Old French (franceis, françois, romanz; Modern French: ancien
français) was the language spoken in Northern
France from the 8th
century to the 14th century. In the 14th century, these dialects came
to be collectively known as the langue d'oïl, contrasting with the
langue d'oc or
Occitan language in the south of France. The mid-14th
century is taken as the transitional period to Middle French, the
language of the French Renaissance, specifically based on the dialect
The place and area where
Old French was spoken natively roughly
extended to the historical
Kingdom of France
Kingdom of France and its vassals
(including parts of the Angevin Empire, which during the 12th century
remained under Anglo-Norman rule), and Burgundy, Lorraine and Savoy to
the east (corresponding to modern north-central France, Belgian
Switzerland and northwestern Italy), but the
Old French was much wider, as it was carried to England,
Sicily and the
Crusader states as the language of a feudal elite and
1 Areal and dialectal divisions
2.1 Evolution from Vulgar Latin
2.2 Non-Latin influences
2.3 Earliest written Old French
2.4 Transition to Middle French
4.2.2 Diphthongs and triphthongs
5.3.1 Verb alternations
5.3.2 Example of regular -er verb: durer (to last)
5.3.3 Example of regular -ir verb: fenir (to end)
5.3.4 Example of regular -re verb: corre (to run)
5.3.5 Examples of auxiliary verbs
188.8.131.52 avoir (to have)
184.108.40.206 estre (to be)
5.4 Other parts of speech
6 See also
7.1 Other sources
8 External links
Areal and dialectal divisions
Langue d'oïl and Gallo-Romance
France in 1180, at the height of the feudal system. The
possessions of the French king are in light blue, vassals to the
French king in green, Angevin possessions in red. Shown in white is
Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire to the east, the western fringes of which,
Upper Burgundy and Lorraine, were also part of the Old
The areal of
Old French in contemporary terms corresponded to the
northern parts of the
Kingdom of France
Kingdom of France (including
Anjou and Normandy,
which in the 12th century were ruled by the Plantagenet kings of
Upper Burgundy and the duchy of Lorraine. The Norman dialect
was also spread to
England and Ireland, and during the crusades, Old
French was also spoken in the Kingdom of Sicily, and in the
Principality of Antioch
Principality of Antioch and the
Kingdom of Jerusalem
Kingdom of Jerusalem in the Levant.
As part of the emerging
Gallo-Romance dialect continuum, the langues
d'oïl were contrasted with the langue d'oc (the emerging
Occitano-Romance group, at the time also called Provençal), adjacent
Old French area in the south-west, and with the Gallo-Italic
group to the south-east. The
Franco-Provençal group developed in
Upper Burgundy, sharing features with both French and Provençal; it
may have begun to diverge from the langue d'oïl as early as the 9th
century, and is attested as a distinct
Gallo-Romance variety by the
Dialects or variants of
Old French included:
Burgundian in Burgundy, then an independent duchy whose capital was at
Picard of Picardy, whose principal cities were
Calais and Lille. It
was said that the
Picard language began at the east door of Notre-Dame
de Paris, so far-reaching was its influence;
Old Norman, in Normandy, whose principal cities were
Caen and Rouen.
Norman conquest of
England brought many Norman-speaking
aristocrats into the British Isles. Most of the older Norman
(sometimes called "French") words in English reflect its influence,
which became a conduit for the introduction into the Anglo-Norman
realm, as did Anglo-Norman control of
Anjou and Gascony and other
continental possessions. Anglo-Norman was a language that reflected a
shared culture on both sides of the English Channel. Ultimately,
the language declined and fell, becoming Law French, a jargon spoken
by lawyers that was used in
English law until the reign of Charles II
of England. Norman, however, still survives in
Normandy and the
Channel Islands, as a regional language;
Wallon, around Namur, now in Wallonia, Belgium;
Gallo of the
Duchy of Brittany;
Lorrain of the
Duchy of Lorraine.
