Old English vs Middle English: Difference and Comparison

One of the main languages around the globe- English, has many classifications. This global language is spoken mostly worldwide, and many people even claim English as their native language.


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But, the English you hear around you now is also called Modern English. This is not something that was used in the old days too.

The English back then was completely different from what is spoken now! The English language has an enriched cultural past of almost 1700 years, for which it is also divided into Old English and Middle English other than Modern English.

Quite a long interesting journey tells us how the English Language has changed through these hundreds of years. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Old English and Middle English are two historical stages of the English language, with Old English predating Middle English.
  2. Old English is characterized by its Germanic roots, while Middle English reflects the influence of French and Latin.
  3. While Old English is largely unintelligible to modern English speakers, Middle English is more recognizable but differs significantly from contemporary English.

Old English vs Middle English

Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon, was spoken in England from the 5th to the 11th centuries AD. It is characterized by highly inflected grammar and a vocabulary heavily influenced. Middle English was spoken in England from the 11th to the late 15th centuries AD, following the Norman Conquest of 1066. Middle English saw the introduction of many French and Latin loanwords.

Old English vs Middle English

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonOld EnglishMiddle English
ClassificationOld English can be classified into three sub-divisions- Prehistoric, Early Old England, and Late Old English. Having developed from Late Old English, Middle English grew popular, and people soon started to compose in Middle English. Later the Late Middle English came to be known as Early Modern English. 
PeriodIt is recorded in history that Old English was spoken from about the 5th century till around the 12th century. Middle English came into being in the second half of the 11th century while Old English was still in use till the last parts of the 15th century. 
OriginOld English is the earliest language recorded in history books to be ever spoken. We are still not sure how it came into being. Middle English came into being from the Late Old English after the occurrence of the conquest of the Normans. 
Word orderThe word order of Old English was not fixed The word order of Middle English was almost fixed
Standardization Old English has never been standardized. Middle English was standardized ages after its existence. 

What is Old English?

Old English is technically the oldest form of English we have ever come across in history. It was predominant in all of England throughout this period. It was also spoken in Scotland for a vast period.

The Anglo-Saxons brought this language along with them. It was, in fact, a combination of different dialects used in different tribes at that time.  Having further three classifications, the language had its initial influence from the Latin language.

However, we see many German words in their everyday use. Prehistoric, Middle Old English and Late Old English are the three classifications. From the Late Old English, Middle English was developed. 

When the Vikings started attacking the English, their Norse and Celtic languages became part of Old English. It is very difficult for Modern English readers to read a piece of Old English.

The pronouns, nouns, and verbs are completely different, and the sentences are complex. They used many versions of pronouns for a single pronoun. Old English was not standardized. However, we do find some writings which were written on runes. 

old english

What is Middle English? 

Middle English started developing from Late Old English and derives its influence from French words. It initially had no standardization, but as time went on, it slowly became the language in which the poets wrote. 

It is way simpler than Old English and quite similar to modern English. The prepositional construction, verb forms, and pronouns are quite simple, like in Modern English.

We get examples of various writings in Middle English from the verses of Chaucer. 

middle english

Main Differences Between Old English and Middle English

  1. The main difference between Old English and Middle English lies in their different influence. Latin, Celtic, and Norse were the three languages that heavily influenced Old English. However, Middle English was influenced by the French language. 
  2.  Old English was not what you’d call a monolithic language- it had vast variations depending on the regions it spread to. However, the four main variations were West Saxon, Kentish, Northumbrian, and Mercian. On the other hand, Middle English, in the beginning, had its share of different dialects. But, after a while, it became the language the artists composed and hence got standardized. 
  3. Old English was way more complex as compared to Middle English. Old English verbs and nouns had many forms that became unnecessarily complex for people. However, Middle English was simpler in comparison to Old English. 
  4. Old English had very little or no resemblance to Modern English, but Middle English resembled Modern English to a great extent. 
  5. The vocabulary of Old English had many German and Latin words in it. Still, the Middle English vocabulary mainly had French words and concepts and terms like law and religion came into being. 
  6. There were many silent letters in Old English’s alphabet system. In the case of Middle English, the language at first had no silent letters, but later on, the ‘e’ became silent in some situations. 
  7. The cases were mainly instrumental in Old English. In Middle English, we see a shift towards different prepositional constructions. 
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  1. https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1773&context=pwpl
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