Appendix:Old French nouns

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Old French maintained a two-case system, with a nominative case and an oblique case, longer than some other Romance languages (e.g. Spanish and Italian). Case distinctions, at least in the masculine gender, were marked on both the definite article and on the noun itself.

In later Old French, these distinctions became moribund. When the distinctions were marked enough, sometimes both forms survived, with a lexical difference: both li sire (nominative, Latin senior) and le seigneur (oblique, Latin seniorem)) survive in the vocabulary of later French as different ways to refer to a feudal lord. As in most other Romance languages, it was the oblique case form that usually survived to become the modern French form: l'enfant (the child) represents the old accusative; the OF nominative was li enfes. But some modern French nouns perpetuate the old nominative; modern French sœur (OF suer) represents the Latin nominative soror; the OF oblique form seror, from Latin accusative sororem, no longer survives. Many personal names preserve the old nominative as well, as indicated by their final -s, such as Charles, Georges, Gilles, Jacques, and Jules. The masculine noun li voisins, "the neighbour" (from Latin vīcīnus) declined as follows.

Nominative singular Oblique singular Nominative plural Oblique plural Translation
(li) voisins m (le) voisin (li) voisin (les) voisins neighbour/neighbor

As in Spanish and Italian, the neuter gender was eliminated, and old neuter nouns became masculine. Some Latin neuter plurals were re-analysed as feminine singulars, though; for example, Latin gaudium was more widely used in the plural form gaudia, which was taken for a singular in Vulgar Latin, and ultimately led to modern French la joie, "joy" (feminine singular).

Nouns ending in -s, -x, or -z are invariant; for example païs is spelt païs no matter whether it is singular, plural, oblique or nominative because it cannot be spelt païss or païses. This remains true of modern French (pays).

Nouns which have feminine forms, typically nouns referring to people like bergier (shepherd) and cuard (coward) typically have feminine forms ending in -e, from the Latin ending -a.

Type Nominative singular Oblique singular Nominative plural Oblique plural Translation
I fame f fame fames fames woman
II voisins m voisin voisin voisins neighbour/neighbor
Ia riens f rien riens riens thing
IIa pere m pere pere peres father
IIIa chantere m chanteor chanteor chanteors singer
IIIb ber m baron baron barons baron
IIIc none f nonain nonain nonains nun

Class I is derived from the Latin first declension. Class II is derived from the Latin second declension. Class Ia mostly comes from feminine third-declension nouns in Latin. Class IIa generally stems from second-declension nouns ending in -er and from third-declension masculine nouns; note that in both cases, the Latin nominative singular did not end in -s, and this is preserved in Old French.

Class III nouns show a separate form in the nominative singular that does not occur in any of the other forms. IIIa nouns ended in -ator, -atorem in Latin, and preserve the stress shift; IIIb nouns likewise had a stress shift from -o to -onem. IIIc nouns are an Old French creation and have no clear Latin antecedent.

The final class, IIId, is not listed in the table above because it contains all the nouns which are completely irregular and use declensions not found, in some cases, for any other noun.

Type Nominative singular Oblique singular Nominative plural Oblique plural Translation
IIId suer f seror seror serors sister
IIId sire m seignor seignor seignors master/husband/lord


  • Faral, Edmond, Petite grammaire de l'ancien français, Hachette, 1941
  • E. Einhorn, Old French: A Concise Handbook, Cambridge University Press, 1974, ISBN 0521098386, pp. 14-21

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