Noun classes

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If you have taken any Old English, you may have learned a little about the various Germanic noun classes. This page explains the Germanic and Old Norse noun classes with the help of copious charts and paradigms.

Germanic nouns are divided into classes on the basis of their inflectional behaviour. It has long been standard practice to subdivide the classes into weak (whose members historically ended in -n in several singular and plural forms) and strong (all the rest, which did not). In Modern English, occasional traces of the weak declension survive in the form of en-plurals (oxen). The -n of this class did not survive into Old Norse. However, a critical characteristic of weak nouns is still present in Old Norse forms: their paradigms are comparatively homogeneous, with the consequence that weak nouns are easier to memorize, but convey less grammatical information than strong nouns. For instance, since the Old Norse masculine noun pái “peacock” has the form in all the oblique cases (i.e. in accusative, genitive, and dative) of the singular, it is easily learned but one has to rely on context to find out what syntactic function the word plays in any given clause. Strong nouns are more informative when encountered in the wild, but they take a little extra explanation.

The specific behaviour grammarians look for in a noun is the way it latches onto an inflectional suffix. In most Germanic strong nouns, this is done using a thematic vowel—a sound that separates the word's root (essentially the part that carries semantic information) from its inflectional suffix (the bit that tells you what case and number a noun is). Thus the Proto-Germanic (PG) form *stainaz “stone” (the asterisk means the form is unattested but has been reconstructed) may be divided into a root (stain), a nominative singular suffix (z), and a thematic vowel that divides the two (a). Root and thematic vowel together form the stem of a word, and it is the stem by which a noun is identified with a certain class. The noun class of *stainaz is named after its thematic vowel: *stainaz is described as an a-stem noun. So far, things make sense.

Unfortunately, it gets more muddled from there. Noun classes describe stems as they can be reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and Proto-Germanic nouns, but these had changed almost beyond recognition by the time the bulk of early Germanic texts were written down. Thus one would be hard pressed to find the thematic vowel in the singular declensions of that same word in its Old English and Old Norse reflexes stān and steinn: here, the a only appears in some of the plural forms (e.g. nominative plural stānas, steinar; the nominative plural is usually a good place to look for the thematic vowel in masculine and feminine nouns). What is worse, the ō of class 2 nouns appears as a as well, so that you could not tell from the nominative plural form laugar alone that you are dealing with an ō-stem, and therefore with a feminine noun. Indeed, some words can be seen to cross from one class into another as they are assimilated into more common declension-patterns. It may thus seem that learning the noun classes is an impossible and pointless undertaking. However, being able to tell them apart is a great help when reading any Old Germanic (or conservative Modern Germanic) language, because this gives the reader some degree of predictive ability over nominal inflection. The following table lists most of the noun classes found in the Germanic languages. Apart from the weak classes given at the end, the first five of the strong declensions are the most important. In order to give students of Old English a leg up, I have selected examples found in both it and Old Norse where possible. The oblique cases are listed in the order accusative, genitive, dative, because that is the one used in most relevant grammars written in English. Note that ja-, wa-, -, and -stems are really just variants of the a- and ō-classes rather than noun classes of their own, while all three of the weak types are generally identified with a single declension called the n-stems. The numbering of strong nouns in the first column below follows that of the Dictionary of Old English, which is really just the order in which they are treated in all the classical grammars.

