In Grammar By Olga

History of irregular forms of nouns in the English language

Have you ever wondered why the English language has become so popular around the world? Of course, there are many different theories about this: historical and geographical, and socio-cultural, and others. Yet anyone who has tried to learn than English, other languages ​​will respond unequivocally: «It is popular because it is relatively easy to learn.» Well, for example, you have learned the word «table» — table — and everything! No you «table», «table», «table», and then another «table», «table», «table» and other difficulties associated with the cases, numbers, and if you still remember the declination … Indeed, if the study of verbs in English sometimes causes despondency (besides that a bunch of wrong, so also with the times, not all clear :-)), the nouns in the English language, please. Lack of birth, case endings and declensions of nouns greatly simplifies their study and application in question. But it was not always …

Let’s look at the history and see which way passed English nouns, before being brought to us. This excursion into history will help us to see where there were irregular forms of nouns in modern English language and what their roots are.

If we look at the Old English language, it does not differ much from the other languages ​​of the group. In it were the usual singular: the truth, not 6, as in the Russian language, and 4, as in the modern German language. And the nouns in different cases have different endings. Moreover, there are 3 different declension of nouns, which are respectively inclined on cases in three different ways. Well it does not rejoice in what we teach modern English, not the old version! So, look at the three declension of nouns, typical of Old English and in their case endings.

The first decline was called transparent, and still he was often called strong because the case endings of declination different from each other more than the other two. He was treated nouns are masculine and neuter. Consider the word stan (the present-day. Eng. Stone — stone).

Table 1. vowels, a strong decline

Cases Only Plural
Nominative (Nominative) Stan Stanas
Genitive (Genitive) Stanes Stana
Dative (Dative) Stane Stanum
Accusative (Accusative) Stan Stanas

Second declension called consonant, and case endings in it often coincided, losing its distinctive force. Therefore, it was called weak. Example — the word nama (the present-day. Engl. Name — the name).

Table 2. According to the weak declension

Cases Only Plural
Nominative (Nominative) Nama Naman
Genitive (Genitive) Naman Namena
Dative (Dative) Naman Namum
Accusative (Accusative) Naman Naman

Third declension called the root, as in nouns belonging to this group, in some cases shall varied root vowel. These words were few, but they were used in speech often enough. An example of a noun belonging to this group, — mann (sovr.angl. Man — man, man).

Table 3. Root decline

Cases Only Plural
Nominative (Nominative) Mann Menn
Genitive (Genitive) Mannes Manna
Dative (Dative) Menn Mannum
Accusative (Accusative) Mann Menn

At close examination it is easy to see that the case endings in Old English declinations are not very different from each other and often coincided. The end of that match, lose their power to show differences of cases, it is not surprising that over time, they simply stopped using. The strong decline was prevalent, because the number of words belonging to it, significantly higher than all the others, besides, they are more likely to meet in the speech. As it is usually the case in life, the strongest wins. That is why the plural nominative case of the vowel declension (see. Table 1) was taken as a rule of formation of plural and is used with the majority of nouns and today.

Still missing declines have left their mark in the language and a bit complicated the lives of those who are learning English. Such forms as a child — children (childchildren), ox — oxen (bull — bulls) as well as a form of brethren (brothers), who belonged to the consonant decline, retained their old form for the plural. Exceptions resulting from the root of decline, are more numerous.

Table 4. Current exceptions to the rule because the root declension

Singular Plural Translation
Man Men The man — men
Woman Women Woman women
Goose Geese Gus — the geese
Tooth Teeth Tooth teeth
Foot Feet The leg (foot) — legs
Mouse Mice Mouse — mouse
Louse Lice Louse — head lice

It is interesting that when you transfer the word to more modern subjects «antique» plural form is not saved. For example, studies show that most of the speakers, talking about the computer mouse (computer mouse), used in the plural form mouses, but not mice. That is, if the current word, then the grammar to it is necessary to apply a modern, rather than historical.

Another group of words that does not meet the rules of forming plurals, — these are the words in which singular and plural are the same. It is known to the representatives of the animal world: a sheep — sheep (sheep — sheep), a deer — deer (deer — deer), a swine — swine (pig — pig), a fish — fish (fish — fish). In this case, the explanation is quite vital base. According to scientists, the shape did not change in the plural, because these animals live in herds and herd can be considered as a single entity. As for the fish, many species are moving in the water, going to the schools, that is, they can also be considered one. Of course, this does not explain why other species of animals, gathering in groups that are not subjected to the same principle. But if you look at the historical context, hunting wild boar and deer was the most popular in the British Isles at the time, and the sheep — the main strategically important animals. Perhaps it is the frequency of use of these words in the plural and has caused such changes.

Of course, the «wrongness» of nouns does not end with these exceptions, there is also a large group of Latin and Greek debt, which retained their plural form of the original language. Most of them belong to the academic field and represents a variety of terms. Examples of such words with explanations can be found in the following video.

And if someone has a desire to learn about all forms of irregular nouns and systematize knowledge on this issue, this video from the Crown Academy English will be very useful for this purpose.

As you can see, even in irregular plurals have a logical explanation. In the history of the language it is very interesting to dig so many phenomena are becoming more apparent to remember. I also suggest to take the test on plural nouns, test your skills!



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