Table of Contents

Glossary of Grammar Terms




accusative:    The direct object case, the accusative case is used to indicate direct receivers of an action. The accusative case also indicates “motion towards,” can be the object of the preposition “to” and can indicate the passage of time.

adjective:    An adjective is a word used to describe a noun. "Royal," "golden," "lofty," "powerful," "hardy" and "strong" are all adjectives.

adverb:    An adverb is a word used to describe a verb or adjective. "Slowly," "steadily," "angrily," "powerfully" and "very" are all adverbs. Words that indicate time, such as “then,” “when,” “later,” and “before” are also adverbs.

analytic language:    A language in which grammatical relationships are indicated by word order (i.e., “the dog at the cat” means something different from “the cat ate the dog”) is an analytic language.

article:    A word linked with a noun or nouns used to identify a word as a noun and also indicate whether that noun is definite or indefinite. Modern English has a definite article (“the”) and an indefinite article (“a” / “an”). In this grammar book we classify Old English articles as demonstrative pronouns because in Old English an article can stand on its own without a noun.

auxiliary verb:    These verbs, sometimes known as helping verbs, are combined with the main verb in a sentence. Auxiliary verbs often give information about time, completion of an action or probability of an action. In the sentence “Alfred had ruled for ten years,” “had” is the auxiliary verb.


back vowel:    A vowel pronounced in the back of the mouth. In Old English a, o, and u are back vowels.


case agreement:    If a noun is in one case, the pronouns and adjectives grammatically related to that noun will also be in that case. For example, if a noun is in the genitive case, a demonstrative or adjective describing that noun would also be in the genitive case.

case:    The endings on a noun, pronouns or adjective indicate which case it belongs to. In turn, the case indicates what function the word is performing in the sentence, whether it is the subject (nominative), the direct object (accusative), the indirect object or object of a preposition (dative), or if it is a possessive (genitive) form.

conjugating:    Verbs change form depending upon who performs an action (the person of the verb), how many perform the action (the number of the verb), whether the action was in the past or the present (the tense of the verb), and whether the verb is a statement, command, or prediction (the mood of the verb). Writing out the various forms of a verb for each of its possible grammatical uses is called conjugating the verb.

clause:    A clause is a dependent part of a sentence that has its own subject and predicate but still depends on the main part of the sentence (a predicate can be simply a verb, or it can include a verb and an object).

conjunction:    a conjunction is a connecting word: "and," "but," "or," and "nor" are all conjunctions.

consonant:    Sounds in a language can be classified as vowels, semi-vowels (also called “liquids”) or consonants. Consonants are characterized by the occlusion, obstruction or diversion of the flow of air from the lungs through the mouth and nose.


dative:    The indirect object and prepositional case, the dative case is used to indicate indirect receivers of action and objects of prepositions. The dative is also used to indicate the location of non-moving objects (locative dative).

declension:    A list of all the possible case endings for a noun, adjective or pronoun is called a declension.

determiner:    The definite and indefinite articles (“the” and “a”) are also called determiners.

demonstrative:    A pronoun that ‘points to’ another word or indicates relationships of proximity is a demonstrative. “This,” “that,” “these,” and “those” are demonstratives. In this grammar book we treat articles (Modern English “the,” “a,” “an”; Old English se, seo) as demonstrative pronouns.

digraph:    Two letters used to represent one sound are called a digraph. “Th” and “ch” in Modern English are digraphs.

direct object:    The direct object is the receiver of the action. In the sentence "Alfred ate the cakes," "cakes" is the direct object."

dual:    One of the three possible numbers for an Old English pronoun (the others are singular and plural). The dual form is used to indicate two closely associated persons—two people working or fighting together, husband and wife, or lovers.


ending:    Also called suffixes, endings or inflections are groups of letters attached to the ends of words to indicate the grammatical relationships.


facsimile:    A photographic reproduction of a manuscript is called a facsimile.

feminine:    A grammatical gender category. Feminine words can (in the case of pronouns) indicate the actual gender of a pronoun (i.e., we use “she” to indicate a female agent), but they also can simply indicate the grammatical category into which a word fits.

front vowel:    A vowel pronounced in the front of the mouth. In Old English e and i are back vowels.

function word:    What we are calling "function words" are prepositions and conjunctions that don't mean anything in themselves but serve to indicate the ways other words relate to each other. Prepositions indicate relationships, and conjunctions join things together. In the sentences "Alfred fought with the vikings and won the battle by the thorn tree," "with" and "by" are prepositions that indicate relationships (where the battle was fought and whom it was fought against) and "and" indicates that two parts of the sentence are joined together.


genitive:    The possession case, the genitive case is used to indicate ownership.