Distribution of the modern langue d'oïl (shades of green) and of
Franco-Provençal dialects (shades of blue)
Some modern languages are derived from Old
French dialects other than
Classical French, which is based on the
Île-de-France dialect. They
include Angevin, Berrichon, Bourguignon-Morvandiau, Champenois,
Franc-Comtois, Gallo, Lorrain, Norman, Picard, Poitevin, Saintongeais
Evolution from Vulgar Latin
Beginning with Plautus’s time (254–184 b.c.), Classical Latin’s
phonological structure changed, eventually yielding Vulgar Latin, the
common spoken language of the Western Roman Empire. This latter form
differed strongly from its classical counterpart in phonology and
morphology, as well as exhibiting differences in lexicon; it was the
ancestor of the Romance languages, including Old
Further information: List of French words of Gaulish origin
Some Gaulish words influenced
Vulgar Latin and, through this, other
Romance languages. For example, classical Latin equus was uniformly
Vulgar Latin by caballus ‘nag, work horse’, derived
from Gaulish caballos (cf. Welsh ceffyl, Breton kefel), giving
Modern French cheval, Occitan caval (chaval), Catalan cavall, Spanish
caballo, Portuguese cavalo, Italian cavallo, Romanian cal, and, by
extension, English cavalry. An estimated 200 words of Gaulish
etymology survive in modern French, for example chêne ‘oak tree’
and charrue ‘plough’.
Despite attempts to explain some phonetic changes being caused by a
Gaulish substrate, only one of them is certain, because this fact is
clearly attested in the Gaulish-language epigraphy on the pottery
found at la Graufesenque (A.D. 1st century). There, the Greek word
paropsid-es (written in Latin) appears as paraxsid-i. The
consonant clusters /ps/ and /pt/ shifted to /xs/ and /xt/, e.g. Latin
capsa > *kaxsa > caisse (≠ Italian cassa) or captīvus >
*kaxtivus > OF chaitif (mod. chétif; cf. Irish cacht
‘servant’; ≠ Italian cattiv-ità, Portuguese "cativo", Spanish
cautivo). This phonetic evolution is parallel to the shift of the
Latin cluster /kt/ in
Old French (Latin factum > fait, ≠ Italian
fatto, Portuguese feito, Spanish hecho; or lactem* > lait, ≠
Italian latte, Portuguese leite, Spanish leche).
Further information: List of French words of Germanic origin
The pronunciation, vocabulary, and syntax of the
Vulgar Latin spoken
Roman Gaul in
Late Antiquity was modified by the Old Frankish
language, spoken by the
Franks who settled in Gaul from the 5th
century and conquered the entire Old French-speaking area by the 530s.
The name français itself is derived from the name the Franks.
Old Frankish language
Old Frankish language had a definitive influence on the
development of Old French, which partly explains why the earliest
Old French documents are older than the earliest attestations
Romance languages (e.g. Strasbourg Oaths, Sequence of Saint
Eulalia). It is the result of an earlier gap created between
Classical Latin and its evolved forms, which slowly reduced and
eventually severed the intercomprehensibility between the two. The Old
Low Franconian influence is also believed to be responsible for the
differences between the langue d′oïl and the langue d′oc
(Occitan), being that various parts of Northern
bilingual between Latin and Germanic for some time, and these
areas correspond precisely to where the first documents in Old French
This Germanic language shaped the popular Latin spoken here and gave
it a very distinctive identity compared to the other future Romance
languages. The very first noticeable influence is the substitution of
the Latin melodic accent by a Germanic stress and its result was
diphthongization, differentiation between long and short vowels, the
fall of the unaccented syllable and of the final vowels:
Latin decimus, -a ‘tenth’ > OF disme > F dîme ‘tenth’
(> E dime; Italian decimo, Portuguese décimo, Spanish diezmo)
VL dignitate > OF deintié (> E dainty; Italian dignità,
VL catena > OF chaeine (> E chain; Occitan, Portuguese cadeia,
Spanish cadena, Italian catena)
Additionally, two phonemes that had long since died out in Vulgar
Latin were reintroduced: [h] and [w] (> OF g(u)-, ONF w- cf. Picard
VL altu > OF halt ‘high’ (influenced by OLF *hōh ; ≠
Italian, Portuguese and Spanish alto, Occitan naut)
L vespa > F guêpe, Picard wèpe, Wallon wèsse, all ‘wasp’
(influenced by OLF *wapsa ; ≠ Occitan vèspa, Italian and
Portuguese vespa, Spanish avispa)
L viscus > F gui ‘mistletoe’ (influenced by OLF *wīhsila
‘morello’ with analogous fruits, when they are not ripe; ≠
Occitan vesc, Italian vischio)
LL vulpiculu ‘fox kit’ (from L vulpes ‘fox’) > OF golpilz,
Picard woupil ‘fox’ (influenced by OLF *wulf ‘wolf’; ≠
Occitan volpìlh, Old Italian volpiglio, Spanish vulpeja ‘vixen’)
On the opposite, the Italian, Portuguese and Spanish words of Germanic
origin borrowed from French or directly from Germanic retain /gw/ ~
/g/, e.g. It, Sp. guerra ‘war’, alongside /g/ in French guerre).
