Template:English vowel development

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This table describes the main changes from Late Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Germanic up through Old English, Middle English and Modern English. It focuses on the Old English and Middle English changes leading to the modern forms. Other tables are also available to cover specific areas in more detail:

This table only describes the changes in accented syllables. Vowel changes in unaccented syllables were very different and much more extensive. In general:

  1. In Old English, long vowels were reduced to short vowels (and sometimes deleted entirely) and short vowels were very often deleted. All remaining vowels were reduced to only the vowels /u/, /a/ and /e/, and sometimes /o/. (/o/ also sometimes appears as a variant of unstressed /u/.)
  2. In Middle English, almost all unstressed vowels were reduced to /ə/; then, final /ə/ was dropped. The main exception is Old English -iġ, which becomes Modern English -y.
  3. Unstressed vowels in Modern English other than those spelled <e> are due either to compounds or to borrowed words (especially from Latin and Old French).

NOTE: The Old English words in this table are given in their Anglian form, since this is the form that underlies Modern English. However, standard Old English was based on the West Saxon dialect, and when the two dialects differ, the West Saxon form is indicated with a WS in parentheses following the Anglian form.

NOTE: In this table, abbreviations are used as follows:

1"Pre-Germanic" in this context refers to a post-PIE language that maintains PIE phonology but with morphological adjustments made as necessary to account for the Proto-Germanic form. Reconstructions are only given for solidly reconstructible Proto-Indo-European roots.

