The Info List - Middle English

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MIDDLE ENGLISH (ME) is collectively the varieties of the English language spoken after the Norman Conquest (1066) until the late 15th century; scholarly opinion varies but the Oxford English Dictionary specifies the period of 1150 to 1500. This stage of the development of the English language
English language
roughly followed the High to the Late Middle Ages .

Middle English
Middle English
developed out of Late Old English
Old English
, seeing many dramatic changes in its grammar, pronunciation and orthography . Writing customs during Middle English
Middle English
times varied widely, but by the end of the period, about 1470, aided by the invention of the printing press , a standard based on the London
dialect (Chancery Standard) had become established. This largely forms the basis for Modern English spelling, although pronunciation has changed considerably since that time. Middle English
Middle English
was succeeded in England
by the era of Early Modern English , which lasted until about 1650. Also, by that time the Scots language was developing from a variant of the Northumbrian dialect (prevalent in northern England
and spoken in southeast Scotland

During the Middle English
Middle English
period many Old English
Old English
grammatical features were simplified or disappeared. Noun, adjective and verb inflections were simplified, a process that included the reduction (and eventual elimination) of most grammatical case distinctions. Middle English
Middle English
also saw a mass adoption of Norman French vocabulary, especially in areas such as politics, law, the arts, religion and other courtly language. Everyday English vocabulary remained mostly Germanic, with Old Norse influence becoming apparent. Significant changes in pronunciation took place, especially for long vowels and diphthongs, which in the later Middle English
Middle English
period began to undergo the Great Vowel Shift
Great Vowel Shift

Little survives of early Middle English literature , most likely due to the Norman domination and the prestige that came with writing in French rather than English. During the 14th century, a new style of literature emerged with the works of notable writers such as John Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer , whose Canterbury Tales
Canterbury Tales
remains the most studied and read work of the period. Poets wrote both in the vernacular and courtly English.

It is popularly believed that William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
wrote in Middle English, but he actually wrote in Early Modern English .


* 1 History

* 1.1 Transition from Old English
Old English
* 1.2 Early Middle English
Middle English
* 1.3 14th century * 1.4 Late Middle English
Middle English

* 2 Phonology

* 3 Morphology

* 3.1 Nouns * 3.2 Pronouns * 3.3 Verbs

* 4 Orthography

* 4.1 Alphabet * 4.2 Other symbols * 4.3 Letter-to-sound correspondences

* 5 Sample texts

* 5.1 Ormulum, 12th century * 5.2 Epitaph of John the smyth, died 1371 * 5.3 Wycliffe\'s Bible, 1384 * 5.4 Chaucer, 1390s * 5.5 Gower, 1390

* 6 See also * 7 References * 8 External links



The latter part of the 11th century was a period of transition from Late Old English
Old English
to Early Middle English.

The influence of Old Norse certainly helped move English from a synthetic language towards a more analytic or isolating word order, a deep change at the grammatical level. The eagerness of Vikings
in the Danelaw to communicate with their southern Anglo-Saxon neighbors produced a friction that led to the erosion of the complicated inflectional word-endings; Old Norse likely had a greater impact on this deep change to Middle and Modern English than any other language. Simeon Potter notes: "No less far-reaching was the influence of Scandinavian upon the inflexional endings of English in hastening that wearing away and leveling of grammatical forms which gradually spread from north to south. It was, after all, a salutary influence. The gain was greater than the loss. There was a gain in directness, in clarity, and in strength".

The strength of the Viking influence on Old English
Old English
appears from the fact that the indispensable elements of the language - pronouns, modals, comparatives, pronominal adverbs (like "hence" and "together"), conjunctions and prepositions - show the most marked Danish influence; the best evidence of Scandinavian influence appears in the extensive word borrowings for, as Jespersen indicates, no texts exist in either Scandinavia or in Northern England
from this time to give certain evidence of an influence on syntax. The change to Old English from Old Norse was substantive, pervasive, and of a democratic character. Like close cousins, Old Norse and Old English
Old English
resembled each other, and with some words in common, they roughly understood each other; in time the inflections melted away and the analytic pattern emerged. It is most "important to recognise that in many words the English and Scandinavian language differed chiefly in their inflectional elements. The body of the word was so nearly the same in the two languages that only the endings would put obstacles in the way of mutual understanding. In the mixed population which existed in the Danelaw these endings must have led to much confusion, tending gradually to become obscured and finally lost." This blending of peoples and languages happily resulted in "simplifying English grammar."

While the influence of Scandinavian language was strongest in dialects in the Danelaw region and Scotland, the spoken words crept into the language in the tenth and eleventh centuries near the transition from the Old to Middle English
Middle English
period, but such borrowed words only appeared in the Middle English
Middle English
writing at the beginning of the thirteenth century, likely because of a scarcity of literary texts from an earlier date.

The Norman conquest of England
in 1066 saw the replacement of the top levels of the English-speaking political and ecclesiastical hierarchies by Norman rulers who spoke an Old French
Old French
dialect called Old Norman , which in England
developed into a variety called Anglo-Norman . Norman thus came into use as a language of polite discourse and literature, and this fundamentally altered the role of Old English
Old English
in education and administration, even though many Normans of the early period were illiterate and depended on the clergy for written communication and record-keeping. Large numbers of words of French origin started to be borrowed into the English language, often existing alongside native English words of similar meaning, giving rise to such Modern English pairs as pig /pork , chicken /poultry , calf /veal , cow /beef , sheep /mutton , wood/forest , house/mansion , worthy/valuable, bold/courageous, freedom/liberty .

The role of Anglo-Norman as the language of government and law can be seen in the abundance of Modern English words for the mechanisms of government that derive from Anglo-Norman: court , judge , jury , appeal , parliament . There are also many Norman-derived terms relating to the chivalric cultures that arose in the 12th century, an era of feudalism and crusading .

Sometimes, and particularly later, words were taken from Latin
, giving such sets as kingly (from Old English), royal (from Latin through French), regal (direct from Latin). Later French borrowings came from standard rather than Norman French; this leads to such cognate pairs as warden (from Norman), guardian (from later French; both of these words in fact derive from the same Germanic word).

The end of Anglo-Saxon rule did not, of course, change the language immediately. The general population would have spoken the same dialects as before the Conquest; these changed slowly until written records of them became available for study, which varies in different regions. Once the writing of Old English
Old English
came to an end, Middle English had no standard language, only dialects that derived from the dialects of the same regions in the Anglo-Saxon period.


Early Middle English
Middle English
(1100–1300) has a largely Anglo-Saxon vocabulary (with many Norse borrowings in the northern parts of the country), but a greatly simplified inflectional system. The grammatical relations that were expressed in Old English
Old English
by the dative and instrumental cases are replaced in Early Middle English
Middle English
with prepositional constructions. The Old English
Old English
genitive -es survives in the -'s of the modern English possessive , but most of the other case endings disappeared in the Early Middle English
Middle English
period, including most of the roughly one dozen forms of the definite article ("the"). The dual personal pronouns (denoting exactly two) also disappeared from English during this period.

Gradually, the wealthy and the government Anglicised again, although Norman (and subsequently French ) remained the dominant language of literature and law until the 14th century, even after the loss of the majority of the continental possessions of the English monarchy . The loss of case endings was part of a general trend from inflections to fixed word order that also occurred in other Germanic languages, and therefore cannot be attributed simply to the influence of French-speaking sections of the population: English did, after all, remain the vernacular . It is also argued that Norse immigrants to England
had a great impact on the loss of inflectional endings in Middle English. One argument is that, although Norse- and English-speakers were somewhat comprehensible to each other due to similar morphology, the Norse-speakers' inability to reproduce the ending sounds of English words influenced Middle English's loss of inflectional endings. Another argument is that the morphological simplifications were caused by Romano-Britons who were bilingual in Old English
Old English
and either Brittonic languages (which lack noun case) or British Latin
(which may have lacked noun case, like most modern Romance languages). Some scholars even describe Middle English
Middle English
as a creole , coming about through extensive contact between English and either Norse, Norman, Celtic or Latin

Important texts for the reconstruction of the evolution of Middle English out of Old English
Old English
are the Peterborough Chronicle , which continued to be compiled up to 1154; the Ormulum , a biblical commentary probably composed in Lincolnshire in the second half of the 12th century, incorporating a unique phonetic spelling system; and the Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group , religious texts written for anchoresses , apparently in the West Midlands in the early 13th century. The language found in the last two works is sometimes called the AB language .

More literary sources of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries include Lawman\'s Brut and The Owl and the Nightingale

Some scholars have defined "Early Middle English" as encompassing English texts up to 1350. This longer time frame would extend the corpus to include many Middle English
Middle English
Romances (especially those of the Auchinleck manuscript
Auchinleck manuscript
ca. 1330).


From around the early 14th century there was significant migration into London
, particularly from the counties of the East Midlands , and a new prestige London
dialect began to develop, based chiefly on the speech of the East Midlands, but also influenced by that of other regions. The writing of this period, however, continues to reflect a variety of regional forms of English. The Ayenbite of Inwyt , a translation of a French confessional prose work, completed in 1340, is written in a Kentish dialect
Kentish dialect
. The best known writer of Middle English, Geoffrey Chaucer , wrote in the second half of the 14th century in the emerging London
dialect, although he also portrays some of his characters as speaking in northern dialects, as in the "Reeve\'s Tale ".

In the English-speaking areas of lowland Scotland
, an independent standard was developing, based on the Northumbrian dialect
Northumbrian dialect
. This would develop into what came to be known as the Scots language .


The CHANCERY STANDARD of written English emerged c. 1430 in official documents that, since the Norman Conquest, had normally been written in French. Like Chaucer's work, this new standard was based on the East-Midlands-influenced speech of London. Clerks using this standard were usually familiar with French and Latin
, influencing the forms they chose. The Chancery Standard, which was adopted slowly, was used in England
by bureaucrats for most official purposes, excluding those of the Church and legalities, which used Latin
and Law French (and some Latin), respectively.

