The Info List - Old French

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Old French
Old French
(franceis, françois, romanz; Modern French: ancien français) was the language spoken in Northern France
from the 8th century to the 14th century. In the 14th century, these dialects came to be collectively known as the langue d'oïl, contrasting with the langue d'oc or Occitan language
Occitan language
in the south of France. The mid-14th century is taken as the transitional period to Middle French, the language of the French Renaissance, specifically based on the dialect of the Île-de-France
region. The place and area where Old French
Old French
was spoken natively roughly extended to the historical Kingdom of France
Kingdom of France
and its vassals (including parts of the Angevin Empire, which during the 12th century remained under Anglo-Norman rule), and Burgundy, Lorraine and Savoy to the east (corresponding to modern north-central France, Belgian Wallonia, western Switzerland
and northwestern Italy), but the influence of Old French
Old French
was much wider, as it was carried to England, Sicily and the Crusader states
Crusader states
as the language of a feudal elite and of commerce.[2]


1 Areal and dialectal divisions 2 History

2.1 Evolution from Vulgar Latin 2.2 Non-Latin influences

2.2.1 Gaulish 2.2.2 Frankish

2.3 Earliest written Old French 2.4 Transition to Middle French

3 Literature 4 Phonology

4.1 Consonants 4.2 Vowels

4.2.1 Monophthongs 4.2.2 Diphthongs and triphthongs 4.2.3 Hiatus

5 Grammar

5.1 Nouns 5.2 Adjectives 5.3 Verbs

5.3.1 Verb alternations 5.3.2 Example of regular -er verb: durer (to last) 5.3.3 Example of regular -ir verb: fenir (to end) 5.3.4 Example of regular -re verb: corre (to run) 5.3.5 Examples of auxiliary verbs avoir (to have) estre (to be)

5.4 Other parts of speech

6 See also 7 References

7.1 Other sources

8 External links

Areal and dialectal divisions[edit] Further information: Langue d'oïl
Langue d'oïl
and Gallo-Romance

Map of France
in 1180, at the height of the feudal system. The possessions of the French king are in light blue, vassals to the French king in green, Angevin possessions in red. Shown in white is the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
to the east, the western fringes of which, including Upper Burgundy
Upper Burgundy
and Lorraine, were also part of the Old French areal.

The areal of Old French
Old French
in contemporary terms corresponded to the northern parts of the Kingdom of France
Kingdom of France
(including Anjou
and Normandy, which in the 12th century were ruled by the Plantagenet kings of England), Upper Burgundy
Upper Burgundy
and the duchy of Lorraine. The Norman dialect was also spread to England
and Ireland, and during the crusades, Old French was also spoken in the Kingdom of Sicily, and in the Principality of Antioch
Principality of Antioch
and the Kingdom of Jerusalem
Kingdom of Jerusalem
in the Levant. As part of the emerging Gallo-Romance
dialect continuum, the langues d'oïl were contrasted with the langue d'oc (the emerging Occitano-Romance group, at the time also called Provençal), adjacent to the Old French
Old French
area in the south-west, and with the Gallo-Italic group to the south-east. The Franco-Provençal
group developed in Upper Burgundy, sharing features with both French and Provençal; it may have begun to diverge from the langue d'oïl as early as the 9th century, and is attested as a distinct Gallo-Romance
variety by the 12th century. Dialects or variants of Old French
Old French

Burgundian in Burgundy, then an independent duchy whose capital was at Dijon; Picard of Picardy, whose principal cities were Calais
and Lille. It was said that the Picard language
Picard language
began at the east door of Notre-Dame de Paris, so far-reaching was its influence; Old Norman, in Normandy, whose principal cities were Caen
and Rouen. The Norman conquest
Norman conquest
of England
brought many Norman-speaking aristocrats into the British Isles. Most of the older Norman (sometimes called "French") words in English reflect its influence, which became a conduit for the introduction into the Anglo-Norman realm, as did Anglo-Norman control of Anjou
and Gascony and other continental possessions. Anglo-Norman was a language that reflected a shared culture on both sides of the English Channel.[3] Ultimately, the language declined and fell, becoming Law French, a jargon spoken by lawyers that was used in English law
English law
until the reign of Charles II of England. Norman, however, still survives in Normandy
and the Channel Islands, as a regional language; Wallon, around Namur, now in Wallonia, Belgium; Gallo of the Duchy of Brittany; Lorrain of the Duchy of Lorraine.

Distribution of the modern langue d'oïl (shades of green) and of Franco-Provençal
dialects (shades of blue)

