Nouns Overview

In Old English there are three major categories of nouns: Strong, Weak, and Minor. Strong nouns are the most numerous, followed by weak nouns, with minor nouns being the least common. Nouns never change their strength. So a strong noun, like 'scip' is always strong, a weak noun like 'tunge' is always weak, and a minor noun like 'sunu' is always minor.

All nouns have a grammatical gender: Masculine, Neuter, and Feminine. The grammatical gender affects which demonstrative pronoun is paired with a noun, and usually affects the way the noun declines. Nouns also decline differently based on whether they are singular or plural.

Strong Nouns

Strong nouns are considered grammatically strong because there are many variations in how they decline based on gender, case, and number.

Strong Masculine Nouns
Nom se cyning þa cyningas
Acc þone cyning þa cyningas
Gen þæs cyninges þara cyninga
Dat þæm cyninge þæm cyningum
Strong Neuter Nouns
Nom þæt scip þa scipu
Acc þæt scip þa scipu
Gen þæs scipes þara scipa
Dat þæm scipe þæm scipum
Strong Feminine Nouns
Nom seo cwen þa cwena
Acc þa cwene þa cwena
Gen þære cwene þara cwena
Dat þære cwene þæm cwenum

Though there are more variations between genders in strong nouns, there are many similarities between the genders which can help you identify which case the noun is in. For example, the demonstrative pronoun 'þæm' always signifies the dative, and the 'um' ending always signifies the dative plural. Similarly, the demonstrative pronoun 'þara' and the suffix 'a', always signify the genitive plural. While the dative declensions for masculine, neuter and feminine nouns are identical, you only ever see the demonstrative pronoun 'þære' with feminine nouns.

Weak Nouns

Weak nouns are considered grammatically weak because there are very few variations in how they decline. Only the nominative singular and neuter accusative forms differ between genders, and there are only two weak neuter nouns: 'eage - eye' and 'eare - ear'. All other nouns are either masculine or feminine.

Strong Masculine Nouns
Nom se hunta þa huntan
Acc þone huntan þa huntan
Gen þæs huntan þara huntena
Dat þæm huntan þæm huntum
Strong Neuter Nouns
Nom þæt eage þa eagan
Acc þæt eage þa eagan
Gen þæs eagan þara eagena
Dat þæm eagan þæm eagum
Strong Feminine Nouns
Nom seo tunge þa tungan
Acc þa tungan þa tungan
Gen þære tungan þara tungena
Dat þære tungan þæm tungum

Since weak nouns decline almost identically between genders, and have simliar inflectional suffixes between cases, often demonstrative pronouns are the best way of identifying a noun's gender and case. Where a demonstrative pronoun is not present, you must rely on the context of the noun to figure out its case.

Minor Nouns

Minor nouns are the least numerous, often having only a handful of nouns per category. They can be broken down into several sub-categories: u-declensions, r-plurals, family nouns, and i-mutation nouns.

U-Declensions

Unlike Strong and Weak nouns, nouns in the u-declension decline the same for both masculine and feminine. There are no neuter nouns in the u-declension.

Sunu - Son
Nom se sunu þa suna
Acc þone sunu þa suna
Gen þæs suna þara suna
Dat þæm suna þæm sunum
Hond - Hand
Nom seo hand þa handa
Acc þa hand þa handa
Gen þære handa þara handa
Dat þære handa þæm handum
Duru - Door
Nom seo duru þa dura
Acc þa duru þa dura
Gen þære dura þara dura
Dat þære dura þæm durum

R-Plurals

R-plurals are nouns which add an 'r' between the stem and the suffix when declining in the plural. All r-plural nouns are neuter and take the same inflectional suffixes as strong neuter nouns. There are four nouns in the r-plural category: 'lamb - lamb', 'æg - egg', 'cealf - calf', and 'cild - child'.

Cild - Child
Nom þæt cild þa cildra
Acc þæt cild þa cildra
Gen þæs cildes þara cildra
Dat þæm cilde þæm cildrum
Æg - Egg
Nom þæt æg þa ægru
Acc þæt æg þa ægru
Gen þæs æges þara ægra
Dat þæm æge þæm ægrum
Lamb - Lamb
Nom þæt lamb þa lambru
Acc þæt lamb þa lambru
Gen þæs lambes þara lambra
Dat þæm lambe þæm lambrum

Family Nouns

The family nouns are 'fæder', 'modor', 'broðor', 'sweostor', and 'dohtor'. They are the most irregular of the minor declensions.

Faeder - Father
Nom se fæder þa fæderas
Acc þone fæder þa fæderas
Gen þæs fæder þara fædera
Dat þæm fæder þæm fæderum
Modor - Mother
Nom seo modor þa modora
Acc þa modor þa modora
Gen þære modor þara modora
Dat þære meder þæm modrum

In the singular, only the dative of 'modor', 'broðor', and 'dohtor' declines and they decline the same way, with the 'o' becoming 'e due to i-mutation'. The plural of 'modor', 'broðor', 'sweostor', and 'dohtor' all decline the same way, but 'fæder' declines differently in the nominative and accusative plural, following the more traditional strong masculine paradigm.

I-Mutation

I-mutation is a change in the sound of a vowel so that it is pronounced with the tongue higher and farther forward than usual. I-mutation is visible in the root-vowel of the singular dative, nominative plural, and accusative plural forms of certain nouns.

Mann - Man
Nom se mann þa menn
Acc þone mann þa menn
Gen þæs mannes þara manna
Dat þæm menn þæm mannum
Boc - Book
Nom seo boc þa bec
Acc þa boc þa bec
Gen þære boce þara boca
Dat þære bec þæm bocum
Freond - Friend
Nom se freond þa friend
Acc þone freond þa friend
Gen þæs freondes þara freonda
Dat þæm friend þæm freondum

Remember, a rough way of identifying a weak noun vs a strong one is that the root of a weak noun generally ends in a vowel (except 'u'), while strong nouns usually end in a consonant or 'u'. For example, 'fugol - bird', 'lufu - love' and 'sawol - soul' are strong, while 'hearpa - harp', 'draca - dragon', and 'culfre - dove' are weak. This, however, is not a hard rule as there are strong verbs like 'rice - kingdom', 'stede - place', and 'wite - punishment', and of course, most of the u-declension nouns end in 'u', but when encountering an unfamiliar noun, you can use it as a rough guide.

Now that you know the rules that govern Old English nouns, the next step is to test your knowlege. You can choose to test your knowledge of just the weak and minor nouns presented in this module, or test your knowledge of all noun forms, using the buttons below. When you are ready to advance to the next module, click the link to continue.


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.