Late PIE1 Proto-Germanic1 Condition Old English Middle English Modern English Examples
  i-umlaut2   i-umlaut2   i-umlaut2
a, o, h₂e, h₃e, H̥ a   æ e /a/ /e/ /æ/; RP /ɑː/ /ɛ/ PG *paþaz > OE pæþ > "path"; PG *batizǫ̂ > OE betera > "better"; PG *taljaną > OE tellan > "to tell"
(leng.) /aː/ /ɛː/ /ei/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *hwalaz > OE hwæl > "whale"; PG *matiz > OE, ME mete "food" > "meat"; PG *stadiz > OE, ME stede > "stead"
(+g) /ai/ /ɛi/ > /ai/ /ei/ /ei/ PG *dagaz > OE dæġ > "day"
(+h) /au/ /ɛu/ /ɔː/; /æf/ /(j)uː/ PG *hlahtraz > OE hlæhtor (WS hleahtor) > "laughter"; PG *slahtiz > OE sleht (WS slieht) > ME sleight "slaughter"
+n,m a,o e /a/ (occ. /o/) /e/ /æ/; occ. GA /ɔ/, RP /ɒ/ /ɛ/ PG *mannz, manniz > OE man, mon > "man", plur. men > "men"; PG *hamuraz > OE hamor > "hammer"; PG *handuz > OE hand > "hand"; PG *sange > OE past sang > "sang"; PG *lambaz > OE lamb > "lamb"; Latin candēla > OE candel > "candle"; PG *gandrǫ̂ > OE gandra > "gander"; PG *langaz > OE lang, long > "long"; PG *sandijaną > OE sendan > "send"; PG *bankiz > OE benċ > "bench"; PG *hanjō > OE henn > "hen"
(leng.) /aː/ /ɛː/ /ei/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *namǫ̂ > OE nama > "name"; PG lamǫ̂ > OE lama > "lame"; PG *banǫ̂ > OE bana "slayer" > "bane"
+mf,nþ,ns ō ē /oː/ /eː/ /uː/; /ʌ/; /ʊ/ /iː/ PreG *donts, dontes > PG *tanþz, tanþiz > OE tōþ > "tooth", plur. tēþ > "teeth"; PG *gans, gansiz > OE gōs > "goose", plur. gēs > "geese"; PG *anþaraz > OE ōþer > "other"
(+CC) /o/ /e/ GA /ɔ/, RP /ɒ/; GA /ɔː/ /ɛ/ PG *samftijaz, samftô > OE sēfte, *sōfta >! OE sōfte > "soft"; PG *anstiz > OE ēst "favor" > ME "este"
+lC a æ > e /a/ /e/ /ɔː/ /ɛ/ PG *fallaną > OE fallan (WS feallan) > "to fall"; PG *fallijaną > OE fællan > fellan (WS fiellan) > "to fell"
(+ld) /ɔː/ /ɛː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *aldaz, aldizǫ̂ > OE ald (WS eald) > "old", ældra (WS ieldra) "older" > "elder"; PG *haldaną > OE haldan (WS healdan) > "to hold"
+rc,rg,rh æ > e e /e/ /e/ GA /ɑ/(+r), RP /ɑː/ GA /ɑ/(+r), RP /ɑː/ Latin arca > OE erc (WS earc) > "ark"
+rC (C not c,g,h) ea e /a/ /e/ GA /ɑ/(+r), RP /ɑː/ GA /ɑ/(+r), RP /ɑː/ PG *harduz > OE heard > "hard"
before a,o,u a (by analogy) æ /a/ /a/ /æ/; RP /ɑː/ /æ/; (RP) /ɑː/ Latin cattus > OE catt > "cat"
(leng.) /aː/ /aː/ /ei/ /ei/ PG *talō > OE talu > "tale"; PG *bakaną, -iþi > OE bacan > "to bake", 3rd sing. pres. indic. bæcþ "bakes"
(+g,w) /au/ /au/ /ɔː/ /ɔː/ PG plur. *dagôs > OE dagas "days" > dial. "dawes"; PG *laguz > OE lagu > "law"; PG *clawō > OE clawu > "claw"
before later a,o,u ea eo /a/ /e/ /æ/; (RP) /ɑː/ /ɛ/
(leng.) /aː/ /ɛː/ /ei/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *alu(þ) > OE ealu > "ale"; PG *asiluz > OE eosol (WS esol) "donkey"
(+g,w) /au/ /ɛu/ /ɔː/ /(j)uː/ PG *awī > OE eowu > "ewe"
before hs,ht,hþ + final -iz N/A i (occ. ie) N/A /i/ N/A /ai/ PIE *nokwtis > PG *nahtiz > OE nieht > OE niht > "night"
e, h₁e, occ. i+C*e,a,o e   e N/A /e/ N/A /ɛ/ N/A PIE *nizdos > PG *nestaz > OE nest > "nest"; PG *helpaną > OE helpan > "to help"; PG *fehtaną > OE fehtan (WS feohtan) "to fight" (irreg.); PG *berkaną > OE bercan (WS beorcan) > "to bark"
(leng.) /ɛː/ N/A /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ N/A PG *brekaną > OE brecan > "to break"; PG *ebnaz > OE ef(e)n > "even"; OE feþer > "feather"
(+g,h) /ɛi/ > /ai/ N/A /ei/ N/A PG *wegaz > OE weġ > "way"; PG *regnaz > OE reġn > "rain"; PG *seglaz > OE seġl > "sail"
(+ld) /eː/ N/A /iː/ N/A PG *felduz > OE feld > "field"; PG *geldaną > OE ġeldan (WS ġieldan) "to pay" > "to yield"
+m i N/A /i/ N/A /ɪ/ N/A PG *remǫ̂ > OE rima > "rim"; PG *nemaną > OE niman "to take" > archaic "to nim"
(leng.) /eː/ N/A /iː/ N/A
+rC (C not c,g,h); wV; C (C not c,g) +later a,o,u eo N/A /e/ N/A /ɛ/; (+r) GA /ɑ/(+r), RP /ɑː/ N/A PG *werþaną > OE weorðan "to become"; PG *hertǭ > OE heorte > "heart"
(leng.) /ɛː/ N/A /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ N/A PG *etaną > OE eotan (WS etan) > "to eat"; PG *beraną > OE beoran (WS beran) > "to bear"
(+w) /ɛu/ N/A /(j)uː/ N/A
+ late final hs,ht,hþ i (occ. ie) N/A /i/ N/A /ɪ/ N/A PG *sehs > OE siex > "six"; PG *rehtaz > OE riht > "right"
i, (h₁)e+C*i, (h₁)e+C*y, (h₁)e+nC i   i i /i/ /i/ /ɪ/ /ɪ/ PG *fiską > OE fisċ > "fish"; PG *hringaz > OE hring > "ring"; PG *bidjaną > OE biddan "to pray" > "to bid"; PG *itiþi > OE 3rd sing. pres. indic. iteþ "eats"; PG *skiriþi > OE 3rd sing. pres. indic. sċirþ (WS sċierþ) "shears"; PG *stihtōjaną > OE stihtian "to establish"
(leng.) /eː/ /eː/ /iː/ /iː/ PG *wikō > OE wicu > "week"
(+g) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ Latin tegula > OE tiġele > "tile"; PG *brigdilaz > OE briġdel > "bridle"
(+ld,nd) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *blindaz > OE blind > "blind" /blaind/; PG *kildaz (plur. *kildōzō) OE ċild > "child" /tʃaild/; PG *wildijaz > OE wilde > "wild" /waild/
+ mf,nþ,ns ī ī /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *fimf > OE fīf > "five"; PG *linþijō > OE līþe "gentle" > "lithe"
(+CC) /i/ /i/ /ɪ/ /ɪ/ PG *fimf tigiwiz > OE fīftiġ > "fifty"
+rC (C not c,g,h); w io > eo i /e/ /i/ /ɛ/ /ɪ/ PG *liznōjaną > OE liornian > OE leornian > "learn"; PG *a + firrijaną > OE afirran (WS afierran) "to remove" (cf. feorr "far")
(+w) /eu/ > /iu/ /iu/ /(j)uː/ /(j)uː/ PG *niwulaz > OE niowul, neowul "prostrate"; PG *spiwiz > OE spiwe "vomiting"; PG *hiwiz > OE hīw > "hue"
before a,o,u i (io, eo) N/A /i/ (/e/) N/A /ɪ/ (/ɛ/) N/A PG *milukz > OE mioluc,meolc > "milk"
(leng.) /eː/ (/ɛː/) N/A /iː/ (/iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/) N/A
(+g) /iː/ (/ɛi/ > /ai/) /iː/ /ai/ (/ei/) /ai/
u, (H), (H), (H), (H)3 u   u y /u/ /i/ /ʌ/; /ʊ/ /ɪ/ PG *sunuz > OE sunu > "son"; PG *kumaną, -iþi > OE cuman > "to come", 3rd sing. pres. indic. cymþ "comes"; PG *guldijaną > OE gyldan > "to gild"
(leng.) /oː/ /eː/ /uː/; /ʌ/; /ʊ/; (+r) GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ /iː/ PreG *dhurus > PG *duruz > OE duru > "door"; PG *widuz > OE widu >! OE wudu > "wood"; PG *ubilaz > OE yfel > "evil"
(+g) /uː/ /iː/ /au/ /ai/ OE ryġe > "rye"
(+w) /uː/ /iu/ /au/ /(j)uː/
+ mf,nþ,ns ū ȳ /uː/ /iː/ /au/ /ai/ PG *munþz > OE mūþ > "mouth"; PG *kunþijaną > OE cȳþan "to make known" > ME "kithe"
(+CC) /u/ /i/ /ʌ/; /ʊ/ /ɪ/ PG *tunskaz > OE tūsc > "tusk"; PG *wunskijaną > OE wȳsċan > "wish"; PG *kunþiþō > OE cȳþþ(u) > "kith"
before non-nasal + a,e,o o (by analogy) e /o/ /e/ GA /ɔ/, RP /ɒ/ /ɛ/ PG *drupǫ̂ > OE dropa > "drop"; PG *fulką > OE folc > "folk"