The Chancery Standard's influence on later forms of written English is disputed, but it did undoubtedly provide the core around which Early Modern English formed. Early Modern English emerged with the help of William Caxton
William Caxton
's printing press, developed during the 1470s. The press stabilized English through a push towards standardization, led by Chancery Standard enthusiast and writer Richard Pynson
Richard Pynson
. Early Modern English officially began in the 1540s after the printing and wide distribution of the English Bible and Prayer Book , which made the new standard of English publicly recognizable, and lasted until about 1650.


Main article: Middle English phonology

The main changes between the Old English
Old English
sound system and that of Middle English
Middle English

* Emergence of the voiced fricatives /v/, /ð/, /z/ as separate phonemes , rather than mere allophones of the corresponding voiceless fricatives. * Reduction of the Old English
Old English
diphthongs to monophthongs, and the emergence of new diphthongs due to vowel breaking in certain positions, change of Old English
Old English
post-vocalic /j/, /w/ (sometimes resulting from the allophone of /ɡ/) to offglides, and borrowing from French. * Merging of Old English
Old English
/æ/ and /ɑ/ into a single vowel /a/. * Raising of the long vowel /æː/ to /ɛː/, and (in the south) raising and rounding of /ɑː/ to /ɔː/. * Unrounding of the front rounded vowels in most dialects. * Lengthening of vowels in open syllables (and in certain other positions). The resultant long vowels (and other pre-existing long vowels) subsequently underwent changes of quality in the Great Vowel Shift , which began during the later Middle English
Middle English
period. * Loss of gemination (double consonants came to be pronounced as single ones). * Loss of weak final vowels (schwa , written ⟨e⟩). By Chaucer 's time this vowel was silent in normal speech, although it was normally pronounced in verse as the meter required (much as occurs in modern French ). Also, non-final unstressed ⟨e⟩ was dropped when adjacent to only a single consonant on either side if there was another short ⟨e⟩ in an adjoining syllable. Thus, every began to be pronounced as "evry", and palmeres as "palmers".

The combination of the last three processes listed above led to the spelling conventions associated with silent ⟨e⟩ and doubled consonants (see under Orthography , below).



Middle English
Middle English
retains only two distinct noun-ending patterns from the more complex system of inflection in Old English
Old English
. The Early Middle English
Middle English
nouns engel ("angel") and name ("name") demonstrate the two patterns:



NOM engel name

ACC engel name

GEN engles namen

DAT engle namen



NOM engles namen

ACC engles namen

GEN engle namene

DAT englen/englem namen/namem

Some nouns of the engel type have an -e in the nominative/accusative singular, like the weak declension, but otherwise strong endings. Often these are the same nouns that had an -e in the nominative/accusative singular of Old English
Old English
(they, in turn, were inherited from Proto-Germanic ja-stem and i-stem nouns.)

The distinct dative case was lost in early Middle English. The genitive survived, however, but by the end of the Middle English period, only the strong -'s ending (variously spelt) was in use.

The strong -(e)s plural form has survived into Modern English. The weak -(e)n form is now rare and used only in oxen and, as part of a double plural , in children and brethren. Some dialects still have forms such as eyen (for eyes), shoon (for shoes), hosen (for hose(s)), kine (for cows), and been (for bees).


Middle English
Middle English
personal pronouns were mostly developed from those of Old English
Old English
, with the exception of the third-person plural, a borrowing from Old Norse (the original Old English
Old English
form clashed with the third person singular and was eventually dropped). Also, the nominative form of the feminine third-person singular was replaced by a form of the demonstrative that developed into sche (modern she), but the alternative heyr remained in some areas for a long time.

As with nouns, there was some inflectional simplification (the distinct Old English
Old English
dual forms were lost), but pronouns, unlike nouns, retained distinct nominative and accusative forms. Third-person pronouns also retained a distinction between accusative and dative forms, but that was gradually lost: the masculine hine was replaced by him south of the Thames by the early 14th century, and the neuter dative him was ousted by it in most dialects by the 15th.

The following table shows some of the various Middle English pronouns, together with their modern (in quotation marks) and (sometimes) Old English
Old English
equivalents. Many other variations are noted in Middle English
Middle English
sources because of differences in spellings and pronunciations at different times and in different dialects.



First modern ic/ich/I "I " me/mi "me" min/minen (pl. ) "my" min/mire/minre "mine" min one/mi selven "myself" iċ, mec/mē, mē, mīn

Second modern (archaic ) þou /þu/tu/þeou "you " (thou ) þe "you" (thee) þi/ti "your" (thy) þin/þyn "yours" (thine) þeself/þi selven "yourself" (thyself) þū, þec/þē, þē, þīn

THIRD Masculine modern he

"he " hine "him" him "to/for him" his/hisse/hes "his" his/hisse

"his" him-seluen

"himself" hē, hine, him, his

Feminine modern sche/sho/ȝho "she " heo/his/hie/hies/hire "her" "to/for her" hio/heo/hire/heore "her" "hers" heo-seolf "herself" hēo, hīe, hiere, hiere

Neuter modern hit

"it " hit

"it" him

"to/for it" his

"its" his

"its" hit sulue

"itself" hit, hit, him, his


First modern we

"we " us/ous

"us" ure/our/ures/urne "our" oures

"ours" us self/ous silve

"ourselves" wē, ūsic, ūs, ūser/ūre (dual: wit, etc.)

