Appendix:Old French nouns

Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to: navigation, search

Old French nouns work in essentially the same way as they do in modern French. They are used to describe tangible objects as well as intangible ideas. They have two genders, masculine and feminine. Some nouns can be either masculine or feminine depending on region, date, or meaning.

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.

Declension[edit]

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 neighbo(u)r


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 neighbo(u)r
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

From Latin to Old French[edit]

Class I[edit]

Most masculine nouns belong to class I. Mur means "wall".


Language Nominative singular Accusative singular Nominative plural Accusative plural
Latin mūrus mūrum mūrī mūrōs
Old French murs mur mur murs


Old French retains the final -s of mūrus and mūrōs, hence the patterns murs, mur, mur, murs.

Class II[edit]

Most feminine nouns belong to class II. Translacion means "movement", "transfer" or "translation".


Language Nominative singular Accusative singular Nominative plural Accusative plural
Latin trānslātiō trānslātiōnem trānslātiōnēs trānslātiōnēs
Old French translacion translacion translacions translacions


Old French retains the final -s of trānslātiōnēs, hence the pattern translacion, translacion, translacions, translacions. Thus, the singular never has an -s and the plural always has one.

Collapse of the case system[edit]

First page of 'Le Romant de la Rose', 13th century (this manuscript 14th century). The first line does not use the nominative singular 'li romanz' but instead the caseless singular 'le romant'.

Moving towards Middle French the four forms nominative singular, nominative plural, oblique singular and oblique plural collapsed into just two, singular and plural. Class II feminine nouns already had identical forms for the singular and the plural, and masculine nouns took on the same pattern of having a singular with no final -s and a plural with on. For the most part nominative forms disappeared entirely, but a few survived as separate words e.g. putain.

In the example above (14th century, original edition 13th century) the first line is "Cy commance le romant de la Rose," and not "Cy commance li romanz de la Rose,".

References[edit]

  • 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, 142-3

See also[edit]

Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia