This writ delves into English's older inflections with regard to case and gender and how they might have developed if they had been kept to a greater extent.
The most obvious difference between Old English and New English is the amount of inflection present. The former has a great level of inflection and is comparable to modern German, whereas the latter has very few inflections.
Old English, like other Germanic tongues such as Dutch and German, had grammatical gender; there were three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and the gender of nouns did not need to correspond to the natural gender of what they referred to. For example:
- OE dæg (day) - masculine
- OE sunne (sun) - feminine
- OE scip (ship) - neuter
As in New English, Old English nouns were inflected for number. The main difference is that there was a greater variety in plural endings, and which ending was used depended on the noun's declension. For example:
- OE cyning (king) - cyningas (strong a-stem)
- OE oxa (ox) - oxan (weak)
- OE tōþ (tooth) - tēþ (i-mutation)
Old English also had extensive inflections for case. There were five: nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, and instrumental. Nouns had different inflections for case on the basis of declension, e.g., the dative singular forms of cyning and oxa were cyninge and oxan, respectively. Each case had numerous functions, but to put it straightforwardly:
- The nominative is the case of the subject, e.g., sē cyning lufaþ þā cwēn. (the king loves the queen)
- The accusative is the case of the direct object, e.g., sē cyning lufaþ þā cwēn. (the king loves the queen)
- The dative is the case of the indirect object, e.g., sē cyning sende þām were ǣrendgewrit. (the king sent the man a letter)
- The genitive is the case that shows such relationships as possession or source, e.g., ic geseah þæs cyninges þeġn. (I saw the king's servant)
- The instrumental is the case that shows the means by which something is done, e.g., hē slōg þone wer grēate stāne. (he struck the man with a great stone)
New English does not have the dative and the instrumental, which was already moribund in Old English and was lost in Middle English.
Nouns have only two distinct forms for the nominative and the genitive. The personal pronouns, on the other hand, have three distinct forms with the addition of the accusative. There are some quirks such as her being both accusative and genitive, but on the whole, the pronouns are the clearest examples of English's case inflections.
- Nominative: He saw a cat.
- Accusative: I saw him.
- Genitive: His answer was ridiculous.
Since we have three cases, here, we shall bring back some old inflections to show all three cases.
The modern definite article comes from the Old English demonstrative sē, which had many inflections to show gender, case, and number:
|Dative||þǣm, þām||þǣre||þǣm, þām||þǣm, þām|
|Instrumental||þȳ, þon||þǣre||þȳ, þon||þǣm, þām|
If we were to slavishly update the phonetics of these words to suit Modern English, we might get the following.
|Dative||theam, thome||there||theam, thome||theam, thome|
|Instrumental||thy, thon||there||thy, thon||theam, thome|
The table above is a very conservative version of this idea, far more complex than any Germanic language today. Icelandic and German are more held back than most other European tongues, yet even they would not go so far as to hold an instrumental case. Indeed, I would call the above table the most conservative that the tongue could possibly be.
Let us for a moment delve into a less conservative version of this system. If we were to base it on what the forms became in southern Middle English, we might get the following for our modern declension. For comparison's sake, here are also the tables for the definite article in German and in archaic Dutch.
As one can see, the English forms partly correspond to the German ones, but perfectly correspond to the archaic Dutch ones.
Of the original declension, only two forms have survived:
- The, the unstressed form traced back to OE þē(o), a late variant of OE sē(o) brought about by analogy with forms beginning with þ. It also represents an unstressed form traced back to the OE instrumental þȳ, which is found in constructions such as the more X, the more Y and all/none the more X.
- That, the stressed form traced back to OE þæt.
In Middle English, the two forms were differentiated, which led to the modern distinction between the and that.
Notes on the disused English forms:
- If that had been kept in its use as the neuter form of the, then it is likely that it would be used as such only through its the unstressed variant. In other words, that would now be pronounced /ðət/ as a definite article (which generally is said with little stress), but /ðæt/ as a demonstrative, in the same way that we usually say that as /ðət/ when we use it as a conjunction or a relative pronoun. For our purposes, the variant used for the neuter article is spelled as thet here.
- The m in the Old English dative forms was replaced with n in Middle English, and so the dative form that would have become them ended up becoming then instead. The dative was also used in the word forþām (a conjunction meaning because), which lived up to Early New English as the dialectal word forthen.
- The accusative and dative masculine already began to fall together in Middle English, so it can be assumed that the accusative and the dative would have merged into then.
- The plural nominative form lived up to Early New English in the form of tho as a plural demonstrative pronoun and adjective (essentially acting as an earlier form of those). The use of tho as a definite article had died out by the 15th century, and it is likely that as a definite article, it would have been reduced to /ðə/ and thus would have been conflated with the singular article.
It must be kept in mind that the inflectional system of case and gender had already been discarded in other dialects of Middle English. Chaucer's English had only one version of the, not unlike our English today. By the mid-14th century, the old forms had dropped out of the southern dialects.