Second modern (archaic ) ȝe/ye "you " (ye) eow/ou/ȝow/gu/you

"you" eower/ower/gur/our "your" youres

"yours" ȝou self/ou selve ''yourselves'' ġē, ēowic, ēow, ēower (dual: ġit, etc.)

THIRD FROM OLD ENGLISH heo/he his heo/þo/þem heore/her - þam-selue hīe, hīe, heom, heora

FROM OLD NORSE þei þem þeir - þem-selue

MODERN ENGLISH they them to/for them their theirs themselves


As a general rule, the indicative first person singular of verbs in the present tense ends in -e ("ich here" I hear), the second person in -(e)st ("þou spekest" thou speakest), and the third person in -eþ ("he comeþ" he cometh/he comes). (þ (the letter 'thorn') is pronounced like the unvoiced th in "think", but, under certain circumstances, it may be like the voiced th in "that"). The following table illustrates the conjugation pattern of but one dialect.



infinitive singen

ich singE

þu singEST

he/sche/hit singEþ

we singEN

ȝe singEN

þei singEN

present participle singENDE


infinitive baþen

ich baþE

þu baþEST

he/sche/hit baþEþ

we baþEN

ȝe baþEN

þei baþEN

present participle baþENDE


infinitive ben

ich am

þu art

he/sche/hit is

we aren

ȝe aren

þei aren

present participle beNDE


infinitive haven

ich havE

þu haST

he/sche/hit haþ

we havEN

ȝe havEN

þei havEN

present participle havENDE


infinitive willen

ich will

þu wilT

he/sche/hit will

we wollEN

ȝe wollEN

þei wollEN

present participle willENDE



ich sang

þu songEST

he/sche/hit sang

we songEN

ȝe songEN

þei songEN

past participle ȝEsungEN


ich baþEDE

þu baþEDEST

he/sche/hit baþEDE

we baþEDEN

ȝe baþEDEN

þei baþEDEN

past participle baþEDE


ich wæs

þu were

he/sche/hit wæs

we weren

ȝe weren

þei weren

past participle ȝEben


ich hadDE

þu hadDEST

he/sche/hit hadDE

we hadDEN

ȝe hadDEN

þei hadDEN

past participle ȝEhad


ich woldE

þu woldEST

he/sche/hit woldE

we woldEN

ȝe woldEN

þei woldEN

past participle ȝEwolde

Plural forms vary strongly by dialect, with Southern dialects preserving the Old English
Old English
-eþ, Midland dialects showing -en-- from about 1200 and Northern forms using -es in the third person singular as well as the plural.

The past tense of weak verbs is formed by adding an -ed(e), -d(e) or -t(e) ending. The past-tense forms, without their personal endings, also serve as past participles with past-participle prefixes derived from Old English: i-, y- and sometimes bi-.

Strong verbs , by contrast, form their past tense by changing their stem vowel (binden becomes bound, a process called apophony ), as in Modern English.


With the discontinuation of the Late West Saxon
Late West Saxon
standard used for the writing of Old English
Old English
in the period prior to the Norman Conquest, Middle English
Middle English
came to be written in a wide variety of scribal forms, reflecting different regional dialects and orthographic conventions. Later in the Middle English
Middle English
period, however, and particularly with the development of the Chancery Standard in the 15th century, orthography became relatively standardised in a form based on the East Midlands-influenced speech of London. Spelling at the time was mostly quite regular (there was a fairly consistent correspondence between letters and sounds). The irregularity of present-day English orthography is largely due to pronunciation changes that have taken place over the Early Modern English and Modern English eras.

Middle English
Middle English
generally did not have silent letters . For example, knight was pronounced (with both the ⟨k⟩ and the ⟨gh⟩ pronounced, the latter sounding as the ⟨ch⟩ in German Knecht). The major exception was the silent ⟨e⟩ – originally pronounced, but lost in normal speech by Chaucer's time. This letter, however, came to indicate a lengthened – and later also modified – pronunciation of a preceding vowel. For example, in name, originally pronounced as two syllables, the /a/ in the first syllable (originally an open syllable) lengthened, the final weak vowel was later dropped, and the remaining long vowel was modified in the Great Vowel Shift
Great Vowel Shift
(for these sound changes, see under Phonology , above). The final ⟨e⟩, now silent, thus became the indicator of the longer and changed pronunciation of ⟨a⟩. In fact vowels could have this lengthened and modified pronunciation in various positions, particularly before a single consonant letter and another vowel, or before certain pairs of consonants.

A related convention involved the doubling of consonant letters to show that the preceding vowel was not to be lengthened. In some cases the double consonant represented a sound that was (or had previously been) geminated , i.e. had genuinely been "doubled" (and would thus have regularly blocked the lengthening of the preceding vowel). In other cases, by analogy, the consonant was written double merely to indicate the lack of lengthening.


