Old English Online

Anglo Saxon Text

Series Introduction

Old English is the language of the Germanic inhabitants of England, dated from the time of their settlement in the 5th century to the end of the 11th century. It is also referred to as Anglo-Saxon, a name given in contrast with the Old Saxon of the inhabitants of northern Germany; these are two of the dialects of West Germanic, along with Old Frisian, Old Franconian, and Old High German. Sister families to West Germanic are North Germanic, with Old Norse (a.k.a. Old Icelandic) as its chief dialect, and East Germanic, with Gothic as its chief (and only attested) dialect. The Germanic parent language of these three families, referred to as Proto-Germanic, is not attested but may be reconstructed from evidence within the families, such as provided by Old English texts.

Old English itself has three dialects: West Saxon, Kentish, and Anglian. West Saxon was the language of Alfred the Great (871-901) and therefore achieved the greatest prominence; accordingly, the chief Old English texts have survived in this dialect. In the course of time, Old English underwent various changes such as the loss of final syllables, which also led to simplification of the morphology. Upon the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066, numerous words came to be adopted from French and, subsequently, also from Latin.

For a reconstruction of the parent language of Old English, called Proto-Germanic, see Winfred Lehmann’s book on this subject. For a sketch of the evolution of the Germanic and other Indo-European language families, with links to online maps showing homeland areas, see IE Maps. For access to our online version of Bosworth and Toller’s dictionary of Old English, see An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary.

Alphabet and Pronunciation

The alphabet used to write our Old English texts was adopted from Latin, which was introduced by Christian missionaries. Unfortunately, for the beginning student, spelling was never fully standardized: instead the alphabet, with continental values (sounds), was used by scribal monks to spell words “phonetically” with the result that each dialect, with its different sounds, was rendered differently — and inconsistently, over time, due to dialectal evolution and/or scribal differences. King Alfred did attempt to regularize spelling in the 9th century, but by the 11th century continued changes in pronunciation once again exerted their disruptive effects on spelling. In modern transcriptions such as ours, editors often add diacritics to signal vowel pronunciation, though seldom more than macrons (long marks).

Anglo-Saxon scribes added two consonants to the Latin alphabet to render the th sounds: first the runic thorn (þ), and latereth (ð). However, there was never a consistent distinction between them as their modern IPA equivalents might suggest: different instances of the same word might use þ in one place and ð in another. We follow the practices of our sources in our textual transcriptions, but our dictionary forms tend to standardize on either þ or ð — mostly the latter, though it depends on the word. To help reduce confusion, we sort these letters indistinguishably, after T; the reader should not infer any particular difference. Another added letter was the ligature ash (æ), used to represent the broad vowel sound now rendered by ‘a’ in, e.g., the word fast. A letter wynn was also added, to represent the English w sound, but it looks so much like thorn that modern transcriptions replace it with the more familiar ‘w’ to eliminate confusion.

The nature of non-standardized Anglo-Saxon spelling does offer compensation: no letters were “silent” (i.e., all were pronounced), and phonetic spelling helps identify and track dialectal differences through time. While the latter is not always relevant to the beginning student, it is nevertheless important to philologists and others interested in dialects and the evolution of the early English language.


At first glance, Old English texts may look decidedly strange to a modern English speaker: many Old English words are no longer used in modern English, and the inflectional structure was far more rich than is true of its modern descendant. However, with small spelling differences and sometimes minor meaning changes, many of the most common words in Old and modern English are the same. For example, over 50 percent of the thousand most common words in Old English survive today — and more than 75 percent of the top hundred. Conversely, more than 80 percent of the thousand most common words in modern English come from Old English. A few “teaser” examples appear below; our Master Glossary or Base-Form Dictionary may be scanned for examples drawn from our texts, and any modern English dictionary that includes etymologies will provide hundreds or thousands more.

  • Nouns: cynn ‘kin’, hand, god, man(n), word.
  • Pronouns: hē, ic ‘I’, mē, self, wē.
  • Verbs: beran ‘bear’, cuman ‘come’, dyde ‘did’, sittan ‘sit’, wæs ‘was’.
  • Adjectives: fæst ‘fast’, gōd ‘good’, hālig ‘holy’, rīce ‘rich’, wīd ‘wide’.
  • Adverbs: ær ‘ere’, alle ‘all’, nū ‘now’, tō ‘too’, ðǣr ‘there’.
  • Prepositions: æfter ‘after’, for, in, on, under.
  • Articles: ðæt ‘that’, ðis ‘this’.
  • Conjunctions: and, gif ‘if’.
  • Sentence Structure

In theory, Old English was a “synthetic” language, meaning inflectional endings signalled grammatical structure and word order was rather free, as for example in Latin; modern English, by contrast, is an “analytic” language, meaning word order is much more constrained (e.g., with clauses typically in Subject-Verb-Object order). But in practice, actual word order in Old English prose is not too often very different from that of modern English, with the chief differences being the positions of verbs (which might be moved, e.g., to the end of a clause for emphasis) and occasionally prepositions (which might become “postpositions”). In Old English verse, most bets are off: word order becomes much more free, and word inflections & meaning become even more important for deducing syntax. The same may be said, however, of modern English poetry, but in these lessons we tend to translate Old English poetry as prose. Altogether, once a modern English reader has mastered the common vocabulary and inflectional endings of Old English, the barriers to text comprehension are substantially reduced.

