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Middle English Grammar




Though the grammatical structure of a language changes very slowly, there is a considerable difference between the grammatical systems of OE and ME.

One of the leading tendencies in the history of the English language in general, and the ME period in particular, was the general loss of synthetic ways of expressing the relations between words and the development of analytical means.

1. NOUNS.

1. By the end of the ME period gender distinctions were lost nearly everywhere.

2. The variety of types of declensions found in OE no longer existed. With a few exceptions the nouns had all gone over to the former masculine o-declension.

3. Of the OE case-endings only –es of the G. Sing. and –as of the N. and Acc. Pl. were preserved as productive endings. Instead of the four cases of OE we find only two cases in ME: genitive and common (N., D., Acc. representing one case). Genitive case remained but it was used not so often as in OE. It gradually narrowed its meaning to that of possession, so that it could already be called the possessive case.

But unlike MnE, it was not restricted to nouns denoting living beings.

4. With the loss of case inflections the role of prepositions grew ever more important. Many prepositional phrases came to denote the same relations that had formely been expressed by case forms.

2. ARTICLES.

It was during the ME period that the articles were isolated from other classes of words and became, so to say, a class of words by themselves. The definite article is an outfrowth of the OE demonstrative pronoun se. The indefinite article has developed from the OE numeral an (E.one), whose meaning sometimes weakened to ‘one of many’, ‘some’ even in OE.

3. PRONOUNS

1. The personal pronouns lost their dual forms.

2. Their D. and Acc. cases had mostly fallen tofether already in OE. In ME the fusion of the two cases into one (the objective case) was completed.

3. The OE G. case forms of the personal pronouns narrowed their meanings to that of ‘possession’ and came to form a separate group of possessive pronouns in ME. Thus, the ME personal pro-nouns distinguished only two cases: the Nominative and the objective.

4. ADJECTIVES

1. During the ME period the adjectives lost their gender and case distinctions altogether.

2. An innovation was the introduction of the analytical ways of building up the degrees of compari-son with the help of more and most.

5. VERBS

The verb retained nearly all the grammatical categories it had possessed in OE: tense, mood, person, number. Only the category of aspect was lost.

The most important feature of the history of the verb in ME was the development of analytical forms to express new grammatical meanings.

1. The syntactical combinations of OE sculan, willan + the infinitive developed into analytical forms of the future tense. As a result, the grammatical category of tense came to be represented not by binary oppositions ‘past – present’, but by ternary oppositions ‘past – present – future’

2. Combinations composed of different forms of OE habban and P II of some verbs developed into a set of analytical forms known as the perfect forms.

3. Word-combinations comprising different forms of OE beon/wesan + P II developed into a set of analytical forms of the passive voice.







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