The basic Old English
Old English
alphabet had consisted of 20 standard letters (there was not yet a distinct j, v or w, and Old English scribes did not generally use k, q or z) plus four additional letters: ash ⟨æ⟩, eth ⟨ð⟩, thorn ⟨þ⟩ and wynn ⟨ƿ⟩.

Ash was no longer required in Middle English, as the Old English vowel /æ/ that it represented had merged into /a/ . The symbol nonetheless came to be used as a ligature for the digraph ⟨ae⟩ in many words of Greek or Latin
origin, as did œ for ⟨oe⟩.

and thorn both represented /θ/ in Old English. Eth
fell out of use during the 13th century and was replaced by thorn. Thorn mostly fell out of use during the 14th century, and was replaced by ⟨th⟩ . (Anachronistic usage of the scribal abbreviation ("þe", i.e. "the") has led to the modern mispronunciation of thorn as ⟨y ⟩ in this context; see ye olde . )

Wynn, which represented the phoneme /w/, was replaced by ⟨w ⟩ during the 13th century. Due to its similarity to the letter ⟨p⟩, it is mostly represented by ⟨w⟩ in modern editions of Old and Middle English
Middle English
texts even when the manuscript has wynn.

Under Norman influence, the continental Carolingian minuscule replaced the insular script that had been used for Old English. However, because of the significant difference in appearance between the old insular g and the Carolingian g , the former continued in use as a separate letter, known as yogh , written ⟨ȝ⟩. This was adopted for use to represent a variety of sounds: , , , , , while the Carolingian g was normally used for . Instances of yogh were eventually replaced by ⟨j⟩ or ⟨y⟩, and by ⟨gh⟩ in words like night and laugh. In Middle Scots yogh became indistinguishable from cursive z, and printers tended to use ⟨z⟩ when yogh was not available in their fonts; this led to new spellings (often giving rise to new pronunciations), as in McKenzie , where the ⟨z⟩ replaced a yogh which had the pronunciation /j/.

Under continental influence, the letters ⟨k⟩, ⟨q⟩ and ⟨z⟩, which had not normally been used by Old English
Old English
scribes, came to be commonly used in the writing of Middle English. Also the newer Latin
letter ⟨w⟩ was introduced (replacing wynn). The distinct letter forms ⟨v⟩ and ⟨u⟩ came into use, but were still used interchangeably; the same applies to ⟨j⟩ and ⟨i⟩ . (For example, spellings such as wijf and paradijs for wife and paradise can be found in Middle English.)

The consonantal ⟨j⟩/⟨i⟩ was sometimes used to transliterate the Hebrew letter yodh , representing the palatal approximant sound /j/ (and transliterated in Greek by iota and in Latin
by ⟨i⟩); words like Jerusalem, Joseph, etc. would have originally followed the Latin
pronunciation beginning with /j/, that is, the sound of ⟨y⟩ in yes. In some words, however, notably from Old French
Old French
, ⟨j⟩/⟨i⟩ was used for the affricate consonant /dʒ/, as in joie (modern "joy"), used in Wycliffe\'s Bible . This was similar to the geminate sound , which had been represented as ⟨cg⟩ in Old English. By the time of Modern English, the sound came to be written as ⟨j⟩/⟨i⟩ at the start of words (like joy), and usually as ⟨dg⟩ elsewhere (as in bridge). It could also be written, mainly in French loanwords, as ⟨g⟩, with the adoption of the soft G convention (age, page, etc.)


Many scribal abbreviations were also used. It was common for the Lollards to abbreviate the name of Jesus (as in Latin
manuscripts) to ihc . The letters ⟨n⟩ and ⟨m⟩ were often omitted and indicated by a macron above an adjacent letter, so for example in could be written as ī. A thorn with a superscript ⟨t⟩ or ⟨e⟩ could be used for that and the; the thorn here resembled a ⟨Y⟩, giving rise to the ye of " Ye Olde
Ye Olde
". Various forms of the ampersand replaced the word and.

Numbers were still always written using Roman numerals , except for some rare occurrences of Arabic numerals
Arabic numerals
during the 15th century.


Although Middle English
Middle English
spelling was never fully standardised, the following table shows the pronunciations most usually represented by particular letters and digraphs towards the end of the Middle English period, using the notation given in the article on Middle English phonology . As explained above, single vowel letters had alternative pronunciations depending on whether they were in a position where their sounds had been subject to lengthening. Long vowel pronunciations were in flux due to the beginnings of the Great Vowel Shift .


A /a/, or in lengthened positions /aː/, becoming by about 1500. Sometimes /au/ before ⟨l⟩ or nasals (see Late Middle English diphthongs ).

AI, AY /ai/ (alternatively denoted by /ɛi/; see vein–vain merger ).

AU, AW /au/

B /b/, but in later Middle English
Middle English
became silent in words ending -mb (while some words that never had a /b/ sound came to be spelt -mb by analogy; see reduction of /mb/ ).

