The second layer of Latin borrowings in Old English


Area Latin Meaning OE Mod E
Representatives of new religion papa episcopus presbyter clericus monachus nonna pope bishop priest priest monk nun papa biscop prēost cleric munuc nunna pope bishop priest clerk monk nun
New religious notions   monasterium altare diabolus credo offirre monastery altar devil creed offer munster altare deofol creda offrian minster altar devil creed offer
Education magister schola master, teacher school mæ¥ester scōl master school



The total number of Latin loan-words in OE exceeds five hundred, this third layer accounting for over four hundred words.

After the introduction of Christianity many monastic schools were set up in Britain. The spread of education led to the wider use of Latin: teaching was conducted in Latin, or consisted of learning Latin. The written forms of OE developed in translations of Latin texts. These conditions are reflected in a large number of borrowings connected with education, and also words of a more academic, "bookish" character. Unlike the earlier borrowings scholarly words were largely adopted through books; they were first used in OE translations from Latin, e.g.: OE fers verse < L versus; OE dihtan compose < L dictare. Other modern descendants of this group are: accent, grammar, meter, gloss, notary; decline.

The Latin impact on the OE vocabulary was not restricted to borrowing of words. There were also other aspects of influence. The most important of them is the appearance of the so-called "translation-loans" words and phrases created on the pattern of Latin words as their literal translations. The earliest instances of translation-loans are names of the days of the week found not only in OE but also in other Germanic languages: OE Mōnan-dæ¥ Monday ('day of the moon') < L Lunae dies); Tiwes-dæ¥ Tuesday('day of Tiw') < L Mortis dies (Tiw is the name of a Teutonic god corresponding to Roman Mars). The procedure was to substitute the name of the corresponding Germanic god for the god of the Romans. Other translation-loans of the type were OE ¥ōdspell gospel (literallygood tidings) < L euangelium; OE þriness (lit. three-ness) Trinity.

In late OE, many new terms were coined from native elements according to Latin models as translation-loans: OE eorþbi¥en¥a inhabitant of the earth' < L terricola; OE ¥oldsmiþ goldsmith(worker in gold) < L aurifex;OE tun¥olcræft astronomy, lit. the knowledge of stars < L astronomos.


2. Word-formation in OE

Word structure

The bulk of the OE vocabulary consisted of native words. In the course of the OE period the vocabulary grew; it was mainly replenished from native sources, by means of word-formation. According to their morphological structure OE words (like modern words) fell into three main types:

a) simple words ("root-words") or words with a simple stem, containing a root-morpheme and no derivational affixes, e.g. land land, sin¥an sing, ¥ōdgood;

b) derived words consisting of one root-morpheme and one or more affixes, e.g. be-¥innan begin, weorþ-un¥ worthiness, un-scyld-i¥ 'innocent', ¥e-met-in¥ meeting.

c) compound words, whose stems were made up of more than one root-morpheme, e.g. mann-cynn mankind, norþe-weard northward, fēower-tiene fourteen, wall-¥eat wall gate, scir-¥e-refa sheriff.


Ways of word-formation


In OE there existed a well-developed system of word-formation. A single root could appear in many simple, derived and compound words. For instance, OE mōd mood yielded about fifty words: derived words, such as mōdi¥, ¥emōded, ofermōd ('proud', 'disposed', 'arrogance'), compound words mōd-caru, mōd-lēof, mōd-¥eþōht, ¥lædmōdnis ('care','beloved', 'thought', 'kindness'). Scores of words contained the roots of OE dæ¥ day, ¥ōd good, monn man, weorþ worth, lon¥ long.Many derivational affixes appear to have been very productive as they occurred in numerous words: a prefix wiþ- in more than fifty words, ofer- in over a hundred words.

OE employed two ways of word-formation: derivation and word-composition.



Derived words in OE were built with the help of affixes: prefixes and suffixes; in addition to these principal means of derivation, words were distinguished with the help of sound interchanges and word stress.


