Variant Declensions

While almost all nouns follow the declensions seen previously, sometimes declensions can cause variations in the stem of the noun. You have already seen some of these variations in previous topics and these variations generally happen for one of two reasons: first it makes a word easier to pronounce, or second it's the result of a sound change that happened over time. Luckily, these variations tend to be regular, making them easy to spot, and they do not affect the inflectional suffix.

Disyllabic nouns

Under certain circumstances, nouns with two syllables, or 'disyllabic nouns', lose the unstressed vowel of their second syllable when an inflectional ending adds a syllable. We saw this with the feminine noun, 'ceaster', and the masculine noun, 'þegen' which loses their second 'e' when declined. This is known as syncopation and the rule applies across all genders. For example, look at 'fugol - bird' and 'ceastre - city' in the sentence 'we lufiaþ þa fuglas on þære ceastre - we love the birds in the city'.

þa fuglas
Direct Object
þære ceastre
Indirect Object

Syncopation is more likely to happen if the central consonant is a soft sound, like the [j] in 'þegen', the [ɣ] in 'fugol', or the [w] in 'sawol'. It can also happen if the word has a heavy syllable followed by a light syllable. A heavy syllable is a syllable with a long vowel and a consonant or a short vowel and two consonants. For example, 'heafod - head' has a heavy syllable followed by a light syllable, so it loses the 'o' when conjugated. It also commonly occurs when the second syllable ends in a vowel or vowel sound. For example, in the adjective 'halig' the 'g' is soft so it drops its 'i' when declining. Examine the sentence: 'Þa bearn beoþ halga sawla - The children are holy souls'.

Þa bearn
Direct Object
Fugol - Bird
Nom se fugol þa fuglas
Acc þone fugol þa fuglas
Gen þæs fugles þara fugla
Dat þæm fugle þæm fuglum
Heafod - Head
Nom þæt heafod þa heafdu
Acc þæt heafod þa heafdu
Gen þæs heafdes þara heafda
Dat þæm heafde þæm heafdum
Sawol - Soul
Nom seo sawol þa sawla
Acc þa sawle þa sawla
Gen þære sawle þara sawla
Dat þære sawle þæm sawlum

Nouns ending in a vowel

Nouns which end in a vowel (except 'u') are generally weak. However, there are a handful of exceptions and when a strong noun ends in a vowel, like 'ende - end', 'stede - place', 'rice - kingdom', 'wite - punishment', or 'clawu - claw', they drop their vowel when a suffix is added. For example, 'He wealdeþ wite mid isenum clawum - He dispenses punishment with iron claws'.

Direct Object
Indirect Object
Ende - End
Nom se ende þa endas
Acc þone ende þa endas
Gen þæs endes þara enda
Dat þæm ende þæm endum
Wite - Punishment
Nom þæt wite þa witu
Acc þæt wite þa witu
Gen þæs wites þara wita
Dat þæm wite þæm witum
Clawu - Claw
Nom seo clawu þa clawa
Acc þa clawe þa clawa
Gen þære clawe þara clawa
Dat þære clawe þæm clawum

Nouns ending in 'h'

Nouns that have a stem ending in 'h' lose it when declined. This can happen one of two ways. If the noun ends in a (consonant + h), like 'mearh - horse', 'wealh - foreigner' and 'feorh - life', the noun loses the 'h' when declined. If the noun ends in a (vowel + h), like 'scoh - shoe' and 'feoh - cattle/wealth', the word loses the ‘h’ and the unstressed vowel when declined.

For example, the 'Þa wealas habbaþ scos ond mearas - The foreigners have shoes and horses'. The plural accusative form of the strong masculine noun 'scoh' is 'scos' not 'scoas', even though the usual strong masculine plural accusative ending is 'as', because the 'a' is dropped. However, you should note that 'feoh' only has a singular form, much like the modern words 'cattle' and 'wealth' do not have plural forms.

Þa wealas
Direct Object
Direct Object
Consonant + h
Nom se wealh þa wealas
Acc þone wealh þa wealas
Gen þæs weales þara weala
Dat þæm weale þæm wealum
Vowel + h
Nom se scoh þa scos
Acc þone scoh þa scos
Gen þæs scos þara scona
Dat þæm sco þæm scom
Vowel + h
Nom þæt feoh -
Acc þæt feoh -
Gen þæs feos -
Dat þæm feo -

Nouns with 'æ' in the stem

Monosyllabic nouns with a short 'æ' in the stem, such as 'hwæl - whale', 'fæt - cup', and 'dæg - day', undergo a sound-change to 'a' when declined in the plural. This is because the plural suffixes contain the back vowels 'a' and 'u'. Examine the sentence 'Se horshwæl biþ læssa ðonne oðre hwalas - The walrus is smaller than other wales'. Words with a long 'æ', such as 'dæd - deed', 'læcce - doctor', or 'dæl - part' retain their 'æ' in the plural. Examine the sentence 'Læcas hæleþ mid ðisse wyrte - doctors heal with this plant'. (For a refresher on long and short vowel sounds, see the pronunciation guide.)

Se horshwæl
Rel. Pronoun
Direct Object

Hwæl - Whale
Nom se hwæl þa hwalas
Acc þone hwæl þa hwalas
Gen þæs hwæles þara hwala
Dat þæm hwæle þæm hwalum
Fæt - Cup
Nom þæt fæt þa fatu
Acc þæt fæt þa fatu
Gen þæs fætes þara fata
Dat þæm fæte þæm fatum
Dæg - Day
Nom se dæg þa dagas
Acc þone dæg þa dagas
Gen þæs dages þara daga
Dat þæm dæge þæm dagum

As can be seen from the above examples, while the suffixes generally remain the same for all the nouns, where the addition of a suffix would make the word more difficult to say there are slight modifications in the stem to it easier to pronounce. You can practice the variant noun declensions below.

Test Your Declensions

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