Some modern languages are derived from Old French dialects
French dialects
other than Classical French, which is based on the Île-de-France
dialect. They include Angevin, Berrichon, Bourguignon-Morvandiau, Champenois, Franc-Comtois, Gallo, Lorrain, Norman, Picard, Poitevin, Saintongeais and Walloon. History[edit] Evolution from Vulgar Latin[edit] Beginning with Plautus’s time (254–184 b.c.), Classical Latin’s phonological structure changed, eventually yielding Vulgar Latin, the common spoken language of the Western Roman Empire. This latter form differed strongly from its classical counterpart in phonology and morphology, as well as exhibiting differences in lexicon; it was the ancestor of the Romance languages, including Old French.[4][5][6][7][8] Non-Latin influences[edit] Gaulish[edit] Further information: List of French words of Gaulish origin Some Gaulish words influenced Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin
and, through this, other Romance languages. For example, classical Latin equus was uniformly replaced in Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin
by caballus ‘nag, work horse’, derived from Gaulish caballos (cf. Welsh ceffyl, Breton kefel),[9] giving Modern French cheval, Occitan caval (chaval), Catalan cavall, Spanish caballo, Portuguese cavalo, Italian cavallo, Romanian cal, and, by extension, English cavalry. An estimated 200 words of Gaulish etymology survive in modern French, for example chêne ‘oak tree’ and charrue ‘plough’.[10] Despite attempts to explain some phonetic changes being caused by a Gaulish substrate, only one of them is certain, because this fact is clearly attested in the Gaulish-language epigraphy on the pottery found at la Graufesenque (A.D. 1st century). There, the Greek word paropsid-es (written in Latin) appears as paraxsid-i.[11] The consonant clusters /ps/ and /pt/ shifted to /xs/ and /xt/, e.g. Latin capsa > *kaxsa > caisse (≠ Italian cassa) or captīvus > *kaxtivus > OF chaitif[12] (mod. chétif; cf. Irish cacht ‘servant’; ≠ Italian cattiv-ità, Portuguese "cativo", Spanish cautivo). This phonetic evolution is parallel to the shift of the Latin cluster /kt/ in Old French
Old French
(Latin factum > fait, ≠ Italian fatto, Portuguese feito, Spanish hecho; or lactem* > lait, ≠ Italian latte, Portuguese leite, Spanish leche). Frankish[edit] Further information: List of French words of Germanic origin The pronunciation, vocabulary, and syntax of the Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin
spoken in Roman Gaul
Roman Gaul
in Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity
was modified by the Old Frankish language, spoken by the Franks
who settled in Gaul from the 5th century and conquered the entire Old French-speaking area by the 530s. The name français itself is derived from the name the Franks. The Old Frankish language
Old Frankish language
had a definitive influence on the development of Old French, which partly explains why the earliest attested Old French
Old French
documents are older than the earliest attestations in other Romance languages
Romance languages
(e.g. Strasbourg Oaths, Sequence of Saint Eulalia).[13] It is the result of an earlier gap created between Classical Latin
Classical Latin
and its evolved forms, which slowly reduced and eventually severed the intercomprehensibility between the two. The Old Low Franconian influence is also believed to be responsible for the differences between the langue d′oïl and the langue d′oc (Occitan), being that various parts of Northern France
remained bilingual between Latin and Germanic for some time,[14] and these areas correspond precisely to where the first documents in Old French were written. This Germanic language shaped the popular Latin spoken here and gave it a very distinctive identity compared to the other future Romance languages. The very first noticeable influence is the substitution of the Latin melodic accent by a Germanic stress[15] and its result was diphthongization, differentiation between long and short vowels, the fall of the unaccented syllable and of the final vowels:

Latin decimus, -a ‘tenth’ > OF disme > F dîme ‘tenth’ (> E dime; Italian decimo, Portuguese décimo, Spanish diezmo) VL dignitate > OF deintié (> E dainty; Italian dignità, Romanian demnitate) VL catena > OF chaeine (> E chain; Occitan, Portuguese cadeia, Spanish cadena, Italian catena)

Additionally, two phonemes that had long since died out in Vulgar Latin were reintroduced: [h] and [w] (> OF g(u)-, ONF w- cf. Picard w-):

VL altu > OF halt ‘high’ (influenced by OLF *hōh ; ≠ Italian, Portuguese and Spanish alto, Occitan naut) L vespa > F guêpe, Picard wèpe, Wallon wèsse, all ‘wasp’ (influenced by OLF *wapsa ; ≠ Occitan vèspa, Italian and Portuguese vespa, Spanish avispa) L viscus > F gui ‘mistletoe’ (influenced by OLF *wīhsila ‘morello’ with analogous fruits, when they are not ripe; ≠ Occitan vesc, Italian vischio) LL vulpiculu ‘fox kit’ (from L vulpes ‘fox’) > OF golpilz, Picard woupil ‘fox’ (influenced by OLF *wulf ‘wolf’; ≠ Occitan volpìlh, Old Italian volpiglio, Spanish vulpeja ‘vixen’)

On the opposite, the Italian, Portuguese and Spanish words of Germanic origin borrowed from French or directly from Germanic retain /gw/ ~ /g/, e.g. It, Sp. guerra ‘war’, alongside /g/ in French guerre). In these examples, we notice a clear consequence of bilingualism, that sometimes even changed the first syllable of the Latin words. One example of a Latin word influencing an Old Low Franconian loan is framboise ‘raspberry’, from OF frambeise, from OLF *brāmbesi ‘blackberry’ (cf. Dutch braambes, braambezie; akin to German Brombeere, English dial. bramberry) blended with LL fraga or OF fraie ‘strawberry’, which explains the replacement [b] > [f] and in turn the final -se of framboise added to OF fraie to make freise, modern fraise (≠ Wallon frève, Romanian fragă, Romansh fraja, Italian fragola, fravola ‘strawberry’).[16][17] Pope (1934) estimated that perhaps still 15% of the vocabulary of modern French derives from Germanic sources (while the proportion was larger in Old French, because the French language
French language
borrowed heavily from Latin and Italian). Earliest written Old French[edit] At the third Council of Tours in 813, priests were ordered to preach in the vernacular language (either Romance or Germanic), since the common people could no longer understand formal Latin. The earliest documents said to be written in the Gallo-Romance
that presages French – after the Reichenau and Kassel glosses (8th and 9th centuries) – are the Oaths of Strasbourg
Oaths of Strasbourg
(treaties and charters into which King Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald
entered in 842):

Pro Deo amur et pro Christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d’ist di en avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in aiudha et in cadhuna cosa... (For the love of God and for the Christian people, and our common salvation, from this day forward, as God will give me the knowledge and the power, I will defend my brother Charles with my help in everything...)

