A Review of Grammatical Concepts

Parts of Speech

We want to get right into translating and reading Old English sentences, but first we need to review a few basic grammatical concepts. Since no one speaks Old English as a native language (though some scholars are so good with it that they come close; J.R.R. Tolkien could compose poetry in Old English), we can't use many of the conversational approaches used to teach modern languages. Old English is thus taught the way Latin was taught for centuries: as a "dead" language, one that people read more than they speak. This grammar book attempts to make such an approach easier and more exciting than earlier methods of teaching, but in the end there is a significant amount of memorization that one has to do in order to understand the texts. Of course there is the memorization of vocabulary words, which is necessary for learning all languages. But to understand Old English, a student needs to learn to recognize certain grammatical concepts. While using the approach of "it just feels right" can be a perfectly acceptable approach to learning the grammar of a living, spoken language, it simply isn't a powerful enough tool for learning Old English. We need some terms to talk about grammar.

We begin with a review of the parts of speech. Every word in a language can be put into one or more categories that explain how that word is used. Knowing what part of speech a word is will help you to translate Old English. There are, for our purposes in this simplified grammar book, seven parts of speech that you need to be able to recognize.

Nouns: "A noun is a person, place or thing" is a rough definition of nouns. Nouns are naming words. King, Alfred, crown, kingdom, power are all nouns.

Verbs: "Verb: That's what's happening." Verbs are action words. Ruled, wears, carries, to wander, fought are all verbs.

Pronouns: Pronouns are used in place of nouns. He, she, it, who, whom, that, which, we, they, us are all pronouns. (Note: In Old English we are going group words like this, that, these,andthose,and a, an, and the with the pronouns. We'll call them all "demonstrative pronouns," though grammarians would probably call them "articles," and linguists would identify them as "determiners").

Adjectives: Adjectives are words used to describe nouns. Royal, golden, lofty, powerful, hardy, strong are all adjectives.

Adverbs: Adverbs are words used to describe verbs or adjectives. Slowly, steadily, angrily, powerfully, and very are all adverbs.

Prepositions: Prepositions are short explanatory words that indicate things such as location, direction and possession: with, to, under, over, by, for are all prepositions.

Conjunctions: Conjunctions are connecting words: and, but, or, nor are all conjunctions.

Click here for some exercises to practice recognizing the parts of speech.