class stem gender PG OE oblique cases ON oblique cases MnE (trans.)
1 a m *stainaz stān stān, stānes, stāne steinn stein, steins, steini stone
1 a m *dagaz dæg dæg, dæges, dæge dagr dag, dags, degi day
1 a n *skipan scip scip, scipes, scipe skip skip, skips, skipi ship
1 ja m *andijaz ende ende, endes, ende endir endi, endis, endi end
1 ja n *kunjan cynn cynn, cynnes, cynne kyn kyn, kyns, kyni kin
1 wa m *saiwiz sǣ, sǣs, sǣ(we) sær sæ, sævar, sæ(vi) sea
1 wa n *melwą melu melu, melwes, melwe mjǫl mjǫl, mjǫls, mjǫlvi meal (flour)
2 ō f *giftiz giefu giefe, giefe, giefe gjǫf gjǫf, gjafar, gjǫf gift
2 f *agjō ecg ecge, ecge, ecge egg egg, eggjar, eggju edge
2 f *badwō beadu beadwe, beadwe, beadwe bǫð bǫð, bǫðvar, bǫð(u) (battle)
3 i m *winiz wine wine, wines, wine vinr vin, vinar, vin (friend)
3 i f *naudiz nīed nīed, nīede, nīede nauðr nauð, nauðar, nauð need
3 i n *speru spere spere, speres, spere -- -- spear
4 u m *felþuz feld feld, felda, felda vǫllr vǫll, vallar, velli field
4 u f *handuz hand hand, handa, handa -- -- hand
5 cons. m *fōts fōt fōt, fōtes, fēt fótr fót, fótar, fœti foot
5 cons. f *bōks bōc bōc, bēc, bēc bók bók, bœkr/bókar, bók book
6 r m *fadēr fæder fæder, fæder/fæderes, fæder/fædere faðir fǫður/feðr, fǫður/feðr, fǫður/feðr father
6 r f *mōdēr mōdor mōdor, mōdor/mēder, mēder móðir móður/mœðr, móður/mœðr, móður/mœðr mother
7 nd m *frijōndz frēond frēond, frēondes, frīend/frēonde frændi frænda, frænda, frænda friend
8 es n *kalƀiz cealf cealf, cealfes, cealfe -- -- calf
9 dental m *haliþ hæle hæle, *hæleþ, *hæleþ -- -- (warrior)
wk an m *gumō guma guman, guman, guman gumi guma, guma, guma (man)
wk an n *augan ēage ēagan, ēagan, ēagan auga auga, auga, auga eye
wk ōn f *tungō tunge tungan, tungan, tunga tunga tungu, tungu, tungu tongue
wk īn f *hauhi hēahþu hēahþu, hēahþu, hēahþu [frœði] [frœði, frœði, frœði] height [learning]

For more on the history of Germanic morphology, see Ringe (PIE to PG), Bammesberger (cross-Germanic nominal inflection), Prokosch (a comparative grammar of the Old Germanic languages), and Lass (an Old English perspective).

Now that you have an insight into the origins of the Old Norse noun classes and their Old English counterparts, it is time to look at some full paradigms. Since the remainder of this page will discuss a great many classes in considerable detail, this is probably a good place to point out that you don't want to stare yourself blind on the seemingly endless mutations and variations on the basic patterns. If you know the declensions for weak nouns and the a-, ō-, and i-stems, you can deal with most of the nouns that will come your way. Accordingly, one recent grammar forgoes mention of the stems altogether and speaks instead of “basic patterns” for each gender. Alaric Hall's Magic Sheet takes a middle route, distinguishing between stems only where the difference is still visible in the Norse and using modified class names such as “ar-plural” and “ir-plural”. Either of these methods will help you learn the patterns to expect, and indeed what follows may seem overkill if you're coming at this with no prior knowledge. If you are keen to get to the bottom of things, however, read on; when you're ready to test your knowledge, make your way to the flashcards.

Strong nouns

1a. Pure a-stems

hestr m. “horse”
sg. pl.
nom. hestr hestar
acc. hest hesta
gen. hests hesta
dat. hesti hestum

a-stems divide into masculines and neuters. You may think of hestr “horse” as the standard paradigm for strong masculine nouns. Characteristic of the a-stems (including its subvarieties the ja- and wa-stems) is that masculines have nominative plurals in -ar, while both masculines and neuters generally have a genitive singular in -s. Remember, the -a- in the nominative plural of masculines of this class is in fact the thematic vowel.