The second-oldest document in Old French
Old French
is the Eulalia sequence, which is important for linguistic reconstruction of Old French pronunciation due to its consistent spelling. The royal House of Capet, founded by Hugh Capet
Hugh Capet
in 987, inaugurated the development of northern French culture in and around Île-de-France, which slowly but firmly asserted its ascendency over the more southerly areas of Aquitaine
and Tolosa (Toulouse). The Capetians' langue d'oïl, the forerunner of modern standard French, did not begin to become the common speech of all of France, however, until after the French Revolution. Transition to Middle French[edit] Further information: Middle French In the Late Middle Ages, the Old French dialects
French dialects
diverged into a number of distinct langues d'oïl, among which Middle French proper was the dialect of the Île-de-France
region. During the Early Modern period, French now becomes established as the official language of the Kingdom of France
Kingdom of France
throughout the realm, also including the langue d'oc-speaking territories in the south. It was only in the 17th to 18th centuries – with the development especially of popular literature of the Bibliothèque bleue
Bibliothèque bleue
– that a standardized Classical French
Classical French
spread throughout France
alongside the regional dialects. Literature[edit] Main article: Medieval French literature The material and cultural conditions in France
and associated territories around the year 1100 triggered what Charles Homer Haskins termed the "Renaissance of the 12th century", resulting in a profusion of creative works in a variety of genres. Old French
Old French
gives way to Middle French in the mid-14th century, paving the way for early French Renaissance literature of the 15th century. The earliest extant French literary texts date from the ninth century, but very few texts before the 11th century have survived. The first literary works written in Old French
Old French
were saints' lives. The Canticle of Saint Eulalie, written in the second half of the 9th century, is generally accepted as the first such text. At the beginning of the 13th century, Jean Bodel, in his Chanson de Saisnes, divided medieval French narrative literature into three subject areas: the Matter of France
or Matter of Charlemagne; the Matter of Rome (romances in an ancient setting); and the Matter of Britain (Arthurian romances and Breton lais). The first of these is the subject area of the chansons de geste ("songs of exploits" or "songs of (heroic) deeds"), epic poems typically composed in ten-syllable assonanced (occasionally rhymed) laisses. More than one hundred chansons de geste have survived in around three hundred manuscripts.[18] The oldest and most celebrated of the chansons de geste is The Song of Roland
The Song of Roland
(earliest version composed in the late 11th century). Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube
Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube
in his Girart de Vienne set out a grouping of the chansons de geste into three cycles: the Geste du roi centering on Charlemagne, the Geste de Garin de Monglane (whose central character was William of Orange), and the Geste de Doon de Mayence or the "rebel vassal cycle", the most famous characters of which were Renaud de Montauban and Girart de Roussillon. A fourth grouping, not listed by Bertrand, is the Crusade cycle, dealing with the First Crusade
First Crusade
and its immediate aftermath. Jean Bodel's other two categories—the "Matter of Rome" and the "Matter of Britain"—concern the French romance or roman. Around a hundred verse romances survive from the period 1150–1220.[19] From around 1200 on, the tendency was increasingly to write the romances in prose (many of the earlier verse romances were adapted into prose versions), although new verse romances continued to be written to the end of the 14th century.[20] The most important romance of the 13th century is the Romance of the Rose which breaks considerably from the conventions of the chivalric adventure story. Medieval French lyric poetry was indebted to the poetic and cultural traditions in Southern France
and Provence—including Toulouse, Poitiers, and the Aquitaine
region—where langue d'oc was spoken (Occitan language); in their turn, the Provençal poets were greatly influenced by poetic traditions from the Hispano-Arab world. The Occitan or Provençal poets were called troubadours, from the word trobar "to find, to invent". Lyric poets in Old French
Old French
are called trouvères. By the late 13th century, the poetic tradition in France
had begun to develop in ways that differed significantly from the troubadour poets, both in content and in the use of certain fixed forms. The new poetic (as well as musical: some of the earliest medieval music has lyrics composed in Old French
Old French
by the earliest composers known by name) tendencies are apparent in the Roman de Fauvel
Roman de Fauvel
in 1310 and 1314, a satire on abuses in the medieval church, filled with medieval motets, lais, rondeaux and other new secular forms of poetry and music (mostly anonymous, but with several pieces by Philippe de Vitry, who would coin the expression ars nova to distinguish the new musical practice from the music of the immediately preceding age). The best-known poet and composer of ars nova secular music and chansons of the incipient Middle French period was Guillaume de Machaut. Discussions about the origins of non-religious theater (théâtre profane) – both drama and farce—in the Middle Ages remain controversial, but the idea of a continuous popular tradition stemming from Latin comedy and tragedy to the 9th century seems unlikely. Most historians place the origin of medieval drama in the church's liturgical dialogues and "tropes". Mystery plays were eventually transferred from the monastery church to the chapter house or refectory hall and finally to the open air, and the vernacular was substituted for Latin. In the 12th century one finds the earliest extant passages in French appearing as refrains inserted into liturgical dramas in Latin, such as a Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas
(patron saint of the student clercs) play and a Saint Stephen
Saint Stephen
play. An early French dramatic play is Le Jeu d'Adam
Le Jeu d'Adam
(c. 1150) written in octosyllabic rhymed couplets with Latin stage directions (implying that it was written by Latin-speaking clerics for a lay public). A large body of fables survive in Old French; these include (mostly anonymous) literature dealing with the recurring trickster character of Reynard
the Fox. Marie de France
was also active in this genre, producing the Ysopet
(Little Aesop) series of fables in verse. Related to the fable was the more bawdy fabliau, which covered topics such as cuckolding and corrupt clergy. These fabliaux would be an important source for Chaucer
and for the Renaissance short story (conte or nouvelle). Phonology[edit] See also: Phonological history of French Old French
Old French
was constantly changing and evolving. However, the form in the late 12th century, as attested in a great deal of mostly poetic writings, can be considered standard. The writing system at this time was more phonetic than that used in most subsequent centuries. In particular, all written consonants (including final ones) were pronounced, except for s preceding non-stop consonants and t in et, and final e was pronounced [ə]. The phonological system can be summarised as follows:[21] Consonants[edit]

Old French
Old French

Labial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal

Nasal m n ɲ

Plosive p b t d

k ɡ


ts dz tʃ dʒ

Fricative f v s z



l ʎ




All obstruents (plosives, fricatives and affricates) were subject to word-final devoicing, which was usually indicated in the orthography. The affricates /ts/, /dz/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/ became fricatives ([s], [z], [ʃ], [ʒ]) in Middle French.

/ts/ had three spellings – c before e or i, ç before other vowels, or z at the end of a word – as seen in cent, chançon, priz ("a hundred, song, price"). /dz/ was written as z, as in doze "twelve", and did not occur word-initially.

