Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Crash course on translating OE verb, adjective, and noun inflections

Posted: Sep 17, 2020 18:09;
Last Modified: Sep 17, 2020 18:09

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This page is a crash course for translating Old English verb, adjective, and noun inflections. It provides some really quick Present Day English equivalents so that you can “hear” what each case sounds like in PDE. This is only meant to get you started in the first week or two. We’ll return to them more formally and analytically later.

Old English Cases

Old English has four main cases (and a fifth that is very limited in distribution that we’ll deal with later):

OE Case PDE function Example PDE translation PDE Personal Pronoun equivalent [ignoring gender]
Nominative Subject dæg the day he / they
Accusative Object naman the name him / them
Genitive Possessive stanes The stone’s of him (i.e. his) / of them (i.e. their)
Dative “by/with/to/for” Gode by/with/to/for God by/with/to/for him / by/with/to/for them

Note that the cases in OE (and PDE) have additional uses, meanings, and nuances. But these are the core functions you need to translate.

Old English Persons

Person Number PDE example (pronouns) PDE example (verbs)
First Singular I, me, my I run / I ran
Plural we, us, our We run / we ran
Second Singular You, you, your you run / you ran
Plural You (y’all), you (y’all), your (y’all’s) y’all run / y’all ran
Third Singular he, him, his he runs / he ran
she, her, her she runs / she ran
it, it, its it runs / it ran
Plural they, them, their they run / they ran

How to use this guide

  1. Write out the Old English on the recto (“odd numbered”) side of a lined piece of paper (keep four lines between each line of Old English)
  2. Look up each word in the text in the glossary copy down the OE form and the PDE form on a line on the “verso” (even numbered page) opposite the Old English (e.g. god, m, “god”)
  3. Above (or below) each word in the Old English on the recto copy out the information from your glossary about the same word:
    1. number (sg./pl.), and
    2. and either
      1. gender (m,f,n), and
      2. case (nom, gen, acc, dat)
    3. or
      1. tense (past/pres) and
      2. person (first, second, third)
  4. Look up the PDE equivalents from the tables above and write them in (i.e. “sg, nom, masc” —> he; “pres 1p sg” —> I run)
  5. Now substitute the form you wrote in the previous step with the meaning of the word in question from the glossary:
    1. i.e. if you gloss said “cnapum (wk mask noun, dat pl): servants
      1. write “Cnapum, wk mask noun ‘servants’” on the verso
      2. above the word cnapum in your OE text write “by/with/to/for them”
      3. then replace the word “them” with the meaning of cnapum: “by/with/to/for servants
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