The -r at the end of the word's lexical form is the nominative singular suffix, corresponding to -us in Latin dominus. It disappears in the accusative, so if we were to construct the shocking headline “horse eats horse” it would read “hestr etr hest”. The genitive ending is -s, just as it is in Modern English, though there we spell it with a preceding apostrophe: horse's. The dative singular for this class of noun ends in -i. It may be noted that these singular forms are like the Old English forms of the same class except for the nominative singular suffix -r, the loss of the e in the genitive (compare stānes) and a very slight difference in the dative form, which in Old English is -e.

In the plural, the nominative and accusative endings differ from the Old English, though not terribly much. The -ar of the nominative is actually just the North Germanic reflex of the Proto-Germanic az-ending that turned into -as in West Germanic. If you think about it, /z/ and /r/ are very similar sounds (both are alveolar consonants, but /z/ is a fricative and /r/ a trill). The -r has gone missing from the accusative plural, however, making it identical to the genitive plural. In Old Norse as in Old English, there are two certainties in nominal life: genitive plural ends in -a, dative plural in -(u)m. Old Norse knows exceptions to this rule (cf. kné below), but it still pays off to pretend.

hǫfundr m. “chieftain”
sg. pl.
nom. hǫfundr hǫfundar
acc. hǫfund hǫfunda
gen. hǫfundar hǫfunda
dat. hǫfundi hǫfundum

The paradigm for hǫfundr “chieftain” is identical to that of hestr except in one particular: it substitutes -ar for the genitive singular ending -s. A range of common and proper nouns will do this, and many can take either form.

harmr m. “sorrow”
sg. pl.
nom. harmr harmar
acc. harm harma
gen. harms harma
dat. harmi hǫrmum

Harmr “sorrow” does exactly the same thing as hestr as far as stems are concerned, but it illustrates one additional sound law known as labial mutation. This law operates in all parts of speech and states that an a preceding a syllable that has a u or w in it is rounded to ǫ. This is because both /u/ and /w/ are pronounced with liprounding (hence the term “labial mutation”). The letter w, however, is not normally used in the Old Norse or any other Scandinavian alphabet, where we find v instead to represent the labial approximant. In the dative plural, the um-ending triggers anticipatory liprounding, turning a into ǫ, *harmum into hǫrmum. The rule also applies to a few other sounds, such as á and e, but a > ǫ is the one you will actually encounter. Unfortunately, labial mutation also takes place in words in which the u or w that caused it has since been lost, so that students may want to memorize where in the paradigms the phenomenon is to be expected. Conversely, it is found throughout hǫfundr because u is there a reliable part of the root. The harmr is more helpful in demonstrating where in the paradigm liprounding is triggered by elements outside the root.

himinn m. “heaven”
sg. pl.
nom. himinn himnar
acc. himin himna
gen. himins himna
dat. himni himnum

Himinn “heaven” displays two further variations on the same declension pattern. The first is in the nominative singular ending. Originally, this would have been -r as in the other masculine paradigms of this class: *himinr. However, as is elsewhere demonstrated by the development from *mannr to maðr, early speakers of North Germanic found the nr-cluster difficult to pronounce, and so the -r of *himinr was assimilated to the preceding n, yielding himinn. In the same way, the cluster -lr became -ll (ketill) and -sr became -ss (íss).

The other variation is a process called syncope, or loss of a medial vowel. Dissyllables (two-syllable word forms, also called disyllables or bisyllables) resist adding a third syllable when possible, so the second vowel will typically drop out if an inflectional ending containing a third vowel is added. This was possible because stress was primary, so the second syllable was already pronounced weak; adding a further syllable was just the excuse needed to ignore the vowel—and thus the syllable—altogether: *himini > himni. With the exception of these mutations, however, himinn still inflects in exactly the same way as hestr. No vowel is lost if the word's first syllable is long or if the vowel in question is followed by two consonants (e.g. in the adjectival dative singular feminine form gamalli).

barn n. “child”
sg. pl.
nom. barn bǫrn
acc. barn bǫrn
gen. barns barna
dat. barni bǫrnum

Barn “child” is our first neuter, and it introduces three further complications compared to the base-pattern. The first is an Indo-European given, namely that neuter nominative and accusative forms are always identical within the same number: thus for both cases we have barn in the singular, bǫrn in the plural.