/ʎ/ (l mouillé), as in conseil, travaillier ("advice, to work"), became /j/ in Modern French. /ɲ/ appeared not only in the middle of a word, but also at the end, as in poing "fist". At the end of a word, /ɲ/ was later lost, leaving a nasalized vowel. /h/ was found only in Germanic loanwords and was later lost (although it is cheshirized as the so-called aspirated h that blocks liaison). In native Latin words, /h/ was lost early on, as in om, uem, from Latin homō. Intervocalic /d/ from both Latin /t/ and /d/ was lenited to [ð] in the early period (cf. contemporary Spanish: amado [aˈmaðo]). At the end of words it was also devoiced to [θ]. In some texts it was sometimes written as dh or th (aiudha, cadhuna, Ludher, vithe). By 1100 it disappeared altogether.[22]

Vowels[edit] In Old French, the nasal vowels were not separate phonemes but only allophones of the oral vowels before a nasal consonant. The nasal consonant was fully pronounced; bon was pronounced [bõn] (Modern French [bɔ̃]). Nasal vowels were present even in open syllables before nasals where Modern French has oral vowels, as in bone [bõnə] (Modern French bonne [bɔn]). Monophthongs[edit]

Old French
Old French

  Front Central Back

Close oral i   y   u

nasal [ĩ ]  [ỹ]  

Close-mid oral e ə  

nasal [ẽ] [õ]

Open-mid ɛ   ɔ

Open oral a

nasal [ã]


/o/ had formerly existed but closed to /u/; the original Western Romance /u/ having previously been fronted to /y/ across most of what is now France
and northern Italy.

/o/ would later appear again when /aw/ monophthongized and also when /ɔ/ closed in certain positions (such as when it was followed by original /s/ or /z/ but not by /ts/, which later became /s/). /õ/ may have similarly been closed to /ũ/, in at least in some dialects, since it was borrowed into Middle English
Middle English
as /uːn/ > /aʊn/ (Latin computāre > OF conter > English count; Latin rotundum > OF ront > English round; Latin bonitātem > OF bonté > English bounty). In any case, traces of such a change were erased in later stages of French, when the close nasal vowels /ĩ ỹ õ~ũ/ were opened to become /ɛ̃ œ̃ ɔ̃/.

/ə̃/ may have existed in the unstressed third-person plural verb ending -ent, but it may have already passed to /ə/, which is known to have happened by the Middle French period at the latest.

Diphthongs and triphthongs[edit]

Late Old French
Old French
diphthongs and triphthongs

  IPA Example Meaning


Oral /aw/ chevaus horse

/ɔj/ toit roof

/ɔw/ coup blow, hit

/ew/ ~ /øw/ neveu nephew

/iw/ ~ /iɥ/ tiule tile

Nasal /ẽj/ plein full

/õj/ loing far


Oral /je/ pié foot

/ɥi/ fruit fruit

/we/ ~ /wø/ cuer heart

Nasal /jẽ/ bien well

/ɥĩ/ juignet July

/wẽ/ cuens count (nom. sg.)

triphthongs stress always falls on middle vowel

Oral /e̯aw/ beaus beautiful

/jew/ Dieu God

/wew/ ~ /wøw/ jueu Jew


In Early Old French
Old French
(up to about the mid-12th century), the spelling ⟨ai⟩ represented a diphthong /aj/ instead of the later monophthong /ɛ/,[23] and ⟨ei⟩ represented the diphthong /ej/, which merged with /oj/ in Late Old French
Old French
(except when it was nasalized). In Early Old French, the diphthongs described above as "rising" may have been falling diphthongs (/ie̯/, /yj/, /ue̯/). In earlier works with vowel assonance, the diphthong written ⟨ie⟩ did not assonate with any pure vowels, which suggests that it cannot have simply been /je/. The pronunciation of the vowels written ⟨ue⟩ and ⟨eu⟩ is debated. In the first records of Early Old French, they represented and were written as /uo/, /ou/, and by Middle French, they had both merged as /ø ~ œ/, but the transitional pronunciations are unclear. Early Old French
Old French
had additional triphthongs /iej/ and /uoj/ (equivalent to diphthongs followed by /j/); these soon merged into /i/ and /ɥi/ respectively. The diphthong ⟨iu⟩ was rare and had merged into ⟨ui⟩ by Middle French (OF tiule > MF tuile 'tile'; OF siure > Late OF suire > MF suivre 'follow').

Hiatus[edit] In addition to diphthongs, Old French
Old French
had many instances of hiatus between adjacent vowels because of the loss of an intervening consonant. Manuscripts generally do not distinguish hiatus from true diphthongs, but modern scholarly transcription indicates it with a diaeresis, as in Modern French:

Latin audīre > OF oïr /oˈir/ 'hear' Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin
*vidūtum > OF veü /vəˈy/ 'seen' Latin rēgīnam > OF reïne /rəˈinə/ 'queen' Latin pāgēnsem > OF païs /paˈis/ 'country' Latin augustum > OF aoust /aˈust/ 'August' Latin patellam > OF paele /paˈɛlə/ 'pan' Late Latin quaternum > OF quaïer /kwaˈjer/ 'booklet, quire' Late Latin aetāticum > OF aage, eage /aˈad͡ʒə/ ~ /əˈad͡ʒə/ 'age'

Grammar[edit] Nouns[edit] Old French
Old French
maintained a two-case system, with a nominative case and an oblique case, for longer than did some other Romance languages
Romance languages
like Spanish and Italian. Case distinctions, at least in the masculine gender, were marked on both the definite article and the noun itself. Thus, the masculine noun li veisins "the neighbour" (Latin vicīnus /wɪˈkiːnʊs/ > Proto-Romance
*vecínos /veˈt͡sinos/ > OF veisins /vejˈzĩns/; Modern French le voisin /vwazɛ̃/) was declined as follows:

Evolution of the nominal masculine inflection from Classical Latin
Classical Latin
to Old French

