Difference Between Old English and Middle English

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


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But, the English which you hear around you now is also termed as 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 the story of how the English Language has changed through these hundreds of years. 

Old English vs Middle English

The difference between Old English and Middle English is the timeline. While the old English started almost around the 5th century, Middle English did not start until the end of the 11th century. 

Old English vs Middle English

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonOld EnglishMiddle English
ClassificationOld English can further be classified into three more sub-divisions- Prehistoric, Early Old England, and Late Old English. Having developed from Late Old English, Middle English grew popular and soon people 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 from the second half of the 11th century while the 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 time period. It was also spoken in Scotland for a vast period of time.

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 do see a lot of 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 also became a part of Old English. It is very difficult for Modern English readers to be able 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 the 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 more simple than Old English and is quite similar to modern English too. The prepositional construction, verb forms, and pronouns are quite simple like 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 in no way of what you’d call a monolithic language- the language had vast variations depending on the different 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 in which the artists composed, and hence got standardized. 
  3. Old English was way more complex as compared to Middle English. The verbs and nouns in Old English had many forms which became unnecessary 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, but the Middle English vocabulary mainly had French words, and concepts and terms like law and religion came into being. 
  6. There were a lot of silent letters in the alphabet system of Old English. 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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