Adjectives Overview

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

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.

Se
Demonstrative
Pronoun
goda
Weak
Adjective
cyning
Subject
Noun
onfeng
Verb
 
him
Object
Pronoun

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'.

  Masculine Neuter
Nom goda gode
Acc godan gode
Gen godan godan
Dat godan godan
Feminine Plural
Nom gode godan
Acc godan godan
Gen godan godra/godena
Dat godan godum

Strong Adjectives

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

Þæt
Demonstrative
Pronoun
wæs
Verb
 
god
Strong
Adjective
cyning
Object
Noun

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.

  Masculine Neuter
Nom god god
Acc godne god
Gen godes godes
Dat godum godum
Feminine Plural
Nom god gode/godu/goda
Acc gode gode/godu/goda
Gen godre godra
Dat godre godum

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'.

He
Subject
Pronoun
wæs
Verb
 
æðelra
Comparative
Adjective
on
Preposition
 
his
Possessive
Pronoun
mode
Indirect
Object

He
Subject
Pronoun
wæs
Verb
 
manna
Possessive
Noun
wisost
Superlative
Adjective

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.

Nom Comp Super
halig hailgra haligost
wise wisra wisost
heard heardra heardost
æðele æðelra æðelost
niwe niwra niwost
heah hiera hiehst
eald ieldra ieldest
geong gingra gingest
lang lengra lengest
strang strengra strengest
god betera betest
lytel læssa læst
micel mara mæst
yfel wiersa wierst

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 Declensions

In the textboxes below, fill out the fully declined version of the word in brackets.


Use these buttons to insert thorn, ash and eth when you have an input selected.


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.