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Old High German is an inflected language, and as such its nouns, pronouns, and adjectives must be declined in order to serve a grammatical function. A set of declined forms of the same word pattern is called a declension. There are five grammatical cases in Old High German.

Grammatical cases

A complete declension consists of five grammatical cases.

Description of cases

Order of cases

English grammars of Old High German often present the cases in the order NOM-ACC-GEN-DAT-INST.

Strong vocalic declensions

Note: Declensions are named according to their form in Proto-Germanic. Often intervening sound changes render the once transparent stem endings opaque, and the name may no longer make much sense synchronically.

The -a declension

This declension has as counterparts the second declension (us/um) of Latin and the omicron declension (os/on) of Greek. It contains masculine and neuter nouns.

tag; tagā (-a)
day m.
wort; wort
word n.
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative, Accusative tag tagā (-a) –ā (–a) wort wort
Genitive tages (-as) –es (–as) tago –o wortes (-as) –es (–as) worto –o
Dative tage (-a) –e (–a) tagum (-om, -un, -on) –um (–om, –un, –on) worte (-a) –e (–a) wortum (-om, -un, -on) –um (–om, –un, –on)
Instrumental tagu (-o) –u (–o) -- -- wortu (-o) –u (–o) -- --

Examples of masculine nouns declined like tag "day": bërg "mountain", wëg "way", geist "spirit", himil "heaven", tiufal "devil", kuning "king". Notes:

Examples of neuter nouns declined like wort: barn "child", sēr "pain", swërt "sword", honag "honey". Notes:

The -ja declension

This declension was originally just the -a declension with an immediately preceding j. However, due to various sound laws, a new declension subcategory has arisen that does not exactly follow the form of the plain -a declension. Similar developments occurred in Greek and the Slavic languages, among others.

This declension has as counterparts the second declension nouns in (-ius/-ium) of Latin. The counterparts in Greek are some second declension nouns in (-ios/-ion), as well as many that show effects of palatalization (e.g., -zdos < *-gyos or *-dyos; -llos < *-lyos; -ptos < -*pyos; -ssos or -ttos < -*tyos; -airos/-eiros/-oiros < *-aryos/-eryos/-oryos; -ainos/-einos/-oinos < *-anyos/enyos/onyos; etc., and similarly for neuter nouns in -ion or *-yon). It contains masculine and neuter nouns.

hirti; hirte / hirtā (-a)
shepherd m.
kunni; kunni
race n.
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Early Late Early Late Early Late Early Late
Nominative, Accusative hirti –i hirti –i hirte –e hirtā (-a) –ā (–a) kunni -i kunni -i kunni -i kunni -i
Genitive hirtes –es hirtes –es hirteo (-io) –eo (–io) hirto –o kunnes –es kunnes –es kunneo (-io) –eo (–io) kunno –o
Dative hirtie –ie hirte –e hirtum (-un, -on) –um (–un, –on) hirtim (-in) –im (–in) kunnie –ie kunne –e kunnum (-un, -on) –um (–un, –on) kunnim (-in) –im (–in)
Instrumental hirtiu –iu hirtu (-o) –u (–o) -- -- -- -- kunniu –iu kunnu (-o) –u (–o) -- -- -- --

Note that the transition from early to late forms occurred during the ninth century. Late-form ja-stems are declined identically to a-stems except for the added -i in the neuter nominative and accusative, and in the masculine nominative and accusative singular. Compare the equivalent nouns in Old English, e.g. rīce "kingdom" (neuter).

Sample nouns like hirti: agent nouns in -āri (-ari, -eri), e.g. wahtāri (-ari, -eri) "watchman", lērāri "teacher", scrībāri "writer, scribe"; also, karkāri "prison", altāri "altar", rucki "back", phuzzi, puzzi "well", kāsi "cheese".

Sample nouns like kunni: enti "end", rīhhi "kingdom", betti "bed", gizungi "language", finstarnessi "darkness", heri "army" (genitive singular heries, dative singular herie, herige).