C /k/, but /s/ (earlier /ts/) before ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨y⟩ (see C and hard and soft C for details).

CH /tʃ/

CK /k/, replaced earlier ⟨kk⟩ as the doubled form of ⟨k⟩ (for the phenomenon of doubling, see above).

D /d/

E /e/, or in lengthened positions /eː/ or sometimes /ɛː/ (see EE). For silent ⟨e⟩, see above.

EA Rare, for /ɛː/ (see EE).

EE /eː/, becoming by about 1500; or /ɛː/, becoming by about 1500. In Early Modern English the latter vowel came to be commonly written ⟨ea⟩. The two vowels later merged .

EI, EY Sometimes the same as ⟨ai⟩; sometimes /ɛː/ or /eː/ (see also fleece merger ).

EW Either /ɛu/ or /iu/ (see Late Middle English
Middle English
diphthongs ; these later merged).

F /f/

G /ɡ/, or /dʒ/ before ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨y⟩ (see ⟨g⟩ for details). The ⟨g⟩ in initial gn- was still pronounced.

GH or , post-vowel allophones of /h/ (this was formerly one of the uses of yogh ). The ⟨gh⟩ is often retained in Chancery spellings even though the sound was starting to be lost.

H /h/ (except for the allophones for which ⟨gh⟩ was used). Also used in several digraphs (⟨ch⟩, ⟨th⟩, etc.). In some French loanwords, such as horrible, the ⟨h⟩ was silent.

I, J As a vowel, /i/, or in lengthened positions /iː/, which had started to be diphthongised by about 1500. As a consonant, /dʒ/ ( (corresponding to modern ⟨j⟩); see above).

IE Used sometimes for /ɛː/ (see EE).

K /k/, used particularly in positions where ⟨c⟩ would be softened. Also used in ⟨kn⟩ at the start of words; here both consonants were still pronounced.

L /l/

M /m/

N /n/, including its allophone (before /k/, /g/).

O /o/, or in lengthened positions /ɔː/ or sometimes /oː/ (see OO). Sometimes /u/, as in sone (modern son); the ⟨o⟩ spelling was often used rather than ⟨u⟩ when adjacent to i, m, n, v, w for legibility, i.e. to avoid a succession of vertical strokes.

OA Rare, for /ɔː/ (became commonly used in Early Modern English).

OI, OY /ɔi/ or /ui/ (see Late Middle English
Middle English
diphthongs ; these later merged).

OO /oː/, becoming by about 1500; or /ɔː/.

OU, OW Either /uː/, which had started to be diphthongised by about 1500, or /ɔu/.

P /p/

QU /kw/

R /r/

S /s/, sometimes /z/ (formerly was an allophone of /s/). Also appeared as ſ (long s ).

SCH, SH /ʃ/

T /t/

TH /θ/ or /ð/ (which had previously been allophones of a single phoneme), replacing earlier eth and thorn , although thorn was still sometimes used.

U, V Used interchangeably. As a consonant, /v/. As a vowel, /u/, or /iu/ in "lengthened" positions (although it had generally not gone through the same lengthening process as other vowels – see history of /iu/ ).

W /w/ (replaced Old English
Old English
wynn ).

WH /hw/ (see English ⟨wh⟩ ).

X /ks/

Y As a consonant, /j/ (earlier this was one of the uses of yogh). Sometimes also /g/. As a vowel, the same as ⟨i⟩, where ⟨y⟩ is often preferred beside letters with downstrokes.

Z /z/ (in Scotland
sometimes used as a substitute for yogh; see above).


Main article: Middle English literature

Most of the following modern English translations are poetic sense-for-sense translations , not word-for-word translations .


Further information: Ormulum

This passage explains the background to the Nativity :

Forrþrihht anan se time comm þatt ure Drihhtin wollde ben borenn i þiss middellærd forr all mannkinne nede he chæs himm sone kinnessmenn all swillke summ he wollde and whær he wollde borenn ben he chæs all att hiss wille. As soon as the time came that our Lord wanted be born in this middle-earth for all mankind sake, at once He chose kinsmen for Himself, all just as he wanted, and He decided that He would be born exactly where He wished.



Further information: Brightwell Baldwin

An epitaph from a monumental brass in an Oxfordshire parish church:

ORIGINAL TEXT man com & se how schal alle ded li: wen yolk comes bad and summe wymmen þat weren heelid of wickide spiritis and syknessis, Marie, þat is clepid Mawdeleyn, of whom seuene deuelis wenten 3out, and Jone, þe wyf of Chuse, procuratour of Eroude, and Susanne, and manye oþere, whiche mynystriden to him of her riches. — Luke 8:1-3

Second version

1And it was don aftirward, and Jhesus made iourney bi citees and castels, prechynge and euangelisynge þe rewme of 2God, and twelue wiþ hym; and sum wymmen þat weren heelid of wickid spiritis and sijknessis, Marie, þat is clepid Maudeleyn, of whom seuene deuelis 3wenten out, and Joone, þe wijf of Chuse, þe procuratoure of Eroude, and Susanne, and many oþir, þat mynystriden to hym of her ritchesse. — Luke 8:1-3


1And it came to pass afterward, that Jesus went throughout every city and village (castle), preaching and showing the kingdom of 2God, and the twelve were with him; and certain women, which had been healed of wicked spirits and sicknesses, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom 3went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, the steward of Herod, and Susanna, and many others, which provided for Him from their substance. — Luke 8:1-3, from the New Testament


The following is the very beginning of the General Prologue from The Canterbury Tales
Canterbury Tales
by Geoffrey Chaucer . The text was written in a dialect associated with London
and spellings associated with the then-emergent Chancery Standard.