But those nominative and accusative plural forms strike the eye for two additional reasons. Firstly, neither has an ending. This should come as no surprise to students of Old English, who will remember that some a-stem neuters in that language have no plural endings for these cases either (namely long stems like word and some dissyllables), while others (like scip) end in -u. In Old Norse, all neuter a-stems, which is to say all strong neuters, have endingless nominative and accusative plural forms.

As in Old English, however, -u is the historically antecedent nominative and accusative plural ending for neuter a-stems. (We will see below that this ending still occurs in weak neuters.) Accordingly, in barn we have our first example of labial mutation (specifically u-mutation) occurring where the sound that gave rise to it no longer survives.

1b. ja-stems

niðr m. “kinsman”
sg. pl.
nom. niðr niðjar
acc. nið niðja
gen. niðs niðja
dat. nið niðjum
hirðir m. “shepherd”
sg. pl.
nom. hirðir hirðar
acc. hirði hirða
gen. hirðis hirða
dat. hirði hirðum
kyn n. “kin”
sg. pl.
nom. kyn kyn
acc. kyn kyn
gen. kyns kynja
dat. kyni kynjum
ríki n. “power”
sg. pl.
nom. ríki ríki
acc. ríki ríki
gen. ríkis ríkja
dat. ríki ríkjum

If you have taken Old English, you may recall a great deal of fuss over the concept of stem length. It is time now to revisit it ever so briefly. The four paradigms in this section demonstrate two variants of the same ja-declension for each of two genders (remember, there are no feminines among the a-stems). While all four follow their gender-respective version of the basic a-stem pattern, the short stems (those whose root syllables have a short monophthong vowel followed by no more than one consonant, or a long vowel or diphthong followed by no consonants at all, i.e. niðr and kyn among the paradigms here provided) have a -j- intervening between the root and ending wherever a back vowel (a or u) follows, i.e. in all plural forms for masculine nouns, and just the genitive and dative for neuters. Long stems of both genders (i.e. stems with a short vowel plus two or more consonants or a long vowel or diphthong followed by a consonant) have an -i- across the cases of the singular (including the genitive). Some grammars here speak of a separate subclass “īa-stems”; we will refer to them simply as long ja-stems. The disappearance of -j- from the genitive and dative plural of long-stemmed hirðir “shepherd” but not ríki “power” is due to the fact that squeezed in between a long syllable and a back vowel or ę (representing short /æ/, a phoneme that merged with e in the early literary period), medial -j- disappeared (as in hirða, hirðum) unless immediately preceded by g or k (as in ríkja, ríkjum).

Almost no other word declines like niðr “son, kinsman”, as most masculines of this sort had assimilated to the i-declension by the time they were written down. Like ríki are a fair number of neuter nouns in -i. Because -i is also the dative singular ending, this paradigm comes closest of any strong group of nouns to being indeclinable altogether. Cf. weak type (c) below, whose members also end in -i but have fully indeclinable singular forms and are exclusively feminine.

1c. wa-stems

sær m. “sea”
sg. pl.
nom. sær sævar
acc. sæva
gen. sævar sæva
dat. sæ(vi) sæ(v)um
hǫgg n. “blow”
sg. pl.
nom. hǫgg hǫgg
acc. hǫgg hǫgg
gen. hǫggs hǫggva
dat. hǫggvi hǫggum

wa-stems are simply a-stems that originally ended in -w. In Old Norse, the -w is represented by v, but it disappeared except where it both is followed by a or i and itself follows a short stem (sær), g (sǫngr, hǫgg), or k. In some places, the -v- was reintroduced by analogy; hence dative plural sævum. Where the original -w immediately followed a vowel (and hence where the surviving v follows a vowel), the genitive singular ending of the word is usually -ar rather than -s; however, there is some contamination between the forms, so that sæs is also attested.