The -wa declension

snēo, snē; snēwā (-a)
snow m.
kneo; kneo
knee n.
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative, Accusative snēo, snē –o, – snēwā (-a) –wā (–wa) kneo –o, – kneo –o, –
Genitive snēwes –wes snēwo –wo knëwes –wes knëwo –wo
Dative snēwe –e snēwum (–un, –on) –um (–un, –on) knëwe –e knëwum (–un, –on) –um (–un, –on)

Notes:

Among the other nouns in this declension:

The -ō declension

This declension counterparts the first declension (a) of Latin, and the alpha declension (a/as) of Greek. It contains feminine nouns. The nominative, which should have had the ending -u, has been merged with the accusative in -a.[2]

gëba; gëbā
gift f.
Singular Plural
Nominative, Accusative gëba –a gëbā –ā
Genitive gëba (-u, -o) –a (–u, –o) gëbōnō –ōnō
Dative gëbu (-o) –u (–o) gëbōm (-ōn, -on) –ōm (–ōn, –on)

Sample nouns of this declension: gëba "gift", ërda "earth", ēra "honor", zala "number", triuwa "fidelity", corunga "temptation", hertida "hardness", miltida "compassion", gi-nāda "favor", lōsunga "deliverance", stunta "time".

The -jō declension

sunta; sunte, -eā (-iā) / suntā
sin f.
kuningin; kuninginnā
queen f.
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Early #1 Early #2 Late Early #1 Early #2 Late
Nominative, sunte –e suntea (-ia) –ea (–ia) sunta –a sunte –e suntea (-ia) –ea (–ia) suntā –ā kuningin –in kuninginnā –innā
Accusative sunte –e suntea (-ia) –ea (–ia) sunta –a sunte –e suntea (-ia) –ea (–ia) suntā –ā kuninginna (-in) –inna (–in) kuninginnā –innā
Genitive sunte –e suntea (-ia) –ea (–ia) sunta (-u, -o) –a (–u, –o) sunteōno –eōno sunteōno –eōno suntōno –ōno kuninginna –inna kuninginnōno –innōno
Dative suntiu –iu suntiu –iu suntu (-o) –u (–o) sunteōm –eōm sunteōm –eōm suntōm (-ōn) –ōm (–ōn) kuninginnu –innu kuninginnōm (-ōn) –innōm (–innōn)

Sample nouns like sunta: hella "hell", sibba, sippa "peace", minna "love", krippa "manger".

Sample nouns like kuningin: forasagin "prophetess", friuntin "friend", burdin "burden".

The -i declension

This declension counterparts the vowel stems of the third declension (is) of Latin, and the third declension of Greek. It contains masculine and feminine nouns. Note that masculine nouns have become identical to -a stem nouns in the singular, while feminine nouns have preserved the original declension.

gast; gesti
guest m.
anst; ensti
favor f.
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Early Late Early Late Early Late Early Late
Nominative, Accusative gast gast gesti –i gesti –i anst ansti ensti –i ensti –i
Genitive gastes –es gastes –es gesteo (-io) –eo (–io) gesto –o ensti –i ensti –i ensteo (-io) –eo (–io) ensto –o
Dative gaste –e gaste –e gestim (-in) –im (–in) gesten –en ansti –i ansti –i enstim (-in) –im (–in) ensten –en
Instrumental gastiu (gestiu) –iu gastu –u -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

The -u declension

This declension was much more reduced compared to other old Germanic languages such as Old English. Most nouns were transferred outright to the i- or sometimes the a-declension, and the remaining nouns were heavily influenced by the i-declension—only the nominative and accusative singular are different, ending in -u.