Latin Vulgar Latin Old French

Singular nominative ille vicīnus (il)le vicīnos li veisins

oblique (Latin accusative) illum vicīnum (il)lo vicīno le veisin

Plural nominative illī vicīnī (il)lī vicīni li veisin

oblique (Latin accusative) illōs vicīnōs (il)los vicīnos les veisins

In later Old French, the distinctions had become moribund. As in most other Romance languages, it was the oblique case form that usually survived to become the Modern French form: l'enfant "the child" represents the old oblique (Latin accusative īnfāntem); the Old French nominative was li enfes (Latin īnfāns). There are some cases with significant differences between nominative and oblique forms (derived from Latin nouns with a stress shift between the nominative and other cases) in which either it is the nominative form that survives or both forms survive with different meanings:

Both OFr li sire, le sieur (Latin seiior, seiiōrem) and le seignor (nom. †sendra;[24] Latin senior, seniōrem) survive in the vocabulary of later French (sire, sieur, seigneur) as different ways to refer to a feudal lord. Modern French sœur "sister" is the nominative form ( Old French
Old French
suer < Latin nominative soror); the Old French
Old French
oblique form seror (< Latin accusative sorōrem) no longer survives. Modern French prêtre "priest" is the nominative form (Old French prestre < presbyter); the Old French
Old French
oblique form prevoire, later provoire (< presbyterem) survives only in the Paris street name Rue des Prouvaires. Modern French indefinite pronoun on "one" continues Old French nominative hom "man" (< homō); homme "man" continues the oblique form (OF home < hominem).

In a few cases in which the only distinction between forms was the nominative -s ending, the -s was preserved in spelling to distinguish otherwise-homonymous words. An example is fils "son" (< Latin nominative fīlius), spelled to distinguish it from fil "wire". In this case, a later spelling pronunciation has resulted in the modern pronunciation /fis/ (earlier /fi/). As in Spanish and Italian, the neuter gender was eliminated, and most old neuter nouns became masculine. Some Latin neuter plurals were reanalysed as feminine singulars: Latin gaudium was more widely used in the plural form gaudia, which was taken for a singular in Vulgar Latin and ultimately led to modern French la joie, "joy" (feminine singular). Nouns were declined in the following declensions:

Class I (feminine) Class II (masculine)

Class I normal Class Ia Class II normal Class IIa

meaning "woman" "thing" "city" "neighbor" "servant" "father"

sg. nominative la fame la riens la citez li veisins li sergenz li pere

oblique la rien la cité le veisin le sergent le pere

pl. nominative les fames les riens les citez li veisin li sergent li pere

oblique les veisins les sergenz les peres

Class III (both)

Class IIIa Class IIIb Class IIIc Class IIId

meaning "singer" "baron" "nun" "sister" "child" "priest" "lord" "count"

sg. nominative li chantere li ber la none la suer li enfes li prestre li sire li cuens

oblique le chanteor le baron la nonain la seror l'enfant le prevoire le sieur le conte

pl. nominative li chanteor li baron les nones les serors li enfant li prevoire li sieur li conte

oblique les chanteors les barons les nonains les serors les enfanz les prevoires les sieurs les contes

Class I is derived from the Latin first declension. Class Ia mostly comes from Latin feminine nouns in the third declension. Class II is derived from the Latin second declension. Class IIa generally stems from second-declension nouns ending in -er and from third-declension masculine nouns; in both cases, the Latin nominative singular did not end in -s, which is preserved in Old French. The classes show various analogical developments: -es from the accusative instead of -∅ (-e after a consonant cluster) in Class I nominative plural (Latin -ae), li pere instead of *li peres (Latin illi patres) in Class IIa nominative plural, modelled on Class II, etc. Class III nouns show a separate form in the nominative singular that does not occur in any of the other forms. IIIa nouns ended in -ātor, -ātōrem in Latin and preserve the stress shift; IIIb nouns also had a stress shift, from -ō to -ōnem. IIIc nouns are an Old French creation and have no clear Latin antecedent. IIId nouns represent various other types of third-declension Latin nouns with stress shift or a change of consonant (soror, sorōrem; īnfāns, īnfāntem; presbyter, presbyterem; seiior, seiiōrem; comes, comitem). Regular feminine forms of masculine nouns are formed by adding an -e to the masculine stem unless the masculine stem already ends in -e. For example, bergier (shepherd) becomes bergiere (Modern French berger and bergère). Adjectives[edit] Adjectives agree in terms of number, gender and case with the noun that they are qualifying. Thus, a feminine plural noun in the nominative case requires any qualifying adjectives to be feminine, plural and nominative. For example, in femes riches, riche has to be in the feminine plural form. Adjectives can be divided into three declensional classes:[25]

Class I corresponding roughly to Latin 1st- and 2nd-declension adjectives Class II corresponding roughly to Latin 3rd-declension adjectives Class III containing primarily the descendants of Latin synthetic comparative forms in -ior, -iōrem.

Class I adjectives have a feminine singular form (nominative and oblique) ending in -e. They can be further subdivided into two subclasses, based on the masculine nominative singular form. Class Ia adjectives have a masculine nominative singular ending in -s:

bon "good" (< Latin bonus, > modern French bon)

Masculine Feminine Neuter

Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular

Nominative bons bon bone bones bon

Oblique bon bons —

For Class Ib adjectives, the masculine nominative singular ends in -e, like the feminine. There are descendants of Latin second- and third-declension adjectives ending in -er in the nominative singular:

aspre "harsh" (< Latin asper, > modern French âpre)

Masculine Feminine Neuter

Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular

Nominative aspre aspre aspre aspres aspre

Oblique aspres —

For Class II adjectives, the feminine singular is not marked by the ending -e:

granz "big, great" (< Latin grandis, > modern French grand)

Masculine Feminine Neuter

Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular

Nominative granz grant granz/grant granz grant

Oblique grant granz grant —

An important subgroup of Class II adjectives is the present participial forms in -ant. Class III adjectives have a stem alternation, resulting from stress shift in the Latin third declension and a distinct neuter form:

mieudre "better" (< Latin melior, > modern French meilleur)