kné n. “knee”
sg. pl.
nom. kné kné
acc. kné kné
gen. knés knjá
dat. knjé knjám/knjóm

Kné “knee” is really an intruder among the wa-stems, as it derives from an Indo-European u-stem (cf. the Latin cognate genu). It was made to conform to the pattern of inflection of the wa-stems in the Germanic languages, but by the time it was written down in Old Norse only the genitive singular ending suggests a connection with the a-stems at all, let alone the wa-variant (but cf. Old English cnēow). The word for tree, whose Norse reflex is tré (Old English trēow), underwent the same process, and there are one or two words that behave in the same way, but really the pattern is very rare. The student had best shrug and move on.

2a. ō-stems

þǫrf f. “need”
sg. pl.
nom. þǫrf þarfar
acc. þǫrf þarfar
gen. þarfar þarfa
dat. þǫrf þǫrfum
dróttning f. “queen”
sg. pl.
nom. dróttning dróttningar
acc. dróttning dróttningar
gen. dróttningar dróttninga
dat. dróttningu dróttningum

The ō-stems correspond to the PIE ā-stems seen in the Latin class one nouns (vita), and they are all feminines. In this they contrast with the corresponding class in PIE, which had some masculines (cf. agricola), and they form a perfect complement to the Germanic a-class, which has no feminines. This class is characterized by a zero (i.e. endlingless) nominative singular; a genitive singular as well as a nominative and accusative plural in -ar; and u-mutation in the nominative singular in stems whose vowel is eligible for labial mutation.

That instance of u-mutation occurs because in an earlier stage of the language these nouns had a nominative singular in -u (like Old English giefu): *þarfu > *þǫrfu > þǫrf. The accusative singular vowel was rounded by analogy with the nominative, and the rounded vowel of the dative derives from a one-time u-ending there as well. Only in the dative plural is the cause of the mutation still visible. The phenomenon never spread to the other forms, where an a always follows the root, discouraging liprounding in adjacent vowels if no v (from /w/) intervenes (cf. genitive singular dǫggvar). the The paradigm thus contains an equal number of mutated and nonmutated forms, in which the genitive singular and the dative plural stand out in their respective number. It is also worth observing that the genitive singular, nominative plural, and accusative plural forms of this class are identical in form. The difference between the two paradigms is the dative singular in -u, which occurs in many dissyllables in -ing or -ung as well as a variety of other nouns of this class, including hlíð “slope”, laug “bath”, and mjǫll “freshly-fallen snow”. Of these, all except the words in -ing or -ung could also be conjugated like þǫrf.

á f. “river”
sg. pl.
nom. á ár
acc. á ár
gen. ár á
dat. á ám

Á “river” shows no evidence of u-mutation. Although the sound represented by á was subject to labial mutation into , the two sounds merged in the early literary period, after which they both surfaced with the spelling á.

2b. -stems

ben f. “wound”
sg. pl.
nom. ben benjar
acc. ben benjar
gen. benjar benja
dat. ben benjum
ey f. “island”
sg. pl.
nom. ey eyjar
acc. ey eyjar
gen. eyjar eyja
dat. eyju eyjum
heiðr f. “heath”
sg. pl.
nom. heiðr heiðar
acc. heiði heiðar
gen. heiðar heiða
dat. heiði heiðum

As with the ja-stems, so also in the -stems -j- remains in full only following short stems, while in long stems it survives as -i- wherever the expected ō-behaviour is to have no ending, i.e. in the accusative and dative singular. Take note of the variation in the dative singular of short stems (-ju versus no ending). Most short stems decline like ben, but some, including egg “edge” and hel “hell” decline like ey, as do many personal names (indeed, hel itself started out as a personal name).

2c. -stems

dǫgg f. “dew”
sg. pl.
nom. dǫgg dǫggvar
acc. dǫgg dǫggvar
gen. dǫggvar dǫggva
dat. dǫgg(u) dǫggum

Other than the paradigm dǫgg “dew”, the only common words of the -stems are þrǫng “pressure” and ǫr “arrow”; the poetic term bǫð “battle” also belongs here. The optional -u of the dative singular is comparatively rare.

