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definition - old english pronouns

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Old English pronouns

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The English language once had an extensive declension system similar to Latin, modern German or Icelandic. Old English distinguished between the nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive cases; and for strongly declined adjectives and some pronouns also a separate instrumental case (which otherwise and later completely coincided with the dative). In addition, the dual was distinguished from the more modern singular and plural.[1]Declension was greatly simplified during the Middle English period, when accusative and dative pronouns merged into a single objective pronoun. Nouns in Modern English no longer decline for case, except in a sense for possessive, and for remnants of the former system in a few pronouns.

"Who" and "whom", "he" and "him", "she" and "her", etc. are remnants of both the old nominative versus accusative and also of nominative versus dative. In other words, "her" (for example) serves as both the dative and accusative version of the nominative pronoun "she". In Old English as well as modern German and Icelandic as further examples, these cases had distinct pronouns.

This collapse of the separate case pronouns into the same word is one of the reasons grammarians consider the dative and accusative cases to be extinct in English — neither is an ideal term for the role played by "whom". Instead, the term objective is often used; that is, "whom" is a generic objective pronoun which can describe either a direct or an indirect object. The nominative case, "who", is called simply the subjective. The information formerly conveyed by having distinct case forms is now mostly provided by prepositions and word order.

Modern English morphologically distinguishes only one case, the possessive case — which some linguists argue is not a case at all, but a clitic (see the entry for genitive case for more information). With only a few pronominal exceptions, the objective and subjective always have the same form.


Old English personal pronouns

Old English personal pronouns

Evolution of the English pronouns

Interrogative pronouns

Masculine/feminine (person)

CaseOld EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English
Accusativehwone / hwænewhomwho / whom1
Dativehwām / hwǣm

1 - In some dialects who is used where Formal English only allows whom. Though, of course variation among dialects must be taken into account.

Neuter (non-person)

CaseOld EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English
Accusativehwætwhat / whom
Dativehwām / hwǣm
Instrumentalhwȳ / hwonwhywhy

1 - Usually replaced by of what (postpositioned).

First person personal pronouns


CaseOld EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English
NominativeI / ich / ikI
Accusativemē / meċmeme
Genitivemīnmin / mimy, mine


CaseOld EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English
Accusativeūs / ūsiċusus
Genitiveūser / ūreure / ourour, ours

(Old English also had a separate dual, wit ("we two") etcetera; however, no later forms derive from it.)

Second person personal pronouns

n.b. þ is a letter from Old English, roughly corresponding to th.

Old and Middle English singular to the Modern English archaic informal

CaseOld EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English
Nominativeþūþu / thouthou (you)
Accusativeþē / þeċþé / theethee (you)
Genitiveþīnþi / þīn / þīne / thy /thin / thinethy, thine (your)

Old and Middle English plural to the archaic formal to the modern general

CaseOld EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English
Nominativeġēye / ȝe / youyou
Accusativeēow / ēowiċyou, ya
Genitiveēoweryouryour, yours

Note that the ye/you distinction still existed, at least optionally, in Early Modern English: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" from the King James Bible.

Formal and informal forms of the second person singular and plural
Old EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English
Accusativeþē / þeċēow / ēowiċtheeyou
Genitiveþīnēoweryour, yoursthy, thineyour, yoursyour, yours

(Old English also had a separate dual, ȝit ("ye two") etcetera; however, no later forms derive from it.)

Third person personal pronouns

Feminine singular

CaseOld EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English
Nominativehēoheo / sche / ho / he / ȝhoshe
Accusativehīehire / hure / her / heoreher
Genitivehirehir / hire / heore / her / hereher, hers

Masculine singular

CaseOld EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English

Neuter singular

CaseOld EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English
Nominativehithit / itit
Accusativehithit / it / him
Genitivehishis / itsits


CaseOld EnglishMiddle EnglishModern English
Nominativehīehe / hi / ho / hie / þai / þeithey
Accusativehīehem / ham / heom / þaim / þem / þamthem
Genitivehirahere / heore / hore / þair / þartheir, theirs

(The origin of the modern forms is generally thought to have been a borrowing from Old Norse forms þæir, þæim, þæira.
The two different roots co-existed for some time, although currently the only common remnant is the shortened form 'em.
Cf. also the demonstrative pronouns.)

See also


  1. Peter S. Baker (2003). "Pronouns". The Electronic Introduction to Old English. Oxford: Blackwell. http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/resources/IOE/inflpron.html. 

External links

  • The Magic Sheet, one page color PDF summarizing Old English declensionmk:Англиски деклинации


All translations of old english pronouns

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