gerund:    A verb used as a noun (in Modern English with an “–ing” ending) is a gerund. In the sentence “Reading was Alfred’s favorite leisure activity,” “reading” is a gerund.

gloss:    Translations, interpretations or descriptions written above a line of text are called glosses.


helping verb:    These verbs, sometimes known as auxiliary verbs, are combined with the main verb in a sentence. Helping verbs often give information about time, completion of an action or probability of an action. In the sentence “Alfred had ruled for ten years,” “had” is the helping verb.


if-clause:    One of the ways Modern English handles the subjunctive mood is via the “if-clause,” which indicates possibility or conditionality rather than certainty.


imperative:    The imperative mood is used for commands: “Walk to the store!” is in the imperative mood. In both Modern English and Old English the second-person subject of the sentence (“you”) can be deleted in sentences in the imperative mood.

indicative:    The indicative mood is used for statements: “I walk quickly” is in the indicative mood.

indirect object:    The indirect object is the secondary receiver of the action. In the sentence "Alfred carried the sword to the battle," "battle" is the indirect object (and "sword," which is receiving the action, is the direct object). Indirect objects are often called "objects of prepositions" because in Modern English we use prepositions to indicate the sort of action being secondarily received: in the phrases "to the battle," "with the sword," "under the thorn tree," "by the river" "battle," "sword," "tree," and "river" are the objects of their respective prepositions.

infinitive:    These verbs indicate action that can happen at any point in time (hence, "infinitive"). In Modern English they are constructed by adding the word "to" to the root form of the verb. In Old English the infinitive will end in an or ian.

inflected infinitive:    Some grammar books call this the "Old English Gerund," which is not precisely correct, but gives the idea of what the inflected infinitive is communicating. Regularly preceded by the preposition "to," the inflected infinitive is a verb form generally used to express the idea of purpose.

inflected language:    Instead of relying on word order to indicate relationships (as do analytic languages) inflected languages attach endings (inflections) to words to indicate grammatical relationships.

instrumental:    The instrumental case (which, in Old English, often has the same inflections as the dative case), is used to indicate things that are being used ("instruments").

interrogative pronoun:    A pronoun that takes the place of a personal pronoun to indicate a question. For example, “who” takes the place of “he” or “she,” changing statements like “He killed the Vikings” or “She fought that battle” into the questions “Who killed the Vikings?” and “Who found the battle?”


linking verb:    These verbs ("is," "was," "are" and other forms of the verb "to be") are used to rename or describe a subject; one useful way to analyze them is to think of linking verbs as being the same as an equals sign (=) between two things.

liquid:    Also called a “semi-vowel,” a liquid falls between a vowel and a consonant: the air flow from the lungs and through the mouth or nose is only partially obstructed, unlike a consonant, in which the stream is obstructed, or a vowel, in which it is not obstructed. Liquids in Modern English and OldEnglish include “r,” “l” and “w.”

long vowel:    A long vowel is one in which the duration of its pronunciation is relatively longer than that of a long vowel.


macron:    A horizontal bar over the top of a vowel to indicate a long vowel (à, å, è, ì, ò, ù) is called a macron. Macrons to indicate vowel length are not found in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts.

main verb:    These verbs express the main action of a sentence or clause

manuscript:    A hand-written document is called a manuscript. Anglo-Saxon manuscripts were written on parchment (sheep skin) or vellum (calf skin).

masculine:    A grammatical gender category. Masculine words can (in the case of pronouns) indicate the actual gender of a pronoun (i.e., we use “he” to indicate a male subject), but they also can simply indicate the grammatical category into which a word fits.

minor noun:    Nouns that do not fall into the major declensions (strong and weak) are considered “minor declension” nouns.

modal verb:    These verbs (also known as modal auxiliaries) can be used to indicate additional information about the verb such as probability or the completeness of an action. “Should,” “would,” “could,” “may,” and “might” are all modals in Modern English.

modifier:    Modifiers describe subjects, verbs and objects. In the sentence "With his old sword, Alfred quickly killed the viking," "old" is an adjective that modifies "sword," (it describes the condition of the sword) and "quickly" is an adverb that modifies "killed" (it explains how the killing was done). Adjectives describe subjects and objects; adverbs describe verbs and adjectives. In Old English certain pronouns (demonstratives) are used as modifiers: In the sentence "this sword belongs to that man," "this" describes the sword and "that" describes the man. Likewise "a," "an," and "the," which we call articles in Modern English, are, in Old English grammar, special pronouns (demonstratives) that are used as modifiers: "The sword" is different from "a sword" because the modifiers "the" and "a" are providing different descriptions. Genitives are an important sub-set of modifiers in Old English. Genitives are possessives: they indicate ownership. A noun with a genitive ending, like the Modern English 's, is used as an adjective to modify another noun. In the sentence "