3. i-stems

gestr m. “guest”
sg. pl.
nom. gestr gestir
acc. gest gesti
gen. gests gesta
dat. gest gestum
staðr m. “place”
sg. pl.
nom. staðr staðir
acc. stað staði
gen. staðar staða
dat. stað stǫðum
bekkr m. “bench”
sg. pl.
nom. bekkr bekkir
acc. bekk bekki
gen. bekks/bekkjar bekka
dat. bekk bekkjum
ǫxl f. “shoulder”
sg. pl.
nom. ǫxl axlir
acc. ǫxl axlir
gen. axlar axla
dat. ǫxl ǫxlum
rǫst f. “sea-current”
sg. pl.
nom. rǫst rastir
acc. rǫst rastir
gen. rastar rasta
dat. rǫstu rǫstum

i-stems divide into masculines and feminines, which largely share the same endings except in the accusative plural, which for masculines ends in -i, while feminines end in -ir. In effect, verbs of this class behave like a- and ō-stems but show a different thematic vowel in the nominative and accusative plural, and normally with a zero dative singular ending even in masculines. However, note the following:

Other than that, patterns are largely as we have by now come to expect, including u-umlaut where applicable, namely always in the dative plural where the stem vowel is a, and with feminines also in the nominative, accusative, and dative singular.

4. u-stems

skjǫldr m. “shield”
sg. pl.
nom. skjǫldr skildir
acc. skjǫld skjǫldu
gen. skjaldar skjalda
dat. skildi skjǫldum
vǫllr m. “field”
sg. pl.
nom. vǫllr vellir
acc. vǫll vǫllu
gen. vallar valla
dat. velli vǫllum

Unlike in Old English, the u-stems in Old Norse are all masculine. They exhibit three notable sound changes:

fǫgnuðr m. “joy”
sg. pl.
nom. fǫgnuðr fagnaðir
acc. fǫgnuð fǫgnuðu
gen. fagnaðar fagnaða
dat. fagnaði fǫgnuðum

Fǫgnuðr represents common and proper nouns in -uðr (-aðr): these are not subject to i-mutation, so the dative singular and nominative plural retain their back vowels despite the following -i.

5. Consonant stems

fótr m. “foot”
sg. pl.
nom. fótr fœtr
acc. fót fœtr
gen. fótar fóta
dat. fœti fótum
bókr f. “book”
sg. pl.
nom. bók bœkr
acc. bók bœkr
gen. bœkr/bókar bóka
dat. bók bókum
maðr m. “person”
sg. pl.
nom. maðr menn
acc. mann menn
gen. manns manna
dat. manni mǫnnum

Also known as athematic stems (or root-stems), these masculine and feminine nouns have no thematic vowel. Endings are largely as in the a, ō, or u-stems, but the nominative and accusative plural ending is -r. Where stems end in -l or -n, however, this -r has disappeared by assimilation. i-mutation occurs in the nominative plural (from PG *-iz) and the accusative plural (by analogy with the nominative plural). Originally, it also occurred in the dative singular of masculines (as a consequence of the -i ending) and the genitive singular of feminines, but these forms had largely given way to nonmutated forms by the literary period, with the dative form fœti a rare example of surviving i-mutation while the genitive bœkr is most commonly found as bókar instead. This class is the origin of present-day English gradation-plurals (foot : feet; man : men). It is not particularly large, but its members occur very frequently.

6. r-stems

bróðir m. “brother”
sg. pl.
nom. bróðir brœðr
acc. bróður brœðr
gen. bróður brœðra
dat. brœðr brœðrum
systir f. “sister”
sg. pl.
nom. systir systr
acc. systur systr
gen. systur systra
dat. systur systrum

Relational nouns like father and mother are of course commonly used, which means that their origins can be traced quite closely, but also that they tend towards irregularity. The oblique cases of the singular are particularly variable: faður, fǫður, and fǫðr are all common spellings of the accusative, genitive, and dative forms of faðir “father”, especially later in the period of written Old Norse; in the same way, each of the oblique cases of bróðir can be either brœðr or bróður, despite the historically justified simplification in the paradigm here presented. Although this Indo-European class ultimately derives from agent nouns, only family nouns are found in the Old Norse class. This class comprises faðir, móðir, bróðir, systir, and dóttir, but not sonr, which is a u-stem.