situ; siti
custom m.
fihu
cattle n.
Singular Plural Singular
Early Late Early Late
Nominative, Accusative situ –u situ –u siti –i siti –i fihu –u
Genitive sites –es sites –es siteo (-io) –eo (–io) sito –o fihes –es
Dative site –e site –e sitim (-in) –im (–in) siten –en fihe –e
Instrumental sitiu (sitiu) –iu situ –u -- -- -- -- -- --

Notes:

The -ī declension

This class consists of feminine abstract nouns and came about through the falling together of two declensions that were still different in Gothic: compare the Gothic -ei stems (a subclass of the weak declension, formed from adjectives, e.g. diupei "depth", genitive diupeins, from diups "deep") and -eins stems (a subclass of the i-declension, formed from Class I weak verbs, e.g. dáupeins "a dipping", genitive dáupeináis, from dáupjan "to dip").

hōhī (hōhīn); hōhī (hōhīn)
height f.
Singular Plural
Nominative, Accusative hōhī (hōhīn) –ī (–īn) hōhī (hōhīn) –ī (–īn)
Genitive hōhī (hōhīn) –ī (–īn) hōhīno –īno
Dative hōhī (hōhīn) –ī (–īn) hōhīm (hōhīn) –īm (–īn)

Examples of other members of this class: scōnī "beauty", suoẓẓī "sweetness", snëllī "quickness", tiufī "depth", menigī, managī "multitude", irstantanī "resurrection", toufī "a dipping", welī "choice", leitī "a leading", riudī "mange".

Strong consonantal declensions

The monosyllabic consonant declension

man; man
man m.
naht; naht
night f.
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative, Accusative man man naht naht
Genitive mannes –es manno –o naht nahto –o
Dative man, manne –, –e mannum (-om, -un, -on) –um (–om, –un, –on) naht nahtum (-un, -on) –um (–un, –on)

This class was already falling apart in the earliest texts:

The -r declension

fater; faterā (-a)
father m.
muoter; muoter
mother f.
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Early Late Early Late
Nominative, Accusative fater fater faterā (-a) –ā (–a) faterā (-a) –ā (–a) muoter muoter
Genitive fater fateres –es fatero –o fatero –o muoter muotero –o
Dative fater fatere –e faterum –um faterun (-on) –un (–on) muoter muoterum (-un, -on) –um (–un, –on)

The -nd declension

friunt; friunt, friuntā (-a)
friend m.
Singular Plural
Early Late
Nominative, Accusative friunt friunt friuntā (-a) –ā (–a)
Genitive friuntes –es friunto –o friunto –o
Dative friunte –e friuntum –um friuntun (-on) –un (–on)

This declension has almost entirely merged with the a-declension. Only in early texts do the nominative and accusative plural have a separate, endingless form.

A large number of nouns belong to this declension, such as fīant "enemy", wīgant "warrior", and many others in -ant.

The -z declension

This class consists of neuter nouns and corresponds to Greek neuters in -os and Latin neuters in -us (genitive -eris, -oris). Formally, these nouns look like regular neuters except that a suffix -ir (from Proto-Germanic -iz-, from Proto-Indo-European -es-) is added to the stem in the plural and triggers umlaut. This class was massively expanded in Middle and Modern High German.

lamb; lembir
lamb n.
Singular Plural
Early Late
Nominative, Accusative lamb lembir –ir lembir –ir
Genitive lambes –es lembiro –iro lembiro –iro
Dative lambe –e lembirum (-irom) –irum (–irom) lembirun (-iron) –irun (–iron)
Instrumental lambu (-o) –u (–o) -- -- -- --

A small number of nouns were declined according to this declension, among them lamb "lamb", kalb "calf", blat "leaf", and grab "grave".