(leng.) /ɔː/ /ɛː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/; (+r) GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *fulǫ̂ > OE fola > "foal"; PG *nusuz (*nusōu?) > OE nosu > "nose"; PG *hupōjaną > OE hopian > "to hope"
(+g,h,w) /ɔu/ /ɛi/ > /ai/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/; GA /ɔːf/, RP /ɒf/ /ei/ PG *duhter, duhtriz > OE dohter > "daughter", plur. dehter "daughters"; PG *trugaz > OE trog > "trough"; PG *bugǫ̂ > OE boga > "bow" /bou/
(+ld,rd) /ɔː/ /ɛː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/; (+r) GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *guldaz > OE gold > "gold"; PG *burdą > OE bord > "board"
ē(H), eh₂ ǣ > ā   ē ē /eː/ /eː/ /iː/ /iː/ PG *slǣpaną > OE slēpan (WS slǣpan) > "to sleep", Latin strāta > OE strēt (WS strǣt) > "street"; PG *dǣdiz > OE dēd (WS dǣd) > "deed"; Latin cāseus > OE ċēse (WS ċīese) > "cheese"
(+CC) /e/ /e/ /ɛ/ /ɛ/
(+g,h) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *nǣhaz, nǣhistaz > OE nēh (WS nēah) "near" > "nigh", superl. nēhst (WS nīehst) "nearest" > "next"
+n,m ō ē /oː/ /eː/ /uː/ /iː/ PG *mǣnǫ̂ > OE mōna > "moon"; PG *kwǣniz > OE kwēn > "queen"
+w; ga,go,gu ā ǣ /ɔː/ /ɛː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/
(+g) /ɔu/ /ɛi/ > /ai/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /ei/ PG *mǣgôz > OE māgas "relatives"
(+w) /ɔu/ /ɛu/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /(j)uː/ PG *knǣwaną, -iþi > OE cnāwan > "to know", 3rd sing. pres. indic. cnǣwþ "knows"
ēi, iz, etc.4 ē   ē ē /eː/ /eː/ /iː/ /iː/ PG *hēr > OE hēr > "here"; PIE *mizdhā > PG *mēdō > OE mēd "reward"
(+g,h) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ OE past hēht "called" > "hight"
(+w) /eu/ > /iu/ /eu/ > /iu/ /(j)uː/ /(j)uː/
ā, ō, aH, oH, eh₂, eh₃; an+K, on+K, h₂en+K, h₃en+K ō; ą̄+h   ō ē /oː/ /eː/ /uː/; /ʌ/; /ʊ/ /iː/ PG *fōtz, fōtiz > OE fōt > "foot", plur. fēt > "feet"
(+CC) /o/ /e/ GA /ɔ/, RP /ɒ/; GA /ɔː/ /ɛ/ PG *kōpi-dǣþ > OE cēpte > "kept"; PG *mōti-dǣþ > OE mētte > "met"
(+g,h) /ɔu/; /uː/ /iː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/; /au/; /ʌf/ /ai/ PG *swōganą > OE swōgan "to sound" > ME /sɔuə/ > "sough" /sou/; PG *bōgaz > OE bōg > ME /buːh/ > "bough" /bau/; PG *tōhaz > OE tōh > ME /tuːh/ > "tough" /tʌf/; PG past *sōh-dǣþ > OE sōhte > ME /sɔuhtə/ > "sought"
(+w) /ɔu/ /eu/ > /iu/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /(j)uː/ PG *grōwaną > OE grōwan > "grow"
(h₁)ei, ī, iH; (h₁)en+K, in+K ī; į̄+h   ī ī /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *wībą > OE wīf > "wife"; PG *līhiþi > 3rd sing. pres. indic. līþ (WS līehþ) "lends"; PIE *lengwhtos > PG *lį̄htaz > OE līht (WS lēoht) > "light" (in weight)
(+CC) /i/ /i/ /ɪ/ /ɪ/
(+g,h) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *hīgōjaną > OE hīgian > "hie"
(+w) /iu/ /iu/ /(j)uː/ /(j)uː/ PG *Tīwaz > OE Tīw (name of a god) + -es "'s" + dæġ "day" > "Tuesday"
ū, uH; n̥+K, un+K ū; ų̄+h   ū ȳ /uː/ /iː/ /au/ /ai/ PG *mūs, mūsiz > OE mūs "mouse", plur. mȳs > "mice"; PG *hūdijaną > OE hȳdan > "to hide"
(+CC) /u/ /i/ /ʌ/; /ʊ/ /ɪ/ PG *rūstaz > OE rūst > "rust"; PIE *pn̥kʷstis > PG *fų̄hstiz > OE fȳst > "fist"
(+g,h) /uː/ /iː/ /au/; /ʌf/ /ai/ PG *būganą > OE būgan "to bend" > "bow"; PG *rūhaz > OE rūh > "rough" /rʌf/; PG *drūgijaz > OE drȳge > "dry"