Suffixation was by far the most productive means of word derivation in OE. Suffixes not only modified the lexical meaning of the word but could refer it to another part of speech. Suffixes were mostly applied in forming nouns and adjectives, seldom in forming verbs.

Suffixes are usually classified according to the part of speech which they can form. In OE there were two large groups of suffixes: suffixes of nouns and suffixes of adjectives.

Substantive Suffixes

Here we find a group of suffixes which are added to substantive or verb stems to derive names of the doer. Each of them is connected with a grammatical gender.

Thus, the suffix -ere is used to derive masculine substantives: fiscere 'fisherman', fu¥elere 'fowler', wrītere 'writer', 'scribe', also þrōwere 'sufferer'. The suffix corresponds to the Gothic suffix areisin laisareis 'teacher', bōkareis 'bookman', and Russian -ap in naxap, paap. The suffix is productive.

The suffix -estre is used to derive feminine substantives: spinnestre 'spinner' bæcestre 'woman baker', also wite¥estre 'prophetess'.

The suffix -end (connected with the participle suffix -ende) is used to derive masculine substantives: frēond 'friend, fēond 'hater', 'enemy', hælend 'saviour', dēmend 'judge', wealdend 'ruler'.

The suffix -in¥ is used to derive patronymics: æðelin¥ 'son of a nobleman', 'prince', cynin¥ 'king', Æðelwulfin¥ 'son of Æthelwulf', etc. It is also used to derive substantives from adjectives, as in lítlin¥ 'baby', earmin¥ 'poor fellow'. The suffix is productive. An enlarged variant of this suffix, -ling, serves to derive substantives with some emotional colouring (depending on the meaning of the stem): ¥ōslin¥ 'gosling', dēorlin¥ 'darling', hírlin¥ 'hireling'. It is also productive.

The suffix -en is used to derive feminine substantives from masculine stems. As its original shape was -in, it is always accompanied by mutation: ¥yden 'goddess' (< *¥udin), cf. ¥ox 'god', fyxen 'vixen' (< *fuxin), cf. fox 'fox'.

The suffix -nis, -nes is used to derive abstract substantives from adjective stems: ¥ōdnis 'goodness', þrēnes 'trinity'. It is productive.

The suffix -þ, -uþ, -ōþ is used to derive abstract substantives; sometimes it is accompanied by mutation: trēowþ truth' from treow 'true, piefþ 'theft from pēof thief, ¥eo¥uþ 'youth' (cf. ¥eon¥ young), fiscoþ 'fishing', cf. fisc 'fish', huntoþ 'hunting', cf. hunta'hunter.

The suffix -un¥, -in¥ derives feminine verbal subsfantives: leornun¥, leorning learning, monun¥ 'admonishing', rædin¥ 'reading'. It is productive.

Some suffixes originated from substantives. Thus, from the substantive dōm 'doom' came the suffix -dom,as in wīsdōm 'wisdom', frēodōm 'freedom'.

The substantive hād 'title', rank yielded the suffix -hād,as in cildhād 'childhood, mæ¥zhad 'virginity'.

The substantive lāc 'gift' yielded the suffix -lac, as in rēoflāc 'robbery' from the stem of the verb rēafian 'bereave', wedlāc 'wedlock', scīnlāc 'fantasy'.

The substantive ræden arrangement', 'agreement' yielded the suffix -ræden, as in frēondræden 'friendship' sibbræden 'relationship', mannræden 'faithfulness'.

The suffix -scipe (cf. the verb scieppan 'create) is found in the substantives frēondscipe 'friendship', weorþscipe 'honour', ¥ebēorscipefeast' (from bēor 'beer').

Adjective Suffixes

The suffix -ede derives adjectives from the group adjective stem+ substantive stem, as in micelhēafdede largeheaded, sometimes from a single substantive stem: hōcede 'hooked', healede broken. It is productive.

