence of French and Latin); 'which' was the most frequent interrogative used as relative; non-expression of a relative which would be subject of subordinate clause (he sente after a cherle was in the town); personal pronouns used as reflexives, beginning of reflexives with -self (regarded as noun hence pronouns in the possessive); declining use of 'man' as indefinite pronoun, appearance of 'you' as indefinite, also 'one' and 'they' toward the end of ME



ME retained categories of tense, mood, number, person, strong, weak and other verbs, added new type of verb (two-part or separable: e.g. pick up, take over); beginning of periphrastic verb phrases; biggest losses in strong verbs (sound changes had blurred distinctions within and between storng verb classes, new verbs from French generally adapted as weak)


Prepositions: increased use of prepositions, adoption of new prepositions; OE mid>with; new ones formed by compounding two or more existing ones (above, out of, unto), converting other parts of speech (along, among, behind, beneath), borrowing from French (according to, around, during), Latin (except), Norse (till)


Conjunctions: most coordinating conjunctions survived in ME (and, ac, or); most common subordinating conjunction pat, others: gif, peah, ere; new subordinators developed supported by pat: how pat, which pat, when pat, after pat, because pat, also soone as pat, pe while pat, til pat, per as, for why, right as; correlative conjunctions used less (ge ge, oppe oppe), only survival in PDE is the. . . the


Adverbs: OE adjective suffix -lic+e used to form adverbs, loss of -e led to -ly suffix in ME; ne was negating adverb, also noht, nothing used adverbially, never; intensifying adverbs: all, clean, downright, enough, fair, fele, full, passing, pure, quite, right, sore, swipe, well = very; cf. weakening adverbs: little, nigh, scarce, somedeal


Interjections: a, surprise; ho, triumph; ha-ha, laughter; fie, disgust; hay, excitement; lo, now, what: attention getters; alas, wo, wei-la-wei, grief; hail, welcome, salutations; good morrow, good night, farewell, gramercy (FR grant merci), thank you, benedicite, goddamn, bigot (by God)


Middle English Syntax


verb phrases: origin of compound verb phrases; perfect tense became common, use of auxiliaries (be & have); progressive tense came into being; passive constructions (with 'be' as auxiliary); future tense (with shall and will auxiliaries); modal auxiliaries instead of subjunctive (may, might, be going to, be about to); do as causative, do in periphrastic constructions indicating tense (doth serve), impersonal verbs and dummy subjects (me thristed, hit the likede), marked infinitive (to)

clauses: trend toward modern word order, SVO in affirmative independent clauses; SOV when object was pronoun, in dependent clauses, with compound tenses; VSO in questions and imperatives; OSV/OVS emphasizing direct object or complement; required subject, use of dummy subjects there and it

sentences: tendency to coordination (parataxis), cumulative sentences; attempts to replicate Latin subordination in translations

poetry: use of syntactical inversions to fit rhyme schemes


Middle English Lexicon

large lexicon; assimilation of loanwords; variety of vocabulary levels; cosmopolitan language


word formation: compounding and affixing; compound nouns (gentleman, cheesecake, nightmare) (noun +verb as ME innovation, e.g. sunshine); compound adjectives (threadbare, bloodred, everyday); compound verbs (outline, uphold) (noun+verb as ME innovation, e.g. manhandle); new prefixes and suffixes borrowed from French (counter-, de-, inter-, mal-, -able, -age, -ment); clipping (distress > stress, amend > mend); back formation (mistaken etymology: Scandinavian foggy > fog; Latin aspis > asp, English dawning > dawn); blends or portmanteau words (escrow + roll > scroll, sprout + crawl > scrawl); common nouns from proper nouns (Jacques > jacket); onomatopoetic (echoic) words (tehee)

vocabulary losses: much of OE vocabulary lost during ME period (e.g. OE earm replaced by French poor); cultural and technological change; replacements; obsolescence


Middle English Semantics

Semantic change

narrowing (OE goma ('jaw') > ME gum); generalization (OE bridd ('young bird') > ME bird); pejoration (OE ceorl ('peasant') > ME cherl); amelioration: dizzy (meant 'foolish' in OE), French borrowing nice ('foolish', 'stupid') acquired new meanings (flamboyant, rare, modest, elegant) in 15th century; weakening (OE ege (terror) > ME awe ('reverence' 'respect'); shift in stylistic level: OE smierwan ('anoint') > ME smear); shift in denotation: OE cniht ('boy')> ME knight ('young gentleman soldier')

Middle English Dialects

dialects: Northern, East Midlands, West Midlands, Southern, Kentish

isoglosses (dialect boundary lines)


Middle English Literature

mostly religious and didactic works; oral presentation; more verse than prose; alliterative verse gave way to syllable-counting, rhymed verse; new genres: romance, lyric

secular prose: letters, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, John Capgrave's Chronicle of England, Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur, Thomas Usk's Testament of Love, Travels of Sir John Mandeville

religious prose: Ancrene Riwle; saints' lives: Katherine Group, The Golden Legend; sermons and homilies: John Wycliffe; exempla (short tales with a moral): Gesta Romanorum; mystical writings: Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, The Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love, Book of Margery Kempe

secular verse: romances in rhymed iambic tetrameter; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (in older alliterative meter); debates: The Owl and the Nightingale; lyrics; satire: Land of Cokaygne; fabliau (bawdy tale), beast tales (story where human vices are represented in animals)

religious and didactic verse: exempla: John Gower's Confessio Amantis; hell visions: Vision of St. Paul, Vision of Tundale; homilies: Ormulum

drama: mystery plays (dramatized Biblical stories): Wakefield cycle or Towneley plays; morality plays (personified vices and virtues): Everyman