(+w) /uː/ /iu/ /au/ /(j)uː/ OE trūwian "to trust" > archaic "trow" /trau/
ai, oi, h₂ei, h₃ei ai   ā ǣ /ɔː/ /ɛː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/; (+r) GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *stainaz > OE stān > "stone"; PreG perfect *roidhe > PG past *raide > OE rād > "rode"; PreG *oyerā > PG *airō > OE ār > "oar"; PIE *ayes > PG *aiz > OE ār "bronze" > "ore"; PG *hwaitiją > OE hwǣte > "wheat"
(+CC) /a/ /a/ /æ/; RP /ɑː/ /æ/; RP /ɑː/ PG *faittiz > OE fǣtt > "fat"
(+g,h) /ɔu/ /ɛi/ > /ai/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /ei/ PG *aiganą > OE āgan > "owe"; PG *daigaz > OE dāg, dāh > "dough"
(+w) /ɔu/ /ɛu/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /(j)uː/ PG *maiwiz > OE mǣw > "mew"
au, ou, h₂eu, h₃eu au   ēa ē /ɛː/ /eː/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ /iː/ PG *auzǭ > OE ēare > "ear"; PG *hauzijaną > OE hēran (WS hīeran) > "to hear"
(+w) /ɛu/ /eu/ > /iu/ /(j)uː/ /(j)uː/ PG *skrawwǫ̂ > OE sċrēawa > ME "shrewe" > "shrew"
+c,g,h; rc,rg,rh;lc,lg,lh ē ē /eː/ /eː/ /iː/ /iː/ PG *auke(?), *aukijaną > OE ēc, ēċan (WS ēac, īeċan) "also, to increase" > ME "eke, eche" > "eke" (archaic), "to eke"
(+g,h) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *augǭ > OE ēġe (WS ēage) > "eye"; PG *hauhaz, hauhistaz > OE hēh (WS hēah) > "high", superl. hēhst (WS hīehst) "highest"; PIE *leuktos > PG *leuhtaz > OE lēht (WS lēoht) > "light" (brightness)
(h₁)eu eu   ēo N/A /eː/ N/A /iː/ N/A PG *deupaz > OE dēop > "deep"; PG *beudaną > OE bēodan "to command"
(+w) /eu/ > /iu/ N/A /(j)uː/ N/A PG *hrewwaną > OE hrēowan > "to rue"
+c,g,h; rc,rg,rh; lc,lg,lh ē N/A /eː/ N/A /iː/ N/A PG *reukaną > OE rēcan (WS rēocan) > "to reek"
(+g,h) /iː/ N/A /ai/ N/A PG *fleugǭ > OE flēge (WS flēoge) > "fly"; PG *leuganą > OE lēgan (WS lēogan) > "to lie"
(h₁)eu+C*i, (h₁)eu+C*y iu   N/A īo > ēo N/A /eː/ N/A /iː/ PIE *newios > PG *niujaz > OE nīwe > "new"; PG *biudiþi > 3rd sing. pres. indic. bīott (WS bīett) "commands"
(+w) N/A /eu/ > /iu/ N/A /(j)uː/ PG *triwwiz > *triwwijaz > OE trīowe, trēowe > ME "trewe" > "true"
+c,g,h; rc,rg,rh; lc,lg,lh N/A ī N/A /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PIE *leuktionom > PG *liuhtijaną > OE līhtan (WS līehtan) "to light"

1A + separates the sounds that produced the Proto-Germanic vowels in question from the sounds that formed the conditioning environment. The notation C* means a sequence of zero or more consonants.

2I-umlaut refers to a sound change that took place around 500 AD with pervasive effects on English vowels. Specifically, vowels were fronted or raised whenever an /i/ or /j/ followed in the next syllable. Nearly every vowel was affected. Affected vocabulary is shown in a different color.

3PIE and H became Proto-Germanic un; similarly for , and . K refers to either of the PIE sounds or k, which fell together in Proto-Germanic and the other Centum languages; or to any of the nine PIE velars when followed directly by a voiceless consonant (especially t). H refers to any laryngeal sound. The ogonek (e.g. ą, ǭ indicates a nasal vowel). Long vowels are noted with a macron (e.g. ē, ō). Extralong vowels are noted with a circumflex (e.g. ô).

4The origins of Proto-Germanic ē are somewhat in dispute.


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