The weak declension

hano; hanon (-un)
cock m.
hërza; hërzun (-on)
heart n.
zunga; zungūn
tongue f.
Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative hano –o hanon (-un) –on (–un) hërza –a hërzun (-on) –un (–on) zunga –a zungūn –ūn
Accusative hanon (-un) –on (–un) hanon (-un) –on (–un) hërza –a hërzun (-on) –un (–on) zungūn –ūn zungūn –ūn
Genitive hanen (-in) –en (–in) hanōno –ōno hërzen (-in) –en (–in) hërzōno –ōno zungūn –ūn zungōno –ōno
Dative hanen (-in) –en (–in) hanōm (-ōn) –ōm (–ōn) hërzen (-in) –en (–in) hërzōm (-ōn) –ōm (–ōn) zungūn –ūn zungōm (-ōn) –ōm (–ōn)

Adjectives

Adjectives in Old High German, as in the other Germanic languages, can be declined according to two different paradigms, commonly called "strong" and "weak". This represents a significant innovation in Germanic, although a similar development has taken place in the Baltic and Slavic languages.

Adjectives in Proto-Indo-European—as is still the case in Latin, Greek, and most other daughters—are declined in exactly the same way as nouns. Germanic "strong" adjectives, however, take many of their endings from the declension of pronouns, while "weak" adjectives take the endings of -n stem nouns, regardless of the underlying stem class of the adjective.

In general, weak adjectival endings are used when the adjective is accompanied by a definite article, and strong endings are used in other situations. However, weak endings are occasionally used in the absence of a definite article, and cause the associated noun to have the same semantics as if a definite article were present. In addition, some adjectives are always declined weak or strong, regardless of any accompanying articles.

Strong adjectives are inflected according to a single paradigm, the a/ō-declension. Additional subclasses, the ja/jō- and wa/wō-declensions, differ only in the uninflected forms. Unlike in Gothic, no i-stem or u-stem adjectives exist any more.

The strong -a/-ō declension

blint; blintēr, blintaẓ, blintiu
blind
Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative blintēr, blint –ēr, – blintaẓ, blint –aẓ, – blintiu, blint –iu, – blinte (blint) –e (–) blintiu (blint) –iu (–) blinto (blint) –o (–)
Accusative blintan –an blintaẓ, blint –aẓ, – blinta –a blinte –e blintiu –iu blinto –o
Genitive blintes –es blintes –es blintera –era blintero –ero blintero –ero blintero –ero
Dative blintemu (–emo) –emu (–emo) blintemu (–emo) –emu (–emo) blinteru (–ero) –eru (–ero) blintēm (–ēn) –ēm (–ēn) blintēm (–ēn) –ēm (–ēn) blintēm (–ēn) –ēm (–ēn)
Instrumental blintu (–o) –u (–o) blintu (–o) –u (–o) -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Note that an uninflected form optionally occurs in the nominative singular and plural of all genders, and in the accusative singular of the neuter. In the singular cases, either form can be used when the adjective is used attributively (blint man or blintēr man "blind man") or predicatively (dër man ist blintēr or dër man ist blint "the man is blind"). In the plural, the uninflected form can be used as an alternative to the inflected form only when used predicatively (die man sint blinte or die man sint blint "the men are blind"), but not attributively (only blinte man "blind men" can occur).

The existence of two forms of the adjective, one inflected and one uninflected, is for the most part an innovation of Old High German that is not present in the other Germanic languages. In Proto-Germanic, as still in Gothic and Old Saxon, only the neuter singular nominative and accusative had a dual form. In the other old Germanic languages, one or the other neuter form was generalized. The –ēr and –iu endings are also innovations specific to Old High German, based on the third-person personal pronouns. The inherited masculine ending would be (compare Old English masculine nominative singular blind), and the ending corresponding to –iu would likely either be or –a.

The strong -ja/-jō declension

Adjectives of the ja/jō-declension differ from normal a/ō-declension adjectives only in the uninflected form, which ends with an -i. For example, scōni "beautiful" has masculine nominative singular scōnēr. Other examples of such adjectives are festi "fast", māri "famous", tiuri "dear", biderbi "useful", as well as present participles, such as bëranti "bearing".

