To recap, Old English adjectives have inflectional endings based on their case, number, gender, and whether they are weak or strong. Adjectives can be either strong or weak, and this depends on whether the adjective follows a demonstrative pronoun or possessive adjective. Examine 'god' in these two sentences: 'Þæt wæs god cyning - That was a good king' and 'se goda cyning onfeng him - the good king received him'.
Weak adjectives are used when they are situated between a demonstrative pronoun or possessive pronoun and the noun they are modifying. For example, in the sentence 'se goda cyning onfeng him - the good king received him', the adjective 'god' is modifying 'cyning' which is modified by the demonstrative 'se'. This means 'god' is weak.
Most weak adjective endings are 'an', but the masculine nominative singular can be recognised by the suffix 'a', the feminine and neuter nominative and the neuter accusative end in 'e', the genitive plural ends in 'ra' or 'ena', and the dative plural ends in 'um'.
Strong adjectives are used when they modify nouns without any demonstrative or possessive pronoun, or when they follow a linking verb (when they are used as predicative adjectives). For example, in the sentence 'Þæt wæs god cyning - That was a good king', even though the sentence has the demonstrative 'Þæt', 'god' is modifying 'cyning', which is not modified by a demonstrative. This means that 'god' is strong. Similarly, in the sentence 'seo cwen is wis - the queen is wise' the adjective is strong as it doesn't come between the demonstrative and the noun, but is connected to the noun by a linking verb
Strong adjectives are considered grammatically strong as they have more inflectional endings than weak nouns. If you have difficulty remembering the endings, consider the endings you learned for strong nouns and demonstratives. For example, compare the strong masculine accusative demonstrative 'þo-ne' and the masculine accusative adjective ending '-ne', or the feminine genitive and dative demonstrative 'þæ-re' and the feminine genitive and dative demonstrative '-re', or the plural dative noun ending '-um' which is shared with the masculine and neuter singular adjective endings.
Comparatives and Superlatives
Comparatives and Superlatives remain similar to modern English with comparatives containing an 'r' after the stem but before the suffix, and superlatives gaining the suffix '-ost'. For example, 'heardra - harder' and 'heardost - hardest'. Examine the sentences, 'he wæs æðelra on his mode - he was nobler in his mind' and 'he wæs manna wisost - he was wisest of men'.
Most comparatives and superlatives follow this regular pattern. However, some undergo a vowel change in the stem called 'i-mutation' with 'ea' becoming 'ie', 'eo' becoming 'i', and 'a' becoming 'e'. There are also four irregular adjectives: 'god', 'micel', 'lytel' and 'yfel', which should be recognisable from the modern English equivalents.
Comparatives always decline weak, while superlatives decline weak or strong depending on whether or not they are associated with a demonstrative or possessive pronoun. You can practice adjectives below.
Test Your DeclensionsIn the textboxes below, fill out the fully declined version of the word in brackets.
Test Your Vocabulary
You were introduced to a lot of new vocabulary in this module. Test your understanding of those new words by clicking the button below. This opens a modal where you can translate words on a flashcard.