A Quick Note On The Alphabet Before You Begin

While Old English is no longer spoken, understanding how to pronounce the words you read will help you remember them and understand the text better. The Old English alphabet is: A B C D E F ᵹ H I K L M N O P Q R S T U Ƿ X Y Æ Þ Ð

Old English letters are usually pronounced the same way we pronounce them in modern English, however, below you will find a list of Old English letters no longer used in modern English. To hear their pronunciation, select their IPA symbol.

Old English Letters
Letter Modern English IPA Name
Ƿ / ƿ W (as in win) Wynn
Ð / ð TH (as in this) Eth
Þ / þ TH (as in thick) Thorn
Æ / æ A (as in cat) Ash
G / ᵹ G, Y or J , , , Insular g

The general rule of thumb with þ and ð is that þ comes at the start of a word and ð comes in the middle or at the end. However, you will often see them used interchangeably, with the same word appearing on the same page spelled with both ð forms and þ forms, so don't overthink it.

Insular g has two main pronunciations depending on the structure of the word. Before front vowels (i, e, æ), the 'g' is generally 'palatalized' or 'soft' (IPA symbol [j]). If it is preceded by a consonant or 'back vowel' (a, o and u), the g is likely 'hard' (IPA symbol [g]). In academic texts, soft g's often have a dot above them to indicate their pronunciation, but these are not found in manuscripts and are not included here, so pay attention to spelling.

Just like 'g', 'c' has two different pronunciations. When preceded by front vowels (i, e, æ), the 'c' is pronounced like 'ch' in modern English. So 'ic' is pronounced 'itch'. If c precedes a back vowel (a, o and u), it is pronounced like "k", so 'cyning' is pronounced 'koo-ning'. If 'c' directly follows 's' then the two are pronounced like 'sh'. For example, 'biscop' is pronounced identically to the modern word 'bishop'.

Old English has no silent letters, so you should pronounce every letter in a word. Remember, when in doubt, pronounce the word like you would in modern English. So long as you remember to pronounce every letter, how we pronounce the word in modern English is usually a good guide on how to pronounce in Old English.

Note: To make Old English easier to read and understand, Ƿ and will be replaced by 'w' and ‘g’ in the practice material.

Continue to Cases and Strong Masculine Nouns