Masculine Feminine Neuter

Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular

Nominative mieudre(s) meillor mieudre meillors mieuz

Oblique meillor meillors meillor —

In later Old French, Classes II and III tended to be moved across to Class I, which was complete by Middle French. Modern French thus has only a single adjective declension, unlike most other Romance languages, which have two or more. Verbs[edit] Verbs in Old French
Old French
show the same extreme phonological deformations as other Old French
Old French
words. Morphologically, however, Old French
Old French
verbs are extremely conservative in preserving intact most of the Latin alternations and irregularities that had been inherited in Proto-Romance. Old French
Old French
has much less analogical reformation than Modern French has and significantly less than the oldest stages of other languages (such as Old Spanish) despite the fact that the various phonological developments in Gallo-Romance
and Proto-French led to complex alternations in the majority of commonly-used verbs. For example, the Old French
Old French
verb laver "to wash" (Latin lavāre) is conjugated je lef, tu leves, il leve in the present indicative and je lef, tu les, il let in the present subjunctive, in both cases regular phonological developments from Latin indicative lavō, lavās, lavat and subjunctive lavem, lavēs, lavet. The following paradigm is typical in showing the phonologically regular but morphologically irregular alternations of most paradigms:

The alternation je lef ~ tu leves is a regular result of the final devoicing triggered by loss of final /o/ but not /a/. The alternation laver ~ tu leves is a regular result of the diphthongization of a stressed open syllable /a/ into /ae/ > /æ/ > /e/. The alternation je lef ~ tu les ~ il let in the subjunctive is a regular result of the simplification of the final clusters /fs/ and /ft/, resulting from loss of /e/ in final syllables.

Modern French, on the other hand, has je lave, tu laves, il lave in both indicative and subjunctive, reflecting significant analogical developments: analogical borrowing of unstressed vowel /a/, analogical -e in the first singular (from verbs like j'entre, with a regular -e ) and wholesale replacement of the subjunctive with forms modelled on -ir/-oir/-re verbs. All serve to eliminate the various alternations in the Old French
Old French
verb paradigm. Even modern "irregular" verbs are not immune from analogy: For example, Old French
Old French
je vif, tu vis, il vit (vivre "to live") has yielded to modern je vis, tu vis, il vit, eliminating the unpredictable -f in the first-person singular. The simple past also shows extensive analogical reformation and simplification in Modern French, as compared with Old French. The Latin pluperfect was preserved in very early Old French
Old French
as a past tense with a value similar to a preterite or imperfect. For example, the Sequence of Saint Eulalia
Sequence of Saint Eulalia
(878 AD) has past-tense forms such as avret (< Latin habuerat), voldret (< Latin voluerat), alternating with past-tense forms from the Latin perfect (continued as the modern "simple past"). Old Occitan
Old Occitan
also preserved this tense, with a conditional value; Spanish still preserves this tense (the -ra imperfect subjunctive), as does Portuguese (in its original value as a pluperfect indicative). Verb alternations[edit] In Latin, stress was determined automatically by the number of syllables in a word and the weight (length) of the syllables. That resulted in certain automatic stress shifts between related forms in a paradigm, depending on the nature of the suffixes added. For example, in pensō "I think", the first syllable was stressed, but in pensāmus "we think", the second syllable was stressed. In many Romance languages, vowels diphthongized in stressed syllables under certain circumstances but not in unstressed syllables, resulting in alternations in verb paradigms: Spanish pienso "I think" vs. pensamos "we think" (pensar "to think"), or cuento "I tell" vs. contamos "we tell" (contar "to tell"). In the development of French, at least five vowels diphthongized in stressed, open syllables. Combined with other stress-dependent developments, that yielded 15 or so types of alternations in so-called strong verbs in Old French. For example, /a/ diphthongized to /ai/ before nasal stops in stressed, open syllables but not in unstressed syllables, yielding aim "I love" (Latin amō) but amons "we love" (Latin amāmus). The different types are as follows:

Vowel alternations in Old French
Old French

Vowel alternation Environment Example (-er conjugation) Example (other conjugation)

Stressed Unstressed Latin etymon 3rd singular pres. ind. Infinitive meaning Latin etymon 3rd singular pres. ind. Infinitive / Other form meaning

/e/ /a/ free /a/ lavāre leve laver "to wash" parere > *parīre pert parir "to give birth"

/ãj̃/ /ã/ free /a/ + nasal amāre aime amer "to love" manēre maint manoir "to remain"

/je/ /e/ palatal + free /a/ *accapāre achieve achever "to achieve"

/i/ /e/ palatal + /a/ + palatal *concacāre conchie concheer "to expel" iacēre gist gesir "to lie (down)"

/a/ /e/ palatal + blocked /a/ *accapitāre achate acheter "to buy" cadere > *cadēre chiet cheoir "to fall"

/a/ /e/ intertonic /a/ + palatal? *tripaliāre travaille traveillier "to torment, make suffer"

/je/ /e/ free /ɛ/ levāre lieve lever "to raise" sedēre siet seoir "to sit"

/jẽ/ /ẽ/ free /ɛ/ + nasal

tremere > *cremere crient creindre (var. cremir, -oir) "to fear"

/i/ /oj/ /ɛ/ + palatal pretiāre prise proisier "to value" exīre ist oissir "to go out"

/ɛ/ /e/ intertonic /ɛ, e/ + double cons. appellāre apele apeler "to call"

/oj/ /e/ free /e/ adhaerāre > *adēsāre adoise adeser "to touch"

/ẽj̃/ /ẽ/ free /e/ + nasal mināre meine mener "to lead"

/i/ /e/ palatal + free /e/

/oj/ /i/ intertonic /e/ + palatal - charroie charrier "to cart around"

/we/ /u/ free /ɔ/ *tropāre trueve truver "to invent, discover" morī > *morīre muert mourir "to die"

/uj/ /oj/ /ɔ/ + palatal *appodiāre apuie apoiier "to lean"

/ew/ /u/ free /o/ dēmōrārī demeure demo(u)rer "to stay" cōnsuere > *cōsere queust cousdre "to sew"

