Chapter 5: Relative Pronouns

The relative pronouns are the second key to successfully translating Old English. A large proportion of student frustrations with translation come from sentences that use relatives. If you take some extra time, as you did with the demonstratives, to really understand the concepts in this chapter, you'll save yourself some later irritation.

First we need to introduce the grammatical concept of a clause. A clause is a part of a sentence that has its own subject and predicate (a predicate can be simply a verb, or it can include a verb and an object). A relative clause is a clause that modifies a noun or a pronoun elsewhere in the sentence.

For example, in the sentence:

Alfred was the leader who defeated the Vikings.

"who defeated the vikings" is a clause that modifies (describes) "leader"

The clause "who defeated the Vikings" is called relative because it renames or explains a noun in the sentence; "who" is relative (in this case) to "leader".

In Anglo-Saxon there is a relative particle, þe, which has the same form for all cases, numbers and genders. The relative particle is often combined with one of the demonstrative or personal pronouns to indicate the gender, number and case of the thing being described.

It is often easiest to approximately translate a relative pronoun as "which" to get the general idea of the grammatical structure of the sentence. Once you have that structure in mind you can figure out whether to refine your translation as "which," "that," "who" or "whom."

Translation Tip: Students often get confused in translating because they translate "þe" as "the" (which is understandable, since they sound the same). If you make an effort to automatically translate "þe" as "which", you won't have this problem.

The relative particle is þe. It is the same for every grammatical case.

Often a demonstrative pronoun comes immediately before þe in the sentence. For example, "þone þe" or "se þe."

Sometimes the relative particle will be left off and the demonstrative alone will have to be translated as a relative: þone. These are the tricky ones, and you'll have to use the context of the sentence to determine if you have a garden-variety demonstrative (which is usually followed by an adject or adjective-noun combination) or a relative (which may be followed by a complex clause).

In all cases you are safe translating a relative as "which".


Some examples:

This is the sword þe I found. (which I found)

They were the people þe we went with. (whom we went with).

We climbed the mountain þe was in Wales. (which was in Wales).

Adding demonstrative pronouns:

This is the friend þy þe I will talk: (with whom I will talk).

Give it to him, þone þe I called. (he whom I called).

Alfred ate the cakes, þara þe he had been given. (those which he had been given)


Demonstrative pronouns used as relatives without þe:


He is the scholar þy I will meet: (with whom I will meet).

Carry it to him , þone I pointed out. (he whom I pointed out).

Wulfgar blessed the wine and bread, þara he was given. (those which he was given).


Chapter 5 Vocabulary Words

Some exercises to practice translating Relative Pronouns