Since we simply wish to bring back case inflections, we shall set aside gender for now. Now, which forms are we to bring back? Thankfully, we have good grounds on guessing which forms would have likely survived. Let us look at the table for the third-person pronouns (variant spellings are ignored here):
There are a few weird forms in the English table; for example, the modern plural pronouns are Norse borrowings, and the obsolete native forms are listed in parentheses (see here for more information). Nonetheless, we see a clear trend: in the accusative-dative merger, the dative forms were favored over the accusative ones. The only exception is in the neuter gender, in which the accusative hit was favored over the dative him. Hence, we can assume that for other declined words, the inflections would have followed the same trend.
Now, we can determine what the forms are for the plural, but the singular forms are slightly trickier, since they were separated on the basis of gender. Which gender's forms are we to use, then, as the general forms? Here, we choose the masculine forms, which, as we can see, are formally the most distinctive.
Hence, for the definite article, we have:
The modern pronunciation of then, thes, and ther would likely be /ðən/, /ðəz/, and /ðər/, respectively. Since the definite article was naturally unstressed, the last consonant of thes would have likely become voiced, as seen in the genitive his.
Since we have brought back the accusative, does that mean that we can bring back the dative? Unfortunately, the Middle English forms suggest that the dative inflections would have later merged with those of the accusative; the dative ending -um had already begun to be replaced with -an in late Old English, most likely from influence of the ending -an, which was prevalent in certain noun and adjective declensions, and the ending then became -en in early southern Middle English before disappearing (whilom, etymologically the dative plural of while, is an exceptional case).
The indefinite article is much less exciting to delve into. Old English had no article to convey indefiniteness, but on some occasions, ān (a numeral meaning one) was used in a sense that could be translated as a certain. The declension of ān was:
In Middle English, the same word began to be used as an indefinite article, and an unstressed form developed. The original form became one, whereas the unstressed variant became an, and the two are now generally separated in their function. By the way, it is clear from this that it is an that is historically the older form; a arose as a variant used before consonants, whence comes our modern distinction.
Judging by the early southern Middle English forms of an, we might have the following declension (the inflected forms are based on the older form an). The German and archaic Dutch declensions are given as well:
As one can see, unlike the definite article, there is less agreement between the English and the Dutch.
If we adjust the English table such that gender and the dative case are ignored, then:
The genitive form was also used as an adverb, and the adverb later became once, but one can see that it is more associated with the numeral than with the indefinite article, so we can have a separation between ans and once as well.
Note that no is etymologically connected to a(n)/one, as it is a shortened form of none (OE nān). It would probably have the following declension (the inflections are based on the older form none):
Let us see how nouns, which were more conservative, handled these cases in early southern Middle English. Here is how stone (a strong a-stem) and ox were declined in Old English.
|Strong (stone)||Singular||Plural||Weak (ox)||Singular||Plural|
In Middle English, the inflectional endings' distinct vowels had already been reduced to e, and the dative plural ending had become -en, whence the declension in the early southern Middle English was:
|Strong (stone)||Singular||Plural||Weak (ox)||Singular||Plural|
For strong nouns, all the cases in the plural came to have the same form as the nominative-accusative plural. The dative singular became identical to the nominative-accusative singular, which meant that only the genitive had a distinct form in the singular.
For weak nouns, the -en forms were gradually forsaken, and so the distinction between strong and weak nouns became lost. Most weak nouns adopted the strong noun declension, whence the plural of name is no longer namen. The -en suffix is now found only as a plural ending in oxen, brethren, and children, but the genitive plural has adopted the strong genitive -s, and so the genitive plural of ox is oxen's.
Think about teachers' teacher's teachers and how none of those words are said differently, yet they mean unlike things, and are used in different places. While it would be lovely to bring back -en, nothing can be done about schwa. But what if the followed the above pattern in New English?
|Regular (stone)||Singular||Plural||Irregular (ox)||Singular||Plural|
|Nominative||the stone||the stones||Nominative||the ox||the oxen|
|Accusative||then stone||then stones||Accusative||then ox||then oxen|
|Genitive||thes stones||ther stones||Genitive||thes oxes||ther oxens|
The definite article is enough to show which case and number the noun is, so there is no need for an apostrophe to betoken the genitive (but we can keep it for a few things like abbreviations and names of letters, e.g., Jr.'s, p's).
The Old English genitive could be placed before or after the noun to which it was attached; in effect, the genitive placed after the noun was equivalent to of the. The former order is seen in þæs cyninges brōþor (the king's brother), and the latter in heafod ealra haligra manna (head [leader] of all holy men; everything after heafod is genitive). The latter construction is the usual order in German, e.g., das Buch des Mannes (the man's book).
With the revived forms thes and ther, we have an alternative to the usual genitive order and the of construction. For example (the apostrophe marking the genitive is not used):
- That is the master's hat. > That is thes masters hat. / That is the hat thes masters.
- The blackbird's feathers > Thes blackbirds feathers / The feathers thes blackbirds
- The bee's knees > Thes bees knees / The knees thes bees
- I pull the cow's udders. > I pull thes cows udders. / I pull then udders thes cows.