7. nd-stems

gefandi m. “donor”
sg. pl.
nom. gefandi gefendr
acc. gefanda gefendr
gen. gefanda gefanda
dat. gefanda gefǫndum
bóndi m. “farmer”
sg. pl.
nom. bóndi bœndr
acc. bónda bœndr
gen. bónda bónda
dat. bónda bóndum

This class is populated by masculine present-participle stems: -nd- is the marker of the present participle in the older or more conservative Germanic languages (even Modern English friend ultimately derives from the present participle of Old English frēogan “to love”: a friend is one who loves, a frēond). Accordingly, you may want to think of gefandi as “giving person, giver” and of bóndi (or búandi) as “farming person” or “dwelling one”.

Weak nouns

Now that you've got the strong nouns under your belt, you will find that there is not much to the weak nouns. There is only one top-level weak noun declension, known as the n-stems, even if it does subdivide into three subclasses. You will find that a great number of masculine and feminine nouns follow the basic an- and ōn-declensions, and none of the various mutations should present any real difficulty.

a) an-stems

bogi m. “bow”
sg. pl.
nom. bogi bogar
acc. boga boga
gen. boga boga
dat. boga bogum
hjarta n. “heart”
sg. pl.
nom. hjarta hjǫrtu
acc. hjarta hjǫrtu
gen. hjarta hjartna
dat. hjarta hjǫrtum

an-stems are mostly masculines and some neuters. Bogi “bow” demonstrates the default weak masculine declension. Since its plurals are like those of masculine a-stems, it is the singular oblique cases that set this type apart from other declensions.

gumi m. “man”
sg. pl.
nom. gumi gum(n)ar
acc. guma gum(n)a
gen. guma gumna
dat. guma gum(n)um
bryti m. “steward”
sg. pl.
nom. bryti brytjar
acc. brytja brytja
gen. brytja brytja
dat. brytja brytjum

Gumi and bryti demonstrate two minor variations. Some plurals show an -n- in their ending, which represents an older form of the genitive plural which has been lost in most words (like bogi). Where it survived, however, it could spread to other cases (as in gumi). The second variation (known also as the jan-stems) has a -j- in all forms except the nominative singular. The latter phenomenon is limited to stems ending in certain morphemes, of which -ingi, -viri, and -virki are the most common.

b) ōn-stems

saga f. “story”
sg. pl.
nom. saga sǫgur
acc. sǫgu sǫgur
gen. sǫgu sagna
dat. sǫgu sǫgum
smiðja f. “smithy”
sg. pl.
nom. smiðja smiðjur
acc. smiðju smiðjur
gen. smiðju smiðja
dat. smiðju smiðjum

The ōn-stems are mostly feminines, with a few masculines. Here, saga “story, history” displays the default pattern, with u-mutation wherever a -u follows. Smiðja “smithy” is of the jōn-subvariety corresponding to the jan-declension found in bryti above. It represents nouns in -ja in which a non-velar consonant (i.e. anything but g or k) immediately precedes the -j-, as well as words in -sjá.

c) īn-stems

lygi f. “lie”
sg. pl.
nom. lygi lygar
acc. lygi lygar
gen. lygi lyga
dat. lygi lygum

This small class consists of feminines in -i only (compare the strong neuter long ja-stems as represented by the ríki paradigm above). Since most of its members lack a plural and are indeclinable in the singular, you will simply want to know not to be surprised to encounter the occasional feminine noun without the typical feminine bits. Where a plural does exist it follows ō-stem declension.

© Paul Langeslag 2011, 2018