/u/ /e/ intertonic blocked /o/ *corruptiāre courouce courecier "to get angry"

/ũ/ /ã/ intertonic blocked /o/ + nasal calumniārī chalonge chalengier "to challenge"

In Modern French, the verbs in the -er class have been systematically levelled. Generally, the "weak" (unstressed) form predominates, but there are some exceptions (such as modern aimer/nous aimons). The only remaining alternations are in verbs like acheter/j'achète and jeter/je jette, with unstressed /ə/ alternating with stressed /ɛ/ and in (largely-learned) verbs like adhérer/j'adhère, with unstressed /e/ alternating with stressed /ɛ/. Many of the non-er verbs have become obsolete, and many of the remaining verbs have been levelled. A few alternations remain, however, in what are now known as irregular verbs, such as je tiens, nous tenons; je dois, nous devons and je meurs, nous mourons. Some verbs had a more irregular alternation between different-length stems, with a longer, stressed stem alternating with a shorter, unstressed stem. That was a regular development stemming from the loss of unstressed intertonic vowels, which remained when they were stressed:

j'aiu/aidier "help" < adiūtō, adiūtāre j'araison/araisnier "speak to" < adratiōnō, adratiōnāre je deraison/deraisnier "argue" < dēratiōnō, dēratiōnāre je desjun/disner "dine" < disiēiūnō, disiēiūnāre je manju/mangier "eat" < mandūcō, mandūcāre je parol/parler "speak" < *paraulō, *paraulāre < parabolō, parabolāre

The alternation of je desjun, disner is particularly complicated; it appears that disiēiūnāre > Western Romance
Western Romance
/desjejuˈnare > /desjejˈnare/ (preliminary intertonic loss) > /desiˈnare/ (triphthong reduction) > /disiˈnare/ (metaphony) > /disˈner/ (further intertonic loss and other proto-French developments). Both stems have become full verbs in Modern French: déjeuner "to have lunch" and dîner "to dine". Furthermore, déjeuner does not derive directly from je desjun (< *disi(ēi)ūnō, with total loss of unstressed -ēi-). Instead, it comes from Old French
Old French
desjeüner, based on the alternative form je desjeün (< *disiē(i)ūnō, with loss of only -i-, likely influenced by jeûner "to fast" < Old French jeüner < je jeün /d͡ʒe.ˈyn/ "I fast" < iē(i)ūnō: iē- is an initial rather than intertonic so the vowel -ē- does not disappear). Example of regular -er verb: durer (to last)[edit]


Indicative Subjunctive Conditional Imperative

Present Simple past Imperfect Future Present Imperfect Present Present

je dur durai duroie durerai dur durasse dureroie —

tu dures duras durois dureras durs durasses durerois dure

il dure dura duroit durera durt durast dureroit —

nos durons durames duriiens/-ïons durerons durons durissons/-issiens dureriions/-ïons durons

vos durez durastes duriiez dureroiz/-ez durez durissoiz/-issez/-issiez dureriiez/-ïez durez

ils durent durerent duroient dureront durent durassent dureroient —

Non-finite forms:

Infinitive: durer Present participle: durant Past Participle: duré

Auxiliary verb: avoir Example of regular -ir verb: fenir (to end)[edit]


Indicative Subjunctive Conditional Imperative

Present Simple past Imperfect Future Present Imperfect Present Present

je fenis feni fenissoie fenirai fenisse fenisse feniroie —

tu fenis fenis fenissoies feniras fenisses fenisses fenirois fenis

il fenist feni(t) fenissoit fenira fenisse(t) fenist feniroit —

nos fenissons fenimes fenissiiens fenirons fenissons fenissons/-iens feniriiens fenissons

vos fenissez fenistes fenissiiez feniroiz/-ez fenissez fenissoiz/-ez/-iez feniriiez fenissez

ils fenissent fenirent fenissoient feniront fenissent fenissent feniroient —

Non-finite forms:

Infinitive: fenir Present participle: fenissant Past participle: feni(t)

Auxiliary verb: avoir Example of regular -re verb: corre (to run)[edit]


Indicative Subjunctive Conditional Imperative

Present Simple past Imperfect Future Present Imperfect Present Present

je cor corui coroie corrai core corusse corroie —

tu cors corus coroies corras cores corusses corroies cor

il cort coru(t) coroit corra core(t) corust corroit —

nos corons corumes coriiens corrons corons corussons/-iens corriiens corons

vos corez corustes coriiez corroiz/-ez corez corussoiz/-ez/-iez corriiez corez

ils corent corurent coroient corront corent corussent corroient —

Non-finite forms:

Infinitive: corre Present participle: corant Past participle: coru(t)

Auxiliary verb: estre Examples of auxiliary verbs[edit] avoir (to have)[edit]


Indicative Subjunctive Conditional Imperative

Present Simple past Imperfect Future Present Imperfect Present Present

je ai eüi, oi avoie aurai ai eüsse auroie —

tu ais (later as) eüs avois auras ais eüsses aurois ave

il ai (later a) eü(t), ot avoit aura ai eüst auroit —

nos avons eümes aviiens/-ïons aurons aions eüssons/-issiens auravons/-ïons avons

vos avez eüstes aviiez auroiz/-ez aiez eüssoiz/-issez/-issiez auravez/-ïez avez

ils ont eürent avoient auront ont eüssent auroient —

Non-finite forms:

Infinitive: avoir (earlier aveir) Present participle: aiant Past participle: eü(t)

Auxiliary verb: avoir estre (to be)[edit]