Likewise, with ans, the indefinite article's revived genitive form:
- A man's tale > Ans mans tale / The tale ans mans
- A woman's house > Ans womans house / The house ans womans
Note that in English, in a series of words, the article can sometimes be left out, e.g., the king and (the) queen. However, if we wish to use the genitive of the king and queen, in our new system, the article must be repeated, i.e., the correct version is now thes kings and thes queens (whether or not joint possession be meant).
Adjectives were declined to show agreement in case, number, and gender with the nouns that they modified. For example:
- NE a good king - OE gōd cyning
- NE the good king - OE sē gōda cyning
- NE good kings - OE gōde cyningas
- NE the good kings - OE þā gōdan cyningas
In Old English, adjectives had two declensions: strong and weak. When an adjective is strong or weak will be explained later.
Let us see how the adjective good was declined in Old English and early southern Middle English.
|Case||Masculine||Feminine||Neuter||Mas. plural||Fem. plural||Neu. plural|
Note that in the OE weak declension, -ra could also be used for the genitive plural, so the weak genitive plural of gōd could be gōdra or gōdena.
As one can see, in the transition from Old English to Middle English, the vowel in all inflectional endings was reduced to e, and the dative plural ending became -en. Gender appears to have no longer been distinguished in the plural. Moreover, in the inflections ending with -n, the n was liable to be dropped.
This system, though followed to some extent for a while in southern Middle English, broke down early on in other Middle English dialects, such that case and gender were no longer inflected for, and god and gode were the only forms used. The former was used only in the strong declension's singular number; the latter was used everywhere else. And of course, once last e was dropped, adjectives in general stopped being inflected except for degree.
Strong and weak adjectives
If the old declensional system had survived, the strong-weak distinction would have likely been kept. Of course, one can choose to ignore this and use the strong forms only (as the strong forms are more distinct than the weak forms), but here, we shall stick to this grammatical distinction.
Which declension is to be used depends on the syntatical context in which the adjective is used. The weak declension is used when the noun is definite, i.e., it is modified by the definite article, a demonstrative, or a genitive. Otherwise, the strong declension is used. In other words, the strong forms are associated with indefiniteness, whereas the weak forms are associated with definiteness. There were some other distinctions in Old English (e.g., comparatives were always treated as weak), but we shall ignore them here.
- A good man prospers. (strong)
- The good man prospers. (weak)
- Good men prosper. (strong)
- The good men prosper. (weak)
Note that for vocatives, in Old English, the weak declension was used, since by nature of the vocative, the noun is definite.
- Good men, will you listen to my tale? (weak)
Here are the forms for good in both declensions (the comparative and the superlative are shown as well):
|Nominative||good, better, best||good, better, best|
|Accusative||gooden, bettern, besten||gooden, bettern, besten|
|Genitive||goods, betters, bests||gooder, betterer, bester|
|Nominative||good, better, best||gooden, bettern, besten|
|Accusative||gooden, bettern, besten||gooden, bettern, besten|
|Genitive||gooden, bettern, besten||gooden, bettern, besten|
The strong accusative plural forms, like those of the definite article, are from the dative plural forms. Moreover, the genitive plural ending, -er, survives in the obsolete word alderliefest (wherein alder is a corrupted form of aller, the genitive plural of all).
In the weak declension, every form takes -en except for the nominative singular. As one can see, the weak forms are far less distinct than the strong forms, but this is generally not a problem, as the adjective is generally used alongside a word that shows case more distinctly.
Note that superlative adjectives will generally take the weak endings, since superlatives are generally used in contexts where the noun is definite. Of course, there are some exceptions, e.g., a dearest friend. Likewise, ordinal numbers will generally take the weak endings, but there are a few cases in which the strong endings are to be used, e.g., a second opinion.
Examples showing the nominative:
- A good man prospers. (strong)
- The good man prospers. (weak)
- Good men prosper. (strong)
- The good men prosper. > The gooden men prosper. (weak)
Examples showing the accusative:
- I saw a good man. > I saw annen gooden man. (strong)
- I saw the good man. > I saw then gooden man. (weak)
- I saw good men. > I saw gooden men. (strong)
- I saw the good men. > I saw then gooden men. (weak)
Examples showing the genitive:
- A good man's country > Ans goods mans country / The country ans goods mans (strong)
- The good man's country > Thes gooden mans country / The country thes gooden mans (weak)
- Good men's country > Gooder mens country / The country gooder mens (strong)
- The good men's country > Ther gooden mens country / The country ther gooden mens (weak)
Note: when an adjective is used with the definite article and thus acts as an abstract singular noun or a collective plural noun, the weak endings are used.
- The appeal of the sublime > The appeal thes sublimen
- The belongings of the rich > The belongings ther richen
- The children of the poor > The children ther poorn
For a few, even though it contains the indefinite article, because it is followed by a plural noun, the accusative is a fewn, and a genitive is a fewer; it helps to think of a few as afew. Likewise, the accusative of a good / great many is a good / great manien, and the genitive is a good / great manier (the phrase is treated as one word). However, for many a, only the latter word should be inflected, since the word following many a is singular.
- A few men's tales > A fewer mens tales / The tales a fewer mens.
- A great many children's parents > A great manier childrens parents / The parents a great manier childrens.