The strong -wa/-wō declension

Similarly to ja/jō-stem adjectives, adjectives of the wa/wō-declension differ from normal a/ō-declension adjectives only in the uninflected form, which ends with an -o, like the corresponding nouns. Unlike the ja/jō-stems, however, the -w- in the stem does appear in the inflected forms. Also like the corresponding nouns, if the stem ends in a consonant preceding the final -w, an epenthetic -a- usually develops in the inflected forms between the consonant and the -w. For example, garo "ready" has inflected nominative singular garawēr or sometimes garwēr, while fao, fō "little" has inflected nominative singular fawēr. Other examples of such adjectives are gëlo "yellow", zëso "right(-handed)", slēo, slē "dull", frao, frō "joyful", rao, rō "raw".

The weak declension

The weak declension for adjectives is identical to the corresponding weak declensions for masculine, neuter and feminine nouns.

Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative blinto –o blinta –a blinta –a blinton (-un) –on (–un) blinton (-un) –on (–un) blintūn –ūn
Accusative blinton (-un) –on (–un) blinta –a blintūn –ūn blinton (-un) –on (–un) blinton (-un) –on (–un) blintūn –ūn
Genitive blinten (-in) –en (–in) blinten (-in) –en (–in) blintūn –ūn blintōno –ōno blintōno –ōno blintōno –ōno
Dative blinten (-in) –en (–in) blinten (-in) –en (–in) blintūn –ūn blintōm (-ōn) –ōm (–ōn) blintōm (-ōn) –ōm (–ōn) blintōm (-ōn) –ōm (–ōn)

ja/jō-stem and wa/wō-stem adjectives have identical endings, along with the same stem forms as in the strong inflected forms. For example, scōni "beautiful" has weak masculine nominative singular scōno, while garo "ready" has weak masculine nominative singular gar(a)wo.

Numerals

Cardinal Ordinal
one ein ēristo, furisto
two zwei ander
three drī dritto
four feor, fior feordo, fiordo
five fimf, finf fimfto, finfto
six sëhs sëhsto
seven sibun sibunto
eight ahto ahtodo
nine niun niunto
ten zëhan, zëhen zëhanto
eleven einlif einlifto
twelve zwelif zwelifto
thirteen drīzëhan drittozëhanto
fourteen fiorzëhan fiordozëhanto
fifteen finfzëhan finftazëhanto
sixteen sëhszëhan sëhstazëhanto
seventeen *sibunzëhan sibuntozëhanto
eighteen ahtozëhan ahtodazëhanto
nineteen niunzëhan niuntazëhanto
twenty zweinzug zweinzugōsto
thirty drīẓẓug, drīẓug drīẓugōsto
forty fiorzug fiorzugōsto
fifty finfzug finfzugōsto
sixty sëhszug sëhszugōsto
seventy sibunzug sibunzugōsto
eighty ahtozug ahtozugōsto
ninety niunzug niunzugōsto
hundred zëhanzug, hunt zëhanzugōsto
two hundred zwei hunt
thousand thūsunt, dūsunt

ein "one" is normally declined a strong adjective, but is declined as a weak adjective when meaning "alone".

zwei "two" and drī "three" decline as follows:

zwēne; zwei; zwā (zwō)
two
Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative, Accusative zwēne zwei zwā (zwō)
Genitive zweio zweio zweio
Dative zweim, zwein zweim, zwein zweim, zwein
drī; driu; drīo
three
Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative, Accusative drī driu drīo
Genitive drīo drīo drīo
Dative drim, drin drim, drin drim, drin

Cardinal numerals feor, fior "four" through zwelif "twelve" are indeclinable adjectives when standing before a noun, but after a noun or when used as a noun decline as follows (approximately, as i-stems):

sëhsi; sëhsiu, sëhsu
six
Masculine/Feminine Neuter
Early Late Early Late
Nominative, Accusative sëhsi –i sëhsi –i sëhsiu –iu sëhsu –u
Genitive sëhseo –eo sëhso –o sëhseo –eo sëhso –o
Dative sëhsim –im sëhsin –in sëhsim –im sëhsin –in

Cardinal numerals zweinzug "20" through zëhanzug "100" are indeclinable nouns, with an associated noun in the genitive plural. hunt "100" presumably behaves like zëhanzug. dūsunt, thūsunt "1000" is mostly treated as a feminine noun, but sometimes as a neuter noun.

