Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Learn Old English with the Wordhoard: Pronouns

Paradigms! Paradigms! Paradigms!

Right about now, you’re looking back at the Pronouns I vocabulary list and saying to yourself, “Ooooh, I see. That’s why we started out with these words.” You’re also probably wracking your brain because you’ve got to memorize tables 5.1-5.7.

For now, just focus on tables 5.1-5.5. Yes, you do have to learn all these paradigms. I know it seems hard, but just focus on learning them one at a time. After you learn the first one, you’ll start to see patterns emerging as you learn subsequent paradigms.

In order to help yourself learn them, your quiz today is going to be pretty easy. Just fill in the following paradigms for 1st Person, 2nd Person, 3rd Person Masculine, 3rd Person Neuter, and 3rd Person Plural. You don’t have to do it from memory, but you can’t use your book. Instead, use your magic sheet … all the answers are on the bottom row.


Obviously, the purpose of this exercise is to learn to use the sheet. I’m not going to bother posting the answers here, because they are found in your chapter. Also, don’t print out a copy of the paradigm – handwrite it every time yourself. By writing it out each time, you’ll gain familiarity with the way these paradigms work.

Once you’ve copied them out, it’s time to put these to use. Pick a text – almost any text, and practice your pronunciation. However, after every sentence, go back through that sentence and look at the pronouns. My class picked Judith. The first full sentence runs like this:

Heo ðar ða gearwe funde mundbyrd æt ðam mæran Ðeodne þa heo ahte mæste þearfe, hyldo þæs hehstand Deman, þæt he hie wið þæs hehstan brogan gefriþode, frymða Waldend.

OK, now look at those pronouns. Even though you might not be able to translate the whole sentence yet, there are still a few things you can work out. The first word, Heo, has to be feminine singular nominative. In other words, it means “She,” and is the subject. Now, look at that next ðam. Until you are ready to start translating the context, this one is going to be ambiguous, but it is definitely the demonstrative pronoun, “the.” Looking at the magic sheet, you can see that ðam can be masculine singular dative, neuter singular dative, or plural dative. Until we understand the nouns and other context better, we don’t know for sure if it is singular or plural, but we do know that it is dative.

Just go through any reading working out the various possibilities for the pronouns. For many of them, you’ll not yet be able to know for sure if it is one thing or another, but you’ll be able to eliminate what it isn’t. At this point, it isn’t important to figure out the definite right answer (though there is one, and as you get more advanced, you’ll be able to figure out what that is), but it is instead important to figure out what the options are.

For next time, no new vocabulary. Just memorize, memorize, memorize. Eventually, these paradigms will have to become second nature.


  1. So many of my students are distressed about the paradigms that I've decided tomorrow's class will involve candy.

    If you're following along, whether in a group or by yourself, make sure you have candy this week.

    Candy! I command it! It's an essential part of the learning process!

    [This message was approved by the Aelfric School of Language Learning]

  2. Oh, one other thing. Any student who chooses one of the above bolded pronouns and explains the various things it might be, and why, in a comment in this thread, gets an automatic A on the next quiz.

  3. Ok, let me try this...

    "He" (translated to "him") is only singular nominative, but in masculine form. However, "hie" could be singular feminine accusative ("her"), accusative plural ("their") or nominative plural ("they"). In accusative form, "hie" would be the direct object of the sentence; in nominative, the subject.


    Also Doc -- let me again swing the idea of a podcast or something similar by you. It would help others following along on your site to hear your voice pronouncing the words in old English. As students, we get the full benefit of actually being in the class; others may not find it easy to keep up.

  4. One small correction: If "He" is nominative, then it would likely be translated as "he," not "him."

    As for podcasts, I'm not against the idea, I just don't have time to do the video editing. If you've got the equipment and are volunteering, I'm game.