- I saw many a knight > I saw many annen knight.
For adjectives ending with er, the strong comparative (e.g., bitterer) would have -ererer as the genitive plural ending. Because this sounds rather awkward, we can allow for contraction here, i.e., the strong genitive plural of bitterer is instead bittrerer.
So far, all the inflections shown so far are used when the adjective modifies a noun. However, adjectives can also be used as predicates, i.e., they can act as predicate adjectives. For example, in he is short, short is a predicate adjective. Likewise, in I deemed it worthless, worthless is a predicate adjective (in this case, it also acts as the complement of a factitive verb). In Old English, predicate adjectives were generally inflected strong to agree with the subject, but were occasionally uninflected. Since Dutch and German no longer inflect predicate adjectives, we may assume that the same development would have happened in English, and so we can simply leave all predicate adjectives uninflected.
- I am great. (no change)
- I called him silly. (no change)
As for participles, since they essentially have the qualities of both verbs and adjectives, they too were inflected in Old English. Thus, the declension of falling and fallen are:
|Nominative||falling, fallen||falling, fallen|
|Accusative||fallingen, fallenen||fallingen, fallenen|
|Genitive||fallings, fallens||fallinger, fallener|
|Nominative||falling, fallen||fallingen, fallenen|
|Accusative||fallingen, fallenen||fallingen, fallenen|
|Genitive||fallingen, fallenen||fallingen, fallenen|
Note that they are declined only if used attributively; as predicates, they are not inflected.
Examples showing the strong endings:
- I saw a flying bird, > I saw annen flyingen bird.
- The shop sells goods imported from India. > The shop sells goods importeden from India.
- A dancing girl's charm. > Ans dancings girls charm.
- Lying men's tales. > Lyinger mens tales.
Examples showing the weak endings:
- I looked at the falling snow. > I looked at then fallingen snow.
- I am one of the blessed men. > I am one of then blesseden men.
- The fallen tree's branches. > Thes fallenen trees branches.
- The sinking ships' crews. > Ther sinkingen ships crews.
English has two demonstratives: this (plural these) and that (plural those). The former was inflected for case, gender, and number in Old English, and so let us see what the forms for this were:
The feminine genitive, dative, and instrumental singular later had as a variant þissere, and the genitive plural þisra. In early southern Middle English, the inflections had been leveled, so we get the following:
The plural form, thos, was later associated with tho, the plural of the and that, and so we have those for the plural of that. As for the plural of this, a new form these (from thes and the plural ending -e) appeared, whence the current system of demonstratives.
The modern form this comes from the neuter form, and since the neuter gender favored the accusative form over the dative one in the accusative-dative merger, the accusative of this will remain as this. We shall apply the same for the plural.
If we adopt the genitive forms, then we can have this as the new declension for this:
Here, we assume that the plural genitive would have been changed by analogy with the plural nominative-accusative.
As for that, it was originally the neuter singular for the definite article and demonstrative, but the and that are now cleanly separated in New English, so we shall not give it the genitive form thes. As was the case for this, it would be more etymologically correct to simply leave that for the accusative. For the genitive forms of both numbers, we can base them on the reflexes of OE þæs and þāra. Hence:
We assume that the genitive forms thas and thore would have been later changed by analogy with the nominative-accusative forms.
In Old English, the numbers from one to three were declined. The new declension of one is easy to figure out; given the Old English forms, the accusative form would be onen, and the genitive would be ones, e.g., one man's trash is now ones mans trash or the trash ones mans.
The number two (which is always plural because of its meaning) is trickier to pinpoint. The Old English declension was:
The genitive had twēgra as an alternative. In early southern Middle English, we have the following forms: tweien (which later became twain), two, tweire, and twom. The accusative, taking the form from the dative, would have become twom, and the genitive form (from twēgra) would have become twair.
Interestingly, twain has survived, despite Middle English's breakdown of gender. It would be rather interesting to have both twain and two be used on the basis of the noun's gender, e.g., twain men, two women, two houses. But since no other adjective is now inflected to show gender, and the two words had already become mere synonyms in Middle English, there is no need for us to follow this distinction.
As for three, the Old English declension was:
In early southern Middle English, the following forms survived: thre (among variants), threm from the dative. The accusative, taking the form from the dative, would have become threem. The genitive had not survived, but would have become threer.
The other numbers were only occasionally inflected in Old English. Whenever they were inflected, the nominative and accusative ending was -e, and the genitive ending was -a, all of which would have become -e in Middle English and then would have disappeared since we no longer have last schwa. Hence, we can simply let them be indeclinable.
To put it all together, the declension for the numbers 1, 2, and 3 is:
|Nominative||one, two, three|
|Accusative||onen, twom, threem|
|Genitive||ones, twair, threer|
It should be noted that in German, for numbers above eins, only zwei, and drei are generally declined, albeit only in the dative and the genitive, and even then, uninflected forms are favored nowadays. Of course, one can choose to simply inflect one, two, and three in all contexts, but if one chooses to follow how German uses the genitive and the von-construction with numbers, then:
- For one: One man's trash > The trash ones mans
- Without article (for two and three): Three kings' castles > The castles threer kings / The castles of three kings
- With article: The three children's toys > The toys ther three childrens
- Without article (for numbers above three): Four women's accounts > The accounts of four women
- With article: The four knights' swords > The swords ther four knights
When a number is used as a noun referring to the figure itself, it is declined like any other noun.