The suffix -ihte derives adjectives from substantive stems, usually accompanied by mutation: stænihte 'stony' from stān 'stone',ðyrnihte thorny from ðorn 'thorn' (< *ðurn).

The suffix - also derives adjectives from substantive stems, sometimesaccompanied by mutation: hāli¥ holy (from hāl 'whole'), mōdi¥ 'proud' (from mōd 'feeling'), misti¥ misty (from mist 'mist'), isi¥ icy (from īs ice), bysi¥ 'busy', dysi¥ foolish. It is productive.

The suffix -en (from -in) accompanied by mutation derives adjectives from substantives: ¥ylden 'golden' from ¥old 'gold' (< *¥uld), wyllen 'woollen' (from wulle 'wool'), stænen made of stone (from stān 'stone'), līnen 'flaxen' (from lin 'flax').

The suffix -isc, usually accompanied by mutation, derives adjectives, mostly denoting nationality: En¥lisc 'English', Frencisc French, Welisc 'Welsh', mennisc human, folcisc popular. A productive suffix.

The suffix -sum derives adjectives from substantive, adjective, and verb stems: sibbsum 'peaceful' (from sibb 'peace'), lan¥sum 'dreary' (from lan¥ 'long'), hīersum 'obedient' (from hīeran 'hear', 'obey'). A productive suffix.

The suffix -feald (cf. the verb fealdan 'fold') derives adjectives from numeral and adjective stems: þriefeald 'threefold', seofonfeald'sevenfold, mani¥feald 'manifold'.

The suffix -full (from the adjective full 'full') derives adjectives from abstract substantive stems: sor¥full 'sorrowful', synnfull 'sinful', carfull 'full of care'.

The suffix -leas (from the adjective lēas 'deprived') derives adjectives from verb and substantive stems: slæplēas 'sleepless', ¥elēaflēas 'unbelieving', ārlēas 'deprived of honour', reccelēas 'reckless'.

The suffix -līc (from the substantive līc 'body') derived adjectives from substantive and adjective stems: eorþlīc 'earthly', frēondlīc 'friendly', luflīc 'full of love', ¥earlic 'yearly', ¥ōdlīc 'pleasant', dēadtīc 'deadly', ænlic 'unique'.

The suffix -weard derives adjectives from substantive, adjective, and adverb stems: hāmweard 'homeward', middeweard 'middle', inneweard 'internal'.

Verb Suffixes

Verb suffixes were few and non-productive. They can be illustrated by -s in clænsian, a verb derived from the adjective clæne (NE clean) and -læc in nēalæcan 'come near, approach' and æfenlæcan, an impersonal verb meaning 'the approach of evening (R ).

The suffix -s- accompanied by mutation derives verbs from substantive and adjective stems: blētsian 'bless' < *blēdsian (from blōd 'blood'; the original meaning was sprinkle with blood'); clænsian 'cleanse' (from clæne 'clean'), mærsian 'announce' (from mære 'famous'); ¥rimsian 'rage'.

The suffix -læc- (with mutation front -lāc-) also derives verbs: nealæcan approach', ¥erihtlæcan 'acquit'.

The suffix -ett- derives verbs: bliccettan 'sparkle', sporettan spur, cohhettan 'cough', ceahhettan 'croak'.


Prefixation was a productive way of building new words in OE.

Prefixes were widely used with verbs but were far less productive with other parts of speech. Verbs were derived from a single root with the help of different prefixes:

¥ān go faran 'travel'

ā-¥ān 'go away' ā-faran travel

be-¥ān 'go round' tō-faran 'disperse'

fore-¥ān 'precede' for-faran 'intercept'

ofer-¥ān 'traverse' forþ-faran 'die'

¥e-¥ān 'go', 'go away' ¥e-faran 'attack', etc.

The most frequent, and probably the most productive, OE prefixes were: ā-, be-, for-, fore-, ¥e-, ofer-, un-.Of these only un-was common with nouns and adjectives, the rest were mainly verb prefixes.