In these examples, we notice a clear consequence of bilingualism, that
sometimes even changed the first syllable of the Latin words. One
example of a Latin word influencing an Old Low Franconian loan is
framboise ‘raspberry’, from OF frambeise, from OLF *brāmbesi
‘blackberry’ (cf. Dutch braambes, braambezie; akin to German
Brombeere, English dial. bramberry) blended with LL fraga or OF fraie
‘strawberry’, which explains the replacement [b] > [f] and in
turn the final -se of framboise added to OF fraie to make freise,
modern fraise (≠ Wallon frève, Romanian fragă, Romansh fraja,
Italian fragola, fravola ‘strawberry’).
Pope (1934) estimated that perhaps still 15% of the vocabulary of
modern French derives from Germanic sources (while the proportion was
larger in Old French, because the
French language borrowed heavily
from Latin and Italian).
Earliest written Old French
At the third
Council of Tours in 813, priests were ordered to preach
in the vernacular language (either Romance or Germanic), since the
common people could no longer understand formal Latin.
The earliest documents said to be written in the
presages French – after the Reichenau and
Kassel glosses (8th and
9th centuries) – are the
Oaths of Strasbourg
Oaths of Strasbourg (treaties and charters
into which King
Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald entered in 842):
Pro Deo amur et pro Christian poblo et nostro commun salvament,
d’ist di en avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si
salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in aiudha et in cadhuna cosa...
(For the love of God and for the Christian people, and our common
salvation, from this day forward, as God will give me the knowledge
and the power, I will defend my brother Charles with my help in
The second-oldest document in
Old French is the Eulalia sequence,
which is important for linguistic reconstruction of Old French
pronunciation due to its consistent spelling.
The royal House of Capet, founded by
Hugh Capet in 987, inaugurated
the development of northern French culture in and around
Île-de-France, which slowly but firmly asserted its ascendency over
the more southerly areas of
Aquitaine and Tolosa (Toulouse). The
Capetians' langue d'oïl, the forerunner of modern standard French,
did not begin to become the common speech of all of France, however,
until after the French Revolution.
Transition to Middle French
Further information: Middle French
In the Late Middle Ages, the Old
French dialects diverged into a
number of distinct langues d'oïl, among which
Middle French proper
was the dialect of the
Île-de-France region. During the Early Modern
period, French now becomes established as the official language of the
Kingdom of France
Kingdom of France throughout the realm, also including the langue
d'oc-speaking territories in the south. It was only in the 17th to
18th centuries – with the development especially of popular
literature of the
Bibliothèque bleue – that a standardized
Classical French spread throughout
France alongside the regional
Main article: Medieval French literature
The material and cultural conditions in
France and associated
territories around the year 1100 triggered what Charles Homer Haskins
termed the "Renaissance of the 12th century", resulting in a profusion
of creative works in a variety of genres.
Old French gives way to
Middle French in the mid-14th century, paving the way for early French
Renaissance literature of the 15th century.
The earliest extant French literary texts date from the ninth century,
but very few texts before the 11th century have survived. The first
literary works written in
Old French were saints' lives. The Canticle
of Saint Eulalie, written in the second half of the 9th century, is
generally accepted as the first such text.