Indicative Subjunctive Conditional Imperative

Present Simple past Imperfect Future Present Imperfect Present Present

je suis fui (i)ere esteie > estoie (i)er serai estrai seie > soie fusse sereie > seroie estreie > estroie —

tu (i)es fus (i)eres esteies > estoies (i)ers seras estras seies > soies fusses sereies > seroies estreies > estroies seies > soies

il est fu(t) (i)ere(t), (i)ert esteit > estoit (i)ert sera(t) estra(t) seit > soit fust sereit > seroit estreit > estroit —

nos somes, esmes fumes eriiens, erions estiiens, estions (i)ermes serons estrons seiiens, seions > soiiens, soions fussons/-iens seriiens, serions estriiens, estrions seiiens > soiiens, seions > soions

vos estes fustes eriiez estiiez — sere(i)z estre(i)z seiiez > soiiez fusseiz/-ez/-iez seriiez estriiez seiiez > soiiez

ils sont furent (i)erent esteient > estoient (i)erent seront estront seient > soient fussent sereient > seroient estreient > estroient —

Non-finite forms:

Infinitive: estre Present participle: estant Past participle: esté(t)

Auxiliary verb: avoir Other parts of speech[edit] Adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections are generally invariable, one notable exception being the adverb tot, like Modern French tout: all, every. See also[edit]

For a list of words relating to Old French, see the Old French category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Bartsch's law Anglo-Norman literature History of French History of the English language Languages of France


^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Old French". Glottolog
3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.  ^ Kinoshita 2006, p. 3. ^ Lusignan, Serge. La langue des rois au Moyen Âge: Le français en France
et en Angleterre. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2004. ^ "Brill Online Dictionaries". Iedo.brillonline.nl. Archived from the original on 2013-06-17. Retrieved 2013-06-16.  ^ " Romance languages
Romance languages
- Encyclopædia Britannica". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2013-06-16.  ^ "Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture - Google Boeken". Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-06-16.  ^ "Definition of Italic in Oxford Dictionaries (British & World English)". Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved 2013-06-16.  ^ "Definition of Romance in Oxford Dictionaries (British & World English)". Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved 2013-06-16.  ^ Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Paris: Errance, 2003, 96. ^ Delamarre (2003, pp. 389–90) lists 167 ^ Pierre-Yves Lambert, La Langue gauloise (Paris: Errance, 1994), 46-7. ISBN 978-2-87772-224-7 ^ Lambert 46-47 ^ Bernard Cerquiglini, La naissance du français, Presses Universitaires de France, 2nd edn., chap. 3, 1993, p. 53. ^ Cerquiglini 53 ^ Cerquiglini 26. ^ "Etymology of ''frambuesa'' (Spanish)". Buscon.rae.es. Retrieved 2013-06-16.  ^ Portuguese framboesa ‘raspberry’ and Spanish frambuesa are French loans. ^ La Chanson de Roland. Edited and Translated into Modern French by Ian Short. Paris: Livre de Poche, 1990. p. 12. ISBN 978-2-253-05341-5 ^ (in French) Antoine Adam, Georges Lerminier, and Édouard Morot-Sir, eds. Littérature française. "Tome 1: Des origines à la fin du XVIIIe siècle," Paris: Larousse, 1967, p. 16. ^ (in French) Antoine Adam, Georges Lerminier, and Édouard Morot-Sir, eds. Littérature française. "Tome 1: Des origines à la fin du XVIIIe siècle," Paris: Larousse, 1967, p. 36-37. ^ The chart is based on phonologies given in Laborderie, Noëlle, Précis de Phonétique Historique, Nathan 1994; and in Rickard, Peter, A History of the French Language, 2nd edition, Routledge 1989, pp. 47-8. ^ Berthon, H. E.; Starkey, V. G. (1908). Tables synoptiques de phonologie de l'ancien français. Oxford Clarendon Press.  ^ Zink (1999), p. 132 ^ The Old French
Old French
nominative sendra, inherited from Latin senior, appears only in the Oaths of Strasbourg
Oaths of Strasbourg
before it become obsolete. ^ Moignet (1988, p. 26–31), Zink (1992, p. 39–48), de La Chaussée (1977, p. 39–44)

Other sources[edit]

Ayres-Bennett, Wendy (1995). A History of the French Language through Texts. London/New York: Routledge.  Banniard, Michel (1997). Du latin aux langues romanes. Paris: Nathan.  de la Chaussée, François (1977). Initiation à la morphologie historique de l'ancien français. Paris: Klincksieck. ISBN 2-252-01922-0.  Cole, William (2005). First and Otherwise Notable Editions of Old French Texts Printed from 1742 to 1874: A Bibliographical Catalogue of My Collection. Sitges: Cole & Contreras.  Delamarre, X.; P.-Y. Lambert (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise : Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental (2nd ed.). Paris: Errance. ISBN 2-87772-237-6.  Einhorn, E. (1974). Old French: A Concise Handbook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-20343-0.  Kibler, William (1984). An Introduction to Old French. New York: Modern Language Association of America.  Kinoshita, Sharon (2006). Medieval Boundaries: Rethinking Difference in Old French
Old French
Literature. University of Pennsylvania Press.  Lanly, André (2002). Morphologie historique des verbes français. Paris: Champion. ISBN 2-7453-0822-X.  Lodge, R. Anthony (1993). French: From Dialect to Standard. London/New York: Routledge.  Moignet, Gérard (1988). Grammaire de l'ancien français (2nd ed.). Paris: Klincksieck. ISBN 9782252015094.  Pope, Mildred K. (1934). From Latin to Modern French with Especial Consideration of Anglo-Norman Phonology and Morphology. Manchester: Manchester University Press.  Zink, Gaston (1999). Phonétique historique du français (6th ed.). Paris: PUF. ISBN 2-13-046471-8.  Zink, Gaston (1992). Morphologie du français médiéval (2nd ed.). Paris: PUF. ISBN 2-13-044766-X. 

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Old French
Old French

Old French
Old French
test of at Wikimedia Incubator

Old French
Old French
on the Web An introduction to old French François Frédéric Roget (1887) Old French
Old French
Online from the University of Texas at Austin Lexilogos: Online dictionaries of Old French DÉCT- (Electronic Dictionary of Chretien de Troyes) : complete lexicon and transcriptions of the five romances of this Old French author. University of Ottawa - CNRS. Du Bellay, Joachim (1549). La Défense, et illustration de la langue française. Paris: Arnoul L'Angelier. 

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