ORIGINAL IN MIDDLE ENGLISH: Word-for-word translation into Modern English

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote When April with its showers sweet

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote The drought of March has pierced to the root

And bathed every veyne in swich licour, And bathed every vein in such liquor,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Of which virtue engendered is the flower;

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth Inspired has in every holt and heath,

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne The tender crops; and the young sun

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne, Has in the Ram his half-course run,

And smale foweles maken melodye, And small fowls make melody,

That slepen al the nyght with open ye That sleep all the night with open eye

(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages); (So pricks them Nature in their hearts);

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages Then long folks to go on pilgrimages

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes And palmers to seek strange strands

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; To far-off hallows , known in sundry lands;

And specially from every shires ende And, especially, from every shire's end

Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende, Of England, to Canterbury they wend,

The hooly blisful martir for to seke To holy blessed martyr to seek,

That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke. That them has helped, when they were sick.

TRANSLATION INTO MODERN ENGLISH PROSE: When April with its sweet showers has pierced March's drought to the root, bathing every vein in such liquid by whose virtue the flower is engendered, and when Zephyrus with his sweet breath has also enlivened the tender plants in every wood and field, and the early-year sun is halfway through Aries , and small birds that sleep all night with an open eye make melodies (their hearts so pricked by Nature), then people long to go on pilgrimages, and palmers seek foreign shores and distant shrines known in sundry lands, and especially they wend their way to Canterbury from every shire of England
in order to seek the holy blessed martyr , who has helped them when they were ill.

GOWER, 1390

The following is the beginning of the Prologue from Confessio Amantis by John Gower .

ORIGINAL IN MIDDLE ENGLISH: Of hem that writen ous tofore The bokes duelle, and we therfore Ben tawht of that was write tho: Forthi good is that we also In oure tyme among ous hiere Do wryte of newe som matiere, Essampled of these olde wyse So that it myhte in such a wyse, Whan we ben dede and elleswhere, Beleve to the worldes eere In tyme comende after this. Bot for men sein, and soth it is, That who that al of wisdom writ It dulleth ofte a mannes wit To him that schal it aldai rede, For thilke cause, if that ye rede, I wolde go the middel weie And wryte a bok betwen the tweie, Somwhat of lust, somewhat of lore, That of the lasse or of the more Som man mai lyke of that I wryte: NEAR WORD-FOR-WORD TRANSLATION INTO MODERN ENGLISH: Of them that wrote before us The books remain, and we therefore Are taught of what was written then: Because it is good that we also In our time among us here Do write some matter anew, Given an example by these old ways So that it might in such a way, When we are dead and elsewhere, Be left to the world's ear In time coming after this. But for men say, and true it is, That who that entirely of wisdom writes It dulls often a man's wit For him that shall it every day read, For that same cause, if you sanction it, I would like to go the middle way And write a book between the two, Somewhat of lust, somewhat of lore, That of the less or of the more Some man may like of that I write: TRANSLATION INTO MODERN ENGLISH: (by Richard Brodie) Of those who wrote before our lives Their precious legacy survives; From what was written then, we learn, And so it's well that we in turn, In our allotted time on earth Do write anew some things of worth, Like those we from these sages cite, So that such in like manner might, When we have left this mortal sphere, Remain for all the world to hear In ages following our own. But it is so that men are prone To say that when one only reads Of wisdom all day long, one breeds A paucity of wit, and so If you agree I'll choose to go Along a kind of middle ground Sometimes I'll write of things profound, And sometimes for amusement's sake A lighter path of pleasure take So all can something pleasing find.


The books of those that wrote before us survive, and therefore we are taught about what was written then. For this reason it is good that we also in our time, here among us, write some material from scratch, inspired by the example of these old customs; so that it might, when we are dead and elsewhere, be left to the world's ear in the time coming after this. But because men say, and it's true, that when someone writes entirely about wisdom, it often dulls a man's wit who reads it every day. For that reason, if you permit it, I would like to take the middle way, and write a book between the two, somewhat of passion, somewhat of instruction, that whether of high or low status, people may like what I write about.


