Grammatical change from Middle English to Early Modern English


These translations of the Christian bible from the 14th century through the twentieth century illustrate some of the main grammatical changes.



Noun morphology/reflexive pronouns




  And the i3en of bothe weren openid; and whanne thei knewen that thei weren nakid,

thei sewiden the leeues of a fige tre, and maden brechis to hem silf.



  KJV (1611)


  And the eyes of them both were opened, & they knew that they were naked,

  and they sewed figge leaues together, and made themselues aprons.




Loss of thou/Subjunctive vs. indicative/phrasal verbs



  in swoot of thi cheer thou schalt ete thi breed, til thou turne a3en

in to the erthe of which thou art takun; for thou art dust, and thou schalt turne a3en

in to dust."


  KJV (1611)

  In the sweate of thy face shalt thou eate bread, till thou returne

vnto the  ground: for out of it wast thou taken, for dust thou art, and vnto dust shalt thou returne.


  PURVER (1764)

  Nay eat Victuals in the Sweat of thy Brows, till thou returnest to the Ground,

since thou wast taken out of it : for thou hast been Earth, and shalt turn to Earth again.



  With the hard work of your hands you will get your bread till you go back to the earth from which you were taken: for dust you are and to the dust you will go back.



Levelling of ye/you/adjective comparison/word order in questions




  But and the serpent was feller than alle lyuynge beestis of erthe, whiche the Lord God hadde maad.  Which serpent seide to the womman,

          `Why comaundide God to 3ou, that 3e schulden not ete of ech tre of paradis?'


  RSV (1952)


  Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman,

          `Did God say, "You shall not eat of any tree of the garden"'?




Loss of verb inflections/multi-word prepositions




  And the noumbre of men that eten was fyue thousynde of men, outakun

wymmen and lytle children.


  TYNDALE (1534)


  And they that ate, were in nombre about v M men, besyde

wemen and chyldren.




  And those who had food were about five thousand men, in addition to

women and children.



Irregular verb forms/imperative/case with BE



  And anoon Jhesus spac to hem, and seide, `Haue 3e trust, Y am;


  TYNDALE (1534)

  And streyghte waye Iesus spake vnto them sayinge: be of god cheare, it is I,


  WEBSTER (1833)

  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I;



  But straight away Jesus said to them, Take heart; it is I,




  Sothely God seyde to Adam,

"For thou herdist the voys of thi wijf, and hast ete

of the tree, of which Y comaundide to thee that thou schuldist not ete,

the  erthe schal be cursid in thi werk; in traueylis thou schalt ete therof

in alle daies of thi lijf;


  KJV (1611)

And vnto Adam he said,

Because thou hast hearkened vnto the voyce of thy wife, and hast eaten

of the tree, of which I commaunded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eate of it:

cursed is the ground for thy sake: in sorow shalt thou eate of it all the dayes of thy life.


Variant forms of irregular verbs/phrasal verbs



  And whanne he hadde comaundid the puple to sitte to meete on the heye,

he took fyue looues and twei fischis, and he bihelde in to heuene, and blesside, and brak,

and 3af to hise disciplis; and the disciplis 3auen to the  puple.


  TYNDALE (1534)

  And he commaunded the people to syt downe on the grasse:

and toke the v loves, and the ii fysshes and loked vp to heven and blessed, and brake

and gave  the loves to his disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.


  WITHAM (1730)

  And when he had Commanded the Multitude to place themselves on the Grass, having taken the five Loaves, and two Fishes, and looking up to Heaven, he blessed, and broke,

and gave the Loaves to his Disciples, and the Disciples to the People.


  WESLEY (1755)

  And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass;

and taking the five loaves and the two fishes, looking up to heaven, he blessed and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.


  RIVERSIDE (1932)

  Then he commanded the crowd to recline on the grass,

and he took the five loaves and the two fishes and looked up to heaven and asked a blessing.

  Then he broke up the loaves and gave them to his disciples, and the disciples distributed to the crowd.



Auxiliaries with intransitive verbs/adjective endings




  But whanne the euentide was com, hise disciplis camen to him, and seiden, "

  The place is desert, and the tyme is now passid;


  WITHAM (1730)


  Now the Evening being come, his Disciples came to him, saying: This

  is a desert Place, and the Hour is now past,


  RIVERSIDE (1932)


  When evening had come on, his disciples came to him and

  said, `This is an uninhabited place and the time is already late;