- The three's (3's) font is unfitting. > Thes threes font is unfitting. / The font thes threes is unfitting.
In Old English, ordinal numbers were always declined weak, the lone exception being ōþer (which meant second and became other). Because other has a different meaning now, many Anglishers resort to such formations as twoth (two + -th as in fourth) and twithe (twi- as in twilight). For our purposes, we shall use tother, a now dialectal word that resulted from misdivision of the Middle English phrase thet other (that other, in which that acts as the neuter definite article). Though tother meant the same thing as other in Middle English, here, we shall limit its meaning to second; the other in every other day (wherein every other means every second) can then be replaced with tother, and so we get every tother day.
In any case, we suppose that the ordinals would now be declined like other adjectives, and so the declension for the first three ordinals is:
|Nominative||first, tother, third||first, tother, third|
|Accusative||firsten, tothern, thirden||firsten, tothern, thirden|
|Genitive||firsts, tothers, thirds||firster, totherer, thirder|
|Nominative||first, tother, third||firsten, tothern, thirden|
|Accusative||firsten, tothern, thirden||firsten, tothern, thirden|
|Genitive||firsten, tothern, thirden||firsten, tothern, thirden|
The Old English genitives of the first-person and second-person pronouns were mīn, þīn, ūre, and ēower, and from them were gotten the possessive adjectives (or determiners), which were always declined in the strong declension.
What is the difference between genitive pronouns and possessives? This difference is meaningful only in certain inflectional speeches such as German, Icelandic, and Latin. For instance, in Latin, possession is shown with the genitives of nouns, but for personal pronouns, possessive adjectives are used instead, e.g., the Latin for my father is pater meus. But the genitives are used for other functions of the genitive such as the objective genitive, e.g., odium meī (my hatred; that is, hatred directed at me).
In Old English, a similar distinction was found; the possessives were used to show possession, but the genitives were used with certain verbs, adjectives, and prepositions, and showed other functions of the genitive such as the partitive genitive, e.g., ēowerum heortum (your hearts; ēower is declined as an adjective), ān ēower (one of you; ēower is not declined, as it is a genitive).
In Middle English, mine and thine gradually lost their n, which yielded my and thy, and the older forms were kept as absolute forms (in older modern speech, they were also used before nouns beginning with vowels, e.g., mine eyes, thine opinion). We can use our strong declension system for my, thy, our, and your (if we treat them as possessives), but an alternative option is that we treat them as the genitives of the personal pronouns instead and give them no inflections, which is what we shall do here.
His and her were not possessives in Old English; instead, they were the genitives of the third-person singular pronouns and thus were generally not inflected as possessives. Its was a later innovation, and their (alongside they and them) was borrowed from Norse (see more here). Hence, we can simply keep them uninflected and treat them as genitives of the third-person pronouns.
For the interrogatives (who, what, which):
|Nominative||who, what, which||who, what, which|
|Accusative||whom, what, whichen||whom, what, whichen|
|Genitive||whose, whats, whiches||whose, whats, whicher|
Since what is etymologically the neuter of who, it lacks a distinct form for the accusative (just as it lacks a distinct form for the accusative). For the genitive, though whose (OE hwæs) is historically also the genitive of what, the form was later altered by analogy with who, and so it now only means of whom. Hence, we shall not extend it to what. Instead, we can base it on the normal reflex of hwæs and alter it by analogy with the nominative-accusative form.
As for which, we can use whichen, whiches, and whicher, all of which are based on the Old English forms.
To sum it all up:
- What do you like? (unchanged)
- Which do you like? > Whichen do you like?
- What deeds has he done? (unchanged)
- Which book have you read? > Whichen book have you read?
- What country's flag is that? > Whats countries flag is that?
- Which man's son do you choose? > Whiches mans son do you choose?
- Which men's guns are lost? > Whicher mens guns are lost?
The relative pronouns are trickier to deal with, as which and who were not used in Old English as such; rather, only the demonstrative and definite article sē was used as a relative pronoun, and it had the same declension as it usually did (though one could also use the indeclinable particle þe after the pronoun or simply use þe by itself). At some point in Middle English, the was replaced with that (which was left indeclinable in the nominative and the accusative), and which and who began to be used as relatives.
For that, we can use the declension for the demonstrative that (but not the one for those, since even in New English, we do not use those for the relative). As for which, the same declension as that of the interrogative which is used, since we do the same for who. Since that and which now have genitive forms, we no longer use whose as their genitives.
|Nominative||that, which, who||that, which, who|
|Accusative||that, whichen, whom||that, whichen, whom|
|Genitive||thats, whiches, whose||thats, whicher, whose|
- The book that / which he bought yesterday > The book that / whichen he bought yesterday
- The school to which I go > The school to whichen I go
- An idea whose time has come > An idea thats / whiches time has come
- The animals, whose owner came yesterday, are becoming noisy. > The animals, whicher owner came yesterday, are becoming noisy.