Word Forms

As we will see, Old English words were much inflected. Over time, most of this apparatus was lost and English became the analytic language we recognize today, but to read early English texts one must master the conjugations of verbs and the declensions of nouns, etc. Yet these inflectional systems had already been reduced by the time Old English was first being written, long after it had parted ways with its Proto-Germanic ancestor. The observation that matters “could have been worse” should serve as consolation to any modern English student who views conjugation and declension with trepidation.

Nouns, Adjectives, and Pronouns

These categories of Old English words are declined according to case (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, or sometimes instrumental), number (singular, plural, or [for pronouns] dual meaning ‘two’), and gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter: inherent in nouns, but inherited by adjectives and pronouns from the nouns they associate with). In addition, some adjectives are inflected to distinguish comparative and superlative uses.

Adjectives and regular nouns are either “strong” or “weak” in declension. In addition, irregular nouns belong to classes that reflect their earlier Germanic or even Indo-European roots; these classes, or more to the point their progenitors, will not be stressed in our lessons, but descriptions are found in the handbooks.

Pronouns are typically suppletive in their declension, meaning inflectional rules do not account for many forms so each form must be memorized (as is true of modern English I/me, you, he/she/it/his/her, etc). Tables will be provided. Similarly, a few nouns and adjectives are “indeclinable” and, again, some or all forms must be memorized.


Old English verbs are conjugated according to person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), number (singular or plural), tense (present or past/preterite), mood (indicative, imperative, subjunctive or perhaps optative), etc.

Most verbs are either “strong” or “weak” in conjugation; there are seven classes of strong verbs and three classes of weak verbs. A few other verbs, including modals (e.g. for ‘can’, ‘must’), belong to a special category called “preterit-present,” where different rules apply, and yet others (e.g. for ‘be’, ‘do’, ‘go’) are “anomalous,” meaning each form must be memorized (as is true of modern English am/are/is, do/did, go/went, etc).

Other Parts of Speech

The numerals may be declined, albeit with fewer distinct forms than is normal for adjectives, and those for ‘two’ and ‘three’ may show gender. Other parts of speech are not inflected, except for some adverbs with comparative and superlative forms.

Related Language Courses at UT

Most but not all language courses taught at The University of Texas concern modern languages; however, courses in Old and Middle English, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, are taught in the Department of English (link opens in a new browser window). Other online language courses for college credit are offered through the University Extension (new window).


Online Courses: Old English

Avoid Minions

There are millions, tens of millions, of minions to various social, political, and religious superstitions in the Earth.

They are not disciples — disciples are constantly questioning and verifying their Masters’ positions.

No, these are unflinching, unquestioning minions. They are dull echoes of discordant and deceptive voices.

Minions cannot be reached with reason. They cannot be negotiated with, nor will they countenance any dissent from whatever blathering madness that has captivated them.

Do not debate them. Do not wrangle with them on Facebook or social media. Leave them in their mental and spiritual death.

There are millions, tens of  millions, of honest, hungry, fair-minded men and women who are honestly seeking the truth.

Seek them: answer their questions.

Leave the minions to their destruction.

The Boomerang

Boomerangs probably came about through a trial and error process. See how the experts think boomerangs were invented.

When most of us think of boomerangs, we imagine somebody (quite possibly a cartoon character) throwing a banana-shaped stick that eventually turns around and comes right back to the thrower’s hand (possibly after hitting another cartoon character in the head). This idea is simply amazing, and as children, our first reaction to such a device was: This stick is obviously possessed with magical powers! Of course, the person or people who discovered the boomerang hadn’t actually found a magical stick, but they had come upon an amazing application of some complex laws of physics.

In this article, we’ll break down the physical principles that make boomerangs work, see what happens as a boomerang flies through the air and find out the proper way to throw a boomerang so that it comes back to you. We’ll also delve a little into the history of boomerangs to see how they came about in the first place. Boomeranging is an amazing demonstration of scientific principles as well as a terrific sport you can enjoy all by yourself.

When we talk about boomerangs, we usually mean the curved devices that return to you when you throw them, but there are actually two different kinds of boomerangs. The kind we’re all familiar with, returning boomerangs, are specially crafted, lightweight pieces of wood, plastic or other material. Traditionally, these are basically two wings connected together in one banana-shaped unit, but you can find a number of different boomerang designs available these days, some with three or more wings. Most returning boomerangs measure 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 cm) across, but there are larger and smaller varieties. When thrown correctly, a returning boomerang flies through the air in a circular path and arrives back at its starting point.

Returning boomerangs are not suited for hunting — they are very hard to aim, and actually hitting a target would stop them from returning to the thrower, pretty much defeating the purpose of the design.

Returning boomerangs evolved out of non-returning boomerangs. These are also curved pieces of wood, but they are usually heavier and longer, typically 3 feet (1 meter) or more across. Non-returning boomerangs do not have the light weight and special wing design that causes returning boomerangs to travel back to the thrower, but their curved shape does cause them to fly easily through the air. Non-returning boomerangs are effective hunting weapons because they are easy to aim and they travel a good distance at a high rate of speed. There is also such a thing as a battle boomerang, which is basically a non-returning boomerang used in hand-to-hand combat.


Original article: Boomerang

Speak the Speech

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand thus, but use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. Oh, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise. I would have such a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant. It out-Herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it…

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone or come tardy off, though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of the which one must in your allowance o’erweigh a whole theatre of others.

Hamlet – Act 3, Scene 2