* Medulla Grammatice (collection of glossaries) * Middle English creole hypothesis * Middle English Dictionary * Middle English literature * A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English


* ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Middle English". Glottolog 2.7 . Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. * ^ A B "Middle English–an overview - Oxford English Dictionary". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-01-04. * ^ Carlson, David. "The Chronology of Lydgate\'s Chaucer References". The Chaucer Review, Vol. 38, No. 3 (2004), pp. 246-254. Accessed 6 January 2014. * ^ The name "tales of Canterbury" appears within the surviving texts of Chaucer's work. * ^ Mabillard, Amanda. "Are Shakespeare\'s works written in Old English?." Shakespeare Online. Accessed February 19, 2014. * ^ A B C D E Baugh, Albert (1951). A History of the English Language. London: Routledge 131–132 (Normans). * ^ A B C Jespersen, Otto (1919). Growth and Structure of the English Language. Leipzig, Germany: B. G. Teubner. pp. 58–82. * ^ Crystal, David (1995). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 32. * ^ A B McCrum, Robert (1987). The Story of English. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 70–71. * ^ BBC (27 December 2014). " BBC Documentary English Birth of a Language - 35:00 to 37:20". BBC Documentary English Birth of a Language. BBC. Retrieved 12 January 2016. * ^ Potter, Simeon (1950). Our Language. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin. p. 33. * ^ Lohmeier, Charlene (28 October 2012). "121028 Charlene Lohmeier "Evolution of the English Language" - 23:40 - 25:00; 30:20 - 30:45; 45:00 - 46:00". 121028 Charlene Lohmeier "Evolution of the English Language". Dutch Lichliter. Retrieved 12 January 2016. * ^ McWhorter, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, 2008, pp. 89–136. * ^ Burchfield, Robert W. (1987). "Ormulum". In Strayer, Joseph R. Dictionary of the Middle Ages. 9. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 280. ISBN 0-684-18275-0 . , p. 280 * ^ http://hcmc.uvic.ca/makingEME/about.html * ^ Wright, L., "About the evolution of Standard English", in Studies in English Language and Literature, Routledge 2012, pp. 99ff. * ^ Fischer, O., van Kemenade, A., Koopman, W., van der Wurff, W., The Syntax of Early English, CUP 2000, p. 72. * ^ Fulk, R.D., An Introduction to Middle English, Broadview Press, 2012, p. 65. * ^ See Francis Henry Stratmann (1891), A Middle-English dictionary (A Middle English
Middle English
dictionary ed.), : Oxford University Press , and A Concise Dictionary of Middle English
Middle English
from A.D. 1150 TO 1580, A. L. Mayhew, Walter W. Skeat, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1888. * ^ Booth, David. The Principles of English Composition. * ^ Ward, AW; Waller, AR (1907–21). "The Cambridge History of English and American Literature". Bartleby. Retrieved Oct 4, 2011. * ^ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, ye retrieved February 1, 2009 * ^ Salmon, V., (in) Lass, R. (ed.), The Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. III, CUP 2000, p. 39. * ^ "J", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989) * ^ "J" and "jay", Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993) * ^ For certain details, see "Chancery Standard spelling" in Upward, C., Davidson, G., The History of English Spelling, Wiley 2011. * ^ Algeo, J., Butcher, C., The Origins and Development of the English Language, Cengage Learning 2013, p. 128. * ^ Holt, Robert, ed. (1878). The Ormulum: with the notes and glossary of Dr R. M. White. Two vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Internet Archive: Volume 1; Volume 2. * ^ A B Utechin, Patricia (1990) . Epitaphs from Oxfordshire (2nd ed.). Oxford: Robert Dugdale. p. 39. ISBN 0-946976-04-X . * ^ This translation closely mirrors the translation found here: Canterbury Tales
Canterbury Tales
(selected). Translated by Vincent Foster Hopper (revised ed.). Barron's Educational Series. 1970. p. 2. ISBN 9780812000399 . * ^ Sweet, Henry (d. 1912) (2005). First Middle English
Middle English
Primer. Evolution Publishing: Bristol, Pennsylvania
Bristol, Pennsylvania
. ISBN 1-889758-70-1 . * ^ Brodie, Richard (2005). "John Gower\'s \'Confessio Amantis\' Modern English Version". "Prologue". Retrieved March 15, 2012.

* Brunner, Karl (1962) Abriss der mittelenglischen Grammatik; 5. Auflage. Tübingen: M. Niemeyer (1st ed. Halle (Saale): M. Niemeyer, 1938) * Brunner, Karl (1963) An Outline of Middle English
Middle English
Grammar; translated by Grahame Johnston. Oxford: Blackwell * Mustanoja, Tauno (1960) "A Middle English
Middle English
Syntax. 1. Parts of Speech". Helsinki : Société néophilologique.


Wikisource has several original texts related to: MIDDLE ENGLISH WORKS

MIDDLE ENGLISH TEST of at Wikimedia Incubator

* A. L. Mayhew and Walter William Skeat. A Concise Dictionary of Middle English
Middle English
from A.D. 1150 to 1580 * Middle English
Middle English
Glossary * Oliver Farrar Emerson (ed.). A Middle English
Middle English
Reader. With grammatical introduction, notes, and glossary.

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History of English

* Proto-Indo-European * Proto-Germanic * Proto-West-Germanic * Anglo-Frisian