Cases and Strong Masculine Nouns Overview

To recap what we have covered in the previous topics, Old English is an inflected language and so uses a case system similar to that of modern Icelandic, Russian or German. This means the ending of nouns, adjectives and demonstratives change to indicate the grammatical function of the word. For example, whether it is the subject, the direct object, indirect object, or a possessive.

There are four main Old English cases: the nominative, accusative, genitive and dative.

Nominative and Accusative

The nominative is used for the subject of a sentence. A subject is the person, place, thing, or idea that is doing or being something. The accusative is used for a direct object, that is the person or thing which is the direct recipient of the action of the verb. A verb which is directly acting on an object is known as a transitive verb.

Se cyning
Nominative
grete
Verb
þone biscop
Accusative

In Old English, nouns in the nominative and accusative cases are often declined in the same way. If it isn’t clear from context, the best way of telling the singular nominative and accusative nouns apart is by using checking for the demonstrative ‘se’ (nominative) or ‘þone’ (accusative). For example, in the below sentence, even though the word order does not match the word order of the above sentence, and there are no identifiable endings, you can see which is the subject and the direct object using the demonstratives.

Þone biscop
Accusative
grete
Verb
se cyning
Nominative

The plural versions of the nominative and accusative are always the same, both in how they decline and in the demonstratives they use.

Nominative and Accusative Strong Masculine Nouns
Singular Plural
Nominative se cyning þa cyningas
Accusative þone cyning þa cyningas

Genitive

The genitive is the case of possession and signifies a specific relationship between two words. It can be used both subjectively — the king’s thane saw the stone — and objectively — He is king of kings.

Þæs cyninges
Genitive
þegen
Nominative
seah
Verb
þone stan
Accusative

He
Nominative
biþ
Verb
þara cyninga
Genitive
cyning
Accusative

An easy way to tell if something should be in the genitive is to see if you can place ‘of’ in the sentence. So ‘þa cyninges bearnas’ could be translated as ‘the king’s children’ or ‘the children of the king’. Similarly, ‘Sanctes Eadmundes mæssedæg’ could be translated as 'Saint Edmund’s Day' or 'The day of Saint Edmund'.

The genitive is also used when referencing a part of a whole, for example ‘ælc þara manna - each of the men’. You will generally encounter the partitive genitive with most expressions of number, quantity or partition. For example: manig manna - many men, twelf mila lang - twelve miles long.

Genitive Strong Masculine Nouns
Singular Plural
Genitive þæs cyninges þara cyninga

Dative

The dative is the case of the indirect object. An indirect object is a word which is not the direct recipient of an action, but is still affected by the verb.

Se cyning
Nominative
geaf
Verb
þa beagas
Accusative
to
Prep.
his
Genitive
þegne
Dative

In the above sentence, beagas - rings are what is being directly acted upon as they are what are being given, so they are in the accusative. However, they are being given to the thane, so he is still affected by the verb indirectly, meaning þegen belongs in the dative case.

The Dative is a versatile case and can apply in many situations. An easy way to figure out if something is in the dative is to check for the demonstrative þæm, or to check for a preposition such as ‘to’ or ‘fram’.

Se cyning
Nominative
come
Verb
fram
Prep.
Æcesdune
Dative
on
Prep.
West-Seaxe
Dative
Dative Strong Masculine Nouns
Singular Plural
Dative þæm cyninge þæm cyningum

It is important to understand how cases work, and to be able to identify which case a word is in, so as to understand the meaning of a sentence. While Old English often follows the subject verb object format of modern English, there can often be exceptions, especially in poetry.

The differing word order does not affect meaning, but word order can be used to affect emphasis. That being said, in Old English the subject does generally come first, or at least very early in the sentence, the same way it does in modern English.

There are some common differences in word order which should be watched out for. For example, possessives often come after the noun it modifies, especially in direct address:

Old English: Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum
Direct trans: Father ours you who are in heaven
Modern Eng: Our Father who art in heaven

Always remember that Old English has case harmony, so even if a word comes slightly earlier or later in a sentence than you might expect, it can generally be paired to the correct noun by comparing the case endings.

Strong Masculine Noun
Singular Plural
Nominative se cyning þa cyningas
Accusative þone cyning þa cyningas
Genitive þæs cyninges þara cyninga
Dative þæm cyninge þæm cyningum
Strong Masculine Noun
Singular Plural
Nominative se biscop þa biscopas
Accusative þone biscop þa biscopas
Genitive þæs biscopes þara biscopa
Dative þæm biscope þæm biscopum
Strong Masculine Noun
Singular Plural
Nominative se þegen þa þegnas
Accusative þone þegen þa þegnas
Genitive þæs þegnes þara þegna
Dative þæm þegne þæm þegnum
Strong Masculine Nouns
Singular Plural
Nominative se stan þa stanas
Accusative þone stan þa stanas
Genitive þæs stanes þara stana
Dative þæm stane þæm stanum

Monosyllabic words ending in a vowel or ‘h’ drop their vowel/h when they gain a suffix. Similarly, words with two syllables will lose the unstressed vowel of the second syllable when it gains a suffix. This is called syncopation and makes the word easier to pronounce. This is why ‘þegen’ loses its second 'e'. You will see this in words like ‘wealh - foreigner’ and stede - place also, as they lose their ‘h’ and ‘e’ in some conjugations.

You can download a pdf of this module using the link below. The pdfs also contain a glossary of all nouns and verbs used in the module, as well as additional paradigms. Otherwise, feel free to continue on to the next module.


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.