Note: whicher in the last sentence agrees with the antecedent, not the noun that it modifies.
In English, we inflect the genitive noun nearer the head noun, e.g., King Alfred's castle, John the butler's cat. In Old English, however, both the genitive noun and the title were inflected, e.g., Ælfrēdes cyninges (literally Alfred's king's). However, the practice of having both nouns be explicitly inflected for the genitive likely would have been dropped; even in modern German, there are many instances where only one of the two is inflected. Using the German system as a basis, we can thus come up with a few rules for inflecting titles with genitive nouns.
Title: noun, e.g., King Alfred's castle:
- Title + Name + Head noun - only the name is inflected, i.e., King Alfreds castle.
- Head noun + Title + Name - only the name is inflected, i.e., the castle King Alfreds.
Title: definite article + noun / adjective, e.g., Edward the Confessor's death, Ivan the Terrible's mother:
- Name + Title + Head noun - only the title is inflected, i.e., Edward thes Confessors death, Ivan thes Terriblen mother.
- Title + Name + Head noun - both are inflected, i.e., thes confessors Edwards death, thes terriblen Ivans mother.
- Head noun + Name + Title - only the title is inflected, i.e., the death Edward thes Confessors, the mother Ivan thes Terriblen.
- Head noun + Title + Name - only the title is inflected, i.e., the death thes confessors Edward, the mother thes terriblen Ivan.
In short, if the title has no definite article, the name is always inflected. But if the title has one, and the name does not go right before the head noun, then the name remains uninflected.
There is one exception: if the appositive noun is nonessential, then both may be inflected, regardless of position, e.g., William Shakespeare('s), an Englishman's, works becomes William Shakespeare(s), ans Englishmans, works or the works William Shakespeare(s), ans Englishmans.
Also, if a common noun is an appositive to another, both must be inflected since the apposition must be nonessential, e.g., this book is the professor's, an Englishman's becomes this book is thes professors, ans Englishmans (Englishman is in apposition to professor).
Of course, it is much simpler to inflect words in apposition to accusatives.
- I saw Elizabeth, then Britishen queen.
- I gave Sam, my gooden brother, everything.
- He loathed Sir Gawain, annen strongen knight.
The nominative acts as the subject of verbs.
- I know the answer.
- Some children have lain down on the floor.
The nominative acts as the complement of linking verbs.
- I am a soldier.
- I wanted to become a teacher.
- The culprit seems to be he.
- Who do you think the killer is?
- It was I who wrote it.
Note: in New English, the use of the accusative form for the personal pronouns is idiomatic, and the use of the nominative form now sounds a bit formal. Of course, we always use who and not whom here. Here, however, with our more complex system, we shall stick with the nominative forms, following the norm of older English.
In the passive construction of factitive verbs such as make and call, the complement is in the nominative.
- I was made a hero.
- He was called a coward.
Since we now use you, which is used for both the nominative and the accusative, it is not immediately clear whether the vocative is supposed to take the nominative or the accusative. Historically, however, it is the nominative.
- Thou fool, what art thou doing?
- Ye knaves, stop that at once!
Words used in apposition to a nominative are also nominative. This is also the case for vocative nouns.
- Sam, a doctor, knows a lot about medicine.
- Why should I, an accomplished man, listen to you?
- Ye gods, please save us!
Some other verbs also can be accompanied by a nominative that can be said to be an appositive.
- I will walk out of here a free man.
- In everyone's eyes, he stood there a guilty criminal.
- I left the hotel a happy guest.
Finally, the nominative is used in the absolute construction.
- We shall have a picnic at the park tomorrow, weather permitting.
- How can I be happy, he being away?
Note that in Old English, the case used in the absolute construction was the dative. Because of the loss of inflection, the nominative later became used instead. Sometimes, however, the accusative is used.
- How can I be happy, him being away?
In short, the nominative case's functions are:
- Subject of verbs.
- Complement of linking verbs.
- Complement in passive constructions of factitive verbs.
- Apposition to nominative.
- Nominative absolute.
The accusative acts as the object of verbs and prepositions (all examples henceforth use our revived inflections).
- I saw the man. > I saw then man.
- Bob does not like the loud music. > Bob does not like then louden music.
- The thief stole a green book. > The thief stole annen greenen book.
- The woman gave the man a kiss. > The woman gave then man annen kiss.
- He fled with the goods from the shop. > He fled with then goods from then shop.
The accusative is used as the complement of factitive verbs.
- We made him the leader. > We made him then leader.
- I thought her a fool. > I thought her annen fool.
- He called us hard workers. > He called us harden workers.
- I deemed him unworthy. (no change, since unworthy is a predicate adjective)
Words used in apposition to an accusative are also accusative and are inflected accordingly.
- I saw Elizabeth, then Britishen queen.
Retained objects (which are found in the passive voice construction) are also accusative.
- I was given a cheap book. > I was given annen cheapen book.
- He was asked a weird question. > He was asked annen weirden question.
- She was told the sad tale. > She was told then sadden tale.