The ordinal ander "second" (inflected as anderēr, anderaẓ, anderiu) follows the strong adjectival declension, while the remaining ordinals follow the weak declension.

Other numeral forms:

Pronouns

Personal pronouns

Case ih; wir
I; we
Singular Plural
Nominative ih wir
Accusative mih unsih
Genitive mīn unsēr
Dative mir uns
Case dū, du; ir
you
Singular Plural
Nominative dū, du ir
Accusative dih iuwih
Genitive dīn iuwēr
Dative dir iu
Case ër; iẓ; siu; etc.
he; it; she; they
Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative ër iẓ siu; sī, si sie siu sio
Accusative inan, in iẓ sia (sie) sie siu sio
Genitive (sīn) is, ës ira (iru, iro) iro iro iro
Dative imu, imo imu, imo iru, iro im, in im, in im, in

Reflexive pronoun

Case sih
oneself
Singular Plural
Nominative -- --
Accusative sih sih
Genitive sīn (ira) (iro)
Dative (imu, iru) (im)

Possessive pronouns

First and second person possessive pronouns are based on the genitive case of the corresponding personal pronouns, and are declined strong: first person mīnēr, unserēr (or unsarēr), second person dīnēr, iuwerēr (or iuwarēr). The third person possessive pronoun is undeclined for case:

Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
sīn sīn ira iro

In Franconian, shortened forms of unsēr and iuwēr exist, e.g.:

Case unsēr; unsaẓ; unsu
our
Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative unsēr unsaẓ unsu unse unsu unso
Accusative unsan unsaẓ unsa unse unsu unso
Genitive unses unses unsera unsero unsero unsero
Dative unsemo unsemo unseru unsēm, unsen unsēm, unsen unsēm, unsen

Demonstrative pronouns / Definite articles

Case dër; daẓ; diu
the
Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative dër daẓ diu dē, dea, dia, die diu, (dei) deo, dio
Accusative dën daẓ dea, dia (die) dē, dea, dia, die diu, (dei) deo, dio
Genitive dës dës dëra, (dëru, dëro) dëro dëro dëro
Dative dëmu, dëmo dëmu, dëmo dëru, dëro dēm, dēn dēm, dēn dēm, dēn
Instrumental diu diu

In the Franconian dialects:

dëse, dësēr; diz; dësiu, disiu (thisu); etc.
this; these
Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative dëse, dësēr diz dësiu, disiu (thisu) dëse dësiu, disiu (thisu) dëso
Accusative dësan diz dësa dëse dësiu, disiu (thisu) dëso
Genitive dësses dësses dësera dësero dësero dësero
Dative dësemu, dësemo dësemu, dësemo dëseru dësēm, dësen dësēm, dësen dësēm, dësen
Instrumental dësiu, dësu; disiu, disu dësiu, dësu; disiu, disu -- -- -- --

Interrogative pronouns

(h)wër; (h)waẓ
who, what, which
Singular
Masculine/Feminine Neuter
Nominative (h)wër (h)waẓ
Accusative (h)wënan, wën (h)waẓ
Genitive (h)wës (h)wës
Dative hwëmu, wëmo hwëmu, wëmo
Instrumental (h)wiu, hiu (h)wiu, hiu

Notes:

Additional interrogatives:

All were declined as strong adjectives.

Indefinite pronouns

Old High German had a number of indefinite pronominal forms.

The following were declined as strong adjectives:

The following were declined according to the interrogative-pronoun declension:

The following were declined as nouns:

References

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2010)

See also