The prefix ā- meaning 'out of, 'from' is found, for instance, in the verbs ārīsan 'arise', āwacan 'awake', āberan 'sustain', ābys¥ian 'occupy'. A productive prefix.

A different prefix ā- (connected with the adverb ā 'always')derives generalizing pronouns and adverbs from interrogative ones,e.g.: āhwær 'everywhere' (from hwær 'where'), āhwæþer 'either'(from hwæþer 'which of the two').

The same prefix followed by tbe prefix ¥i- yields *ā¥i- > æ¥-(with mutation), æ¥-, like ā-, derives generalizing pronouns and adverbs from interrogative ones: æ¥hwæþer 'either', æ¥hwilc 'every', æ¥hwær 'anywhere'.

The prefix be- (cf. the adverb bi near and the preposition bi 'by') is added to substantives and verbs. Sometimes it preserves its original meaning 'around', sometimes its meaning is weakened. E. g.: be¥ān 'go around', 'adore', behōn 'hang with', besettan 'besiege', bewēpan 'lament', beþencan 'think over', beniman 'deprive', behēafdian 'behead'.

The prefix for- expresses destruction or loss: fordōn 'destroy', forweorþan perish.

The prefix ¥e- expresses either collectivity or perfection of an faction: ¥efēra 'fellow-traveller', ¥efylc 'troop' (cf. folc 'people'), ¥emynd 'mind', ¥esēon 'see'.

The prefix mis- means negation or bad quality: mislīcian 'displease', misdæd 'misdeed'.

The prefix of- has a reinforcing meaning: ofslēan 'kill', oftēon 'take away'.

The prefix on- (corresponding to German ent-, emp-, as in enltassen, empfangen) means change or separation: onbindan 'unbind', fonlūcan 'unlock'. In some cases its meaning is weakened, as in onfōn 'accept', ondrædan 'dread'.

The prefix to- expresses destruction: tōbrecan 'break', tōteran tear'.

The prefix un- has a negative meaning: uncuþ 'unknown'. Sometimes it means 'bad': undæd ''misdeed'. A productive prefix.

The prefix wan- also has a negative meaning: wanhāl 'unwell'.


Composition is widely used in OE. There are compound nouns, adjectives, and, in lesser number, verbs.

Compound nouns can be formed by joining:

(1) noun + noun: æfentīd evening time, ¥oldsmiþ goldsmith;

(2) adjective + noun: cwicseolfor quicksilver.

Compound adjectives can be formed by joining:

(1) noun + adjective: wīn-sæd satiated with wine;

(2) adjective + adjective: wīd-cūþ: widely known;

(3) adjective + noun: blīþ-heort happy-hearted, ¥læd-mod glad-minded.

Sometimes the first component takes the form of the genitive case, as Mōnandæ¥ (literally Moons day) Monday, Tīwesdæ¥ (literally Tiws, the war gods, day) Tuesday, Wednesday Wodens day, Wednesday, þunresdæ¥ (Thunors, the god of thunders, day) Thursday, Fri¥edæ¥ (Friyas day) Friday, Sæternesdæ¥ (Saturns day) Saturday, Sunnandæ¥ (Suns day) Sunday, En¥laland (Angles land) England, Francnaland (Franks land) France, witena¥emōt (wise mens assembly) State council, Snotin¥ahām (home of Snots descendants) Nottingham, Oxenaford (oxens ford) Oxford, dæ¥esēa¥e (days eye) daisy.

Compound verbs are rare. An example is efenþrōwian sympathize (literally: suffer together).

The remarkable capacity of OE for derivation and word-composition is manifested in numerous words formed with the help of several methods: un-wis-dōm folly un- - negative prefix, wis adjective-stem (NE wise), dōm noun-stem turning into a suffix; þēaw-fæst-nes discipline þēaw n custom, fæst adj firm (NE fast), -nes - suffix.



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