Note that in the older order, it was the direct object that was made into the subject for the passive construction, and so it was the indirect object that became the retained object. This is the order found in other Germanic speeches such as German.
- A cheap book was given me.
- A letter was sent us.
- A sad tale was told her.
- I sent the young king a letter. > A letter was sent the young king. > A letter was sent then youngen king.
- I asked the old man a question. > A question was asked the old man. > A question was asked then olden man.
- I gave a new soldier my sword. > My sword was given a new soldier. > My sword was given annen newn soldier.
Also, certain expressions such as good morning are in the accusative, i.e., they are now gooden morning and so forth (compare them with the German guten Morgen). The reason is that they were originally shortened forms of such expressions as I wish you a good morning, whence the accusative form for the adjective. Of course, not every elliptical expression uses the accusative; for example, what a good day! uses the nominative.
There is one slightly tricky part, however: whenever a noun is used as an adverb, it is of the accusative case, and so any adjectives, articles, demonstratives, and numerals are inflected accordingly.
- I walked the whole day. > I walked then wholen day.
- Many days later, the king came to town. > Manien days later, the king came to town.
- I will catch him the next time I see him. > I will catch him then nexten time I see him.
Certain adverbs gotten from this adverbial use will also have to be changed.
- Always > allenway(s). The adverb comes from OE ealne weg, in which ealne was an accusative form of eall. The s in always is from the adverbial use of the genitive.
- Sometime(s) > somentime(s). The adverb is simply the phrase some time(s) used adverbially.
Note that words such as this, that, much, and so forth, when used as ordinary adverbs by themselves, are not inflected.
- I swear to you that the beast was this high.
- He cannot be that stupid.
- I did not like it much.
- I little enjoyed the show.
- He came early.
In short, the accusative case's functions are:
- Object of verbs and prepositions.
- Complement of factitive verbs.
- Apposition to accusative.
- Retained objects in the passive voice.
- Certain elliptical expressions such as good morning.
- Adverbial accusatives.
We are already familiar with the genitive, since genitive nouns are marked with -'s in New English, and it is now used only to modify nouns or by itself with an understood noun. Broadly speaking, the genitive serves to show a relation between a noun and another word.
The genitive shows ownership.
- This is the king's sword. > This is thes kings sword.
- Where is my book?
The genitive shows relationships that closely resemble ownership but are generally inseparable or abstract.
- That man is the dancer's father. > That man is thes dancers father.
- Look at his foot.
- He is tolerant of the man's beliefs. > He is tolerant of thes mans beliefs.
- Control your emotions!
- Why does the queen's voice sound weird? > Why does thes queens voice sound weird?
The genitive shows source.
- The playwright's works > Thes playwrights works
The genitive shows measure of time, distance, and so forth.
- The Hundred Years' War > Ther Hundred Years War
- All in a day's work > All in ans days work
- A stone's throw > Ans stones throw
The genitive shows for whom something is intended.
- Men's clothing > Mens clothing
The genitive sometimes shows verbal notions. In this case, the genitive essentially shows the "subject" or the "object" of an implied verb.
- The knights arrival is highly anticipated. > Thes knights arrival is highly anticipated. (subjective genitive)
- The king's assassination shocked everyone. > Thes kings assassination shocked everyone. (objective genitive)
In more poetic contexts, the genitive shows apposition.
- Treason's charge > Treasons charge
- In Dublin's fair city > In Dublins fair city
Note that many uses of the genitive can be shown with of.
- The king's murder > The murder of the king
- Shakespeare's works > The works of Shakespeare
- The building's history > The history of the building
- Dublin's fair city > The fair city of Dublin
In addition, old uses of the genitive such as the partitive genitive and the genitive of description are now shown only with of.
- One of the men.
- A man of great wisdom.
A like development has occurred in German, in which the genitive is often substituted with von. It is disputed whether the use of of to replace the genitive was due to or strengthened by French influence.
As English became an analytic speech with the loss of case inflections, it is only natural that certain parts of English syntax would be different if it had a more extensive system of case inflections.
First, there is one consequence of bringing back the old genitive inflections. In current English, we can use the so-called group genitive, in which -'s is attached to the end of a noun phrase rather than the head noun, e.g., the king of England's rather than the king's of England. This arose in Middle English after the old genitive inflections died out. As it is not present in more highly inflected speeches such as German and Icelandic, we can safely assume that the group genitive would not be present in our new system.
How do we replace it, then? It is rather simple. When the genitive is used dependently, we simply move the genitive noun to the right of the noun that it modifies or use the of construction.
- The king of England's castle > the castle thes kings of England / the castle of then king of England
When it is used independently, in addition to simply attaching the ending to the head noun, we can also use the demonstrative that with the genitive or use the that of construction. The second is present in German in the form of the demonstrative der + genitive. Thus, we have three options for My castle is great, but the king of England's is greater.
- Thes kings of England is greater.
- That thes kings of England is greater.
- That of then king of England is greater.
Moreover, there is an English construction in which a noun phrase is used like an adjective, as it were.
- This chord is the same length as the circle's diameter.
- This item is forty dollars.
- His eyes are a red color.
- It is no use.
