Periphrases in Medieval English

by Michiko Ogura (Author)
©2018 Monographs 112 Pages


This monograph is one of the studies on English verb syntax, especially focusing on its changes in Old and Middle English periods. Investigations have been made so far by the author on ‘impersonal’ verbs, reflexive constructions, verbs of motion, verbs of emotion, and other verbs in various semantic fields. In this study the author explains all the periphrastic expressions found in the early history of English, some of which survived up to Modern English, by using dictionary data and her own findings. She tries to show the devices of periphrastic expressions with modal and other auxiliaries, which have supplied simple verb forms in writings and translations in the process of the language change.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Table of Abbreviations
  • Chapters
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. beon/habban + past participle
  • 3. beon/wesan/weorðan + past participle
  • 4. man-periphrasis
  • 5. beon/wesan + present participle
  • 6. onginnan/beginnan + infinitive
  • 7. gan/con + infinitive
  • 8. don periphrasis
  • 9. uton + infinitive
  • 10. causative auxiliaries
  • 11. modal auxiliaries
  • 12. double modals
  • 13. ‘impersonals’ and ‘reflexives’
  • 14. ‘preposition + noun’ and verb-adverb combinations
  • 15. periphrases died out in the medieval period
  • 16. Conclusion
  • Select Bibliography
  • Index of Examples
  • Series index

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From about 1980 onwards many books and articles have been published on Old and Middle English syntax, as Mitchell’s Old English Syntax is a representative. Owing to the development of technological devices, the making of web corpora has accelerated the use of the great amount of data in this field, and the limited number of medieval texts has become a strong point of digitalising the data. Many early manuscripts have been made available on the screen, which has enliven the discussion on the original texts without turning pages by our own hands. The most striking change has occurred in dictionaries. The 3rd edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is now on the website and the data can be updated whenever necessary; the difference between the paper version of the 2nd edition of OED and the digitalised OED3 is now quite noticeable.

I started writing on Old English syntax from 1974 and enjoyed finding examples of a particular construction which was earlier than the first quotation in OED. But now almost all my findings are cited clearly in OED3, MED or DOE Web Corpus. Though the completion of DOE as a dictionary is unpredictable at this stage, we have the whole remaining data of Old English texts based on, and updated constantly, the Microfiche Concordance preceding this computer era. As both linguists and philologists have started using the DOE, OED3 and MED data, citations from each specific edition is now used only in discussions or critical comments as variant readings. We should be mindful of looking at these alternative readings or possible choices, without ignoring them. In this monograph I shall give the dictionary data first so that everyone may notice what dictionaries say admitting the results of investigations in recent years, and then add past and present opinions of studies in this field. The important thing, I think, is to show the tendency found in the history of English — the tendency of using various periphrastic constructions throughout the language history so as to make the records, translations, and literary works to be readable, as well as people make the speech communicative. Old English data is left for us in the process of making the language periphrastic, i.e. the periphrastic tendency had already started, and it became obvious in the transitional ← 9 | 10 → period, even though the data was scarce, because we find the syntactic shift from Anglo-Saxon to ‘English’, accelerated by the morphological change. The tendency of using periphrases has continued even after the medieval period, which gives a variety of expressions in the English language.

Acknowledgements are due to the librarians of the British Library, London, Bodleian library, Oxford, and Parker Library and University Library, Cambridge, for letting me investigate manuscripts of the Gospels: MSS Auct.D.2.19, Bodley 441, Corpus Christi College Cambridge 140, Cotton Neor D.iv, Cotton Otho c.i. (vol.1), Eng.B.b.C.2, Hatton 38, and Royal I.A xiv. My studies on medieval English for these thirty years or so have been done by the generous grants from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the British Council and the British Academy.

Summer 2017

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Table of Abbreviations

Abbreviated titles of the texts examined are shown in Select Bibliography.

OE Old English

ME Middle English

MnE Modern English

PDE Present-Day English

L Latin

OF Old French

ON Old Norse

OHG Old High German

OS Old Saxon

Goth Gothic

Gmc Germanic

PIE Proto-Indo-European

S subject

V verb

O object

Aux auxiliary

Inf infinitive

Part particle

past ptc past participle

pres ptc present participle

Vimp verb in the imperative

Conj conjunction

Dem demonstrative

Adj adjective

Adv adverb

Prep preposition

eOE early Old English

lOE late Old English


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Old English Middle English periphrases modal auxiliaries auxiliary do passive, perfective, progressive
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 111 pp.

Biographical notes

Michiko Ogura (Author)

Michiko Ogura is professor of English at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University. Her field of study is Old and Middle English syntax and word study. Her publications include Verbs in Medieval English (1996), Verbs in Motion in Medieval English (2002), and Words and Expressions of Emotion in Medieval English (2013).


Title: Periphrases in Medieval English
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114 pages