- When I was your age, I would walk to the beach.
This construction arose long after the downfall of case inflections, as the nominative and the accusative are formally indistinguishable in noun phrases. Since the distinction is quite clear in this system, in all likelihood, it would feel unnatural to have a clear accusative where a nominative is expected. Hence, the sentences are to be changed through such methods as changing the verb be to another, using a preposition, or using a different construction wholly.
- This chord is the same length as the circle's diameter > The chord has then samen length as thes circles diameter.
- This item is forty dollars > This item costs forty dollars.
- His eyes are a red color > His eyes are of annen redden color.
- It is no use > It is of nonen use.
- When I was your age > When I was as old as you.
So far, all the old inflections brought back have been about case, which still exists in English to some extent. However, whatever the reason may have been, English has lost its system of grammatical gender, as its system of gender is now based on biological gender. Such instances as using the feminine for ships are due to personification and are not a remnant of the old system of gender.
Let us see how grammatical gender might work in today's English. First of all, how exactly does it work? Gender can be simply thought of as a system of noun classes, and words such as pronouns and adjectives change their form accordingly to show the gender of the noun that they refer to. For example:
- I saw a mouse. She was eating some cheese.
Here, mouse is a feminine noun, so the feminine pronoun is used to refer to it. Note that this says nothing about the mouse's sex; the word mouse is still treated as feminine, even if the mouse in question is male.
A few more example sentences:
- I threw a stone (masculine) toward the river, but he struck a tree instead.
- My hand (feminine) was unclean, so I went to wash her.
- This ax (feminine) is expensive because her previous owner was famous.
- I found a box (masculine) and stowed all my books in him.
The third-person personal pronouns are now:
As we can see, it is largely the same as our current system, but I have replaced the current plural pronouns (which are from Norse) with the native set (see here for more about the native forms). Moreover, the neuter genitive is now his instead of its, as it was in older stages of English. The reason for this reversion is that its was formed in Early New English, long after the forsaking of grammatical gender. And in other West Germanic speeches with grammatical gender, the masculine and the neuter still use the same form, e.g., Dutch zijn, German sein. Hence, it is quite likely that his would stay as the neuter genitive.
- A house and its garden > A house and his garden
- The ship and its crew > The ship and his crew
What would the definite article now look like under grammatical gender? Let us look at only the nominative.
This matches how Dutch uses its definite article, as Dutch uses de for the masculine, the feminine, and the plural, and it uses het for the neuter. If one does not want to bother with case, then this system should be enough. In any case, the definite article and any other modifiers change their form to show the noun's gender.
- The man, the woman, the men, the women.
- Thet house, the houses (the plural always uses the).
- The stone (OE stān was masculine), the sun (OE sunne was feminine).
Gender with case
Now let us add the accusative and genitive cases of the. For the accusative forms, they have been taken from the dative forms (the only exception being the neuter gender, which uses the accusative forms instead), as explained above in the section about the definite article.
The definite article:
The indefinite article:
The adjective good:
In other words, in the weak declension, the nominative singular and the neuter accusative are always uninflected.
- I saw the tall man. > I saw then tallen man. (weak, masculine accusative)
- I saw the short woman. > I saw ther shorten woman. (weak, feminine accusative)
- But: I saw the red house. > I saw thet red house. (weak, neuter accusative)
- I saw a male mouse. > I saw anner maler mouse. (strong, feminine accusative; remember that mouse is still a feminine noun, even though the mouse is male in this context)
The demonstrative this:
If we change the accusative and genitive forms by analogy with the nominative form in the plural, but change the nominative form in the singular, then we get:
What about the demonstrative that? In Old English, þæt was simply the neuter form of the demonstrative sē (which later became the), and only in Middle English were the and that differentiated into the definite article and the distal demonstrative, respectively. Note that for the demonstrative, it was the stressed form /θæt/ (now /ðæt/) that was passed down. Hence, if we simply use the stressed reflexes of the OE paradigm and change the forms in the plural to match the nominative (as we did for these), we have the following for the distal demonstrative:
Do not confuse thee (spelled here to avoid confusion with the definite article, which generally uses unstressed /ðə/ and /ði/) with the second-person singular pronoun thee, which is always accusative. Also, the accusative uses the n forms, since the ME forms show replacement of m by n.
- That stone (masculine) is gray. > Thee stone is gray.
- Give me that book (feminine) > Give me there book.
- That house (neuter) is red. (no change)
Like in Old English and (mostly) German, the forms of the demonstrative are also used for the relative pronoun. In other words, that is not the only form used for the relative. The relative pronoun agrees with its antecedent in number and gender, but not necessarily in case, as its case is determined by its syntatical role in the relative clause. For any relatives in the genitive, the relative agrees with the antecedent, not the noun that it modifies.
- The man thee (who) owns the car is here. (man: masculine singular)
- The woman there (whom) I know is here. (woman: feminine singular)
- The man thas (whose) mother is a countess is here. (thas, not there, is used to agree with the antecedent)
As for the numerals, in all likelihood, any differences in gender would have been eliminated, and so only two and three would have been kept. Even German no longer declines zwei and drei for gender.