At the beginning of the 13th century, Jean Bodel, in his Chanson de
Saisnes, divided medieval French narrative literature into three
subject areas: the Matter of
France or Matter of Charlemagne; the
Matter of Rome (romances in an ancient setting); and the Matter of
Britain (Arthurian romances and Breton lais). The first of these is
the subject area of the chansons de geste ("songs of exploits" or
"songs of (heroic) deeds"), epic poems typically composed in
ten-syllable assonanced (occasionally rhymed) laisses. More than one
hundred chansons de geste have survived in around three hundred
manuscripts. The oldest and most celebrated of the chansons de
The Song of Roland
The Song of Roland (earliest version composed in the late
Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube
Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube in his
Girart de Vienne set out a grouping of
the chansons de geste into three cycles: the Geste du roi centering on
Geste de Garin de Monglane (whose central character
was William of Orange), and the Geste de
Doon de Mayence or the "rebel
vassal cycle", the most famous characters of which were Renaud de
Montauban and Girart de Roussillon. A fourth grouping, not listed by
Bertrand, is the Crusade cycle, dealing with the
First Crusade and its
Jean Bodel's other two categories—the "Matter of Rome" and the
"Matter of Britain"—concern the French romance or roman. Around a
hundred verse romances survive from the period 1150–1220. From
around 1200 on, the tendency was increasingly to write the romances in
prose (many of the earlier verse romances were adapted into prose
versions), although new verse romances continued to be written to the
end of the 14th century. The most important romance of the 13th
century is the
Romance of the Rose which breaks considerably from the
conventions of the chivalric adventure story.
Medieval French lyric poetry was indebted to the poetic and cultural
traditions in Southern
France and Provence—including Toulouse,
Poitiers, and the
Aquitaine region—where langue d'oc was spoken
(Occitan language); in their turn, the Provençal poets were greatly
influenced by poetic traditions from the Hispano-Arab world. The
Occitan or Provençal poets were called troubadours, from the word
trobar "to find, to invent". Lyric poets in
Old French are called
By the late 13th century, the poetic tradition in
France had begun to
develop in ways that differed significantly from the troubadour poets,
both in content and in the use of certain fixed forms. The new poetic
(as well as musical: some of the earliest medieval music has lyrics
Old French by the earliest composers known by name)
tendencies are apparent in the
Roman de Fauvel
Roman de Fauvel in 1310 and 1314, a
satire on abuses in the medieval church, filled with medieval motets,
lais, rondeaux and other new secular forms of poetry and music (mostly
anonymous, but with several pieces by Philippe de Vitry, who would
coin the expression ars nova to distinguish the new musical practice
from the music of the immediately preceding age). The best-known poet
and composer of ars nova secular music and chansons of the incipient
Middle French period was Guillaume de Machaut.
Discussions about the origins of non-religious theater (théâtre
profane) – both drama and farce—in the Middle Ages remain
controversial, but the idea of a continuous popular tradition stemming
from Latin comedy and tragedy to the 9th century seems unlikely. Most
historians place the origin of medieval drama in the church's
liturgical dialogues and "tropes". Mystery plays were eventually
transferred from the monastery church to the chapter house or
refectory hall and finally to the open air, and the vernacular was
substituted for Latin. In the 12th century one finds the earliest
extant passages in French appearing as refrains inserted into
liturgical dramas in Latin, such as a
Saint Nicholas (patron saint of
the student clercs) play and a
Saint Stephen play. An early French
dramatic play is
Le Jeu d'Adam
Le Jeu d'Adam (c. 1150) written in octosyllabic
rhymed couplets with Latin stage directions (implying that it was
written by Latin-speaking clerics for a lay public).
A large body of fables survive in Old French; these include (mostly
anonymous) literature dealing with the recurring trickster character
Reynard the Fox. Marie de
France was also active in this genre,
Ysopet (Little Aesop) series of fables in verse. Related
to the fable was the more bawdy fabliau, which covered topics such as
cuckolding and corrupt clergy. These fabliaux would be an important
Chaucer and for the Renaissance short story (conte or
See also: Phonological history of French
Old French was constantly changing and evolving. However, the form in
the late 12th century, as attested in a great deal of mostly poetic
writings, can be considered standard. The writing system at this time
was more phonetic than that used in most subsequent centuries. In
particular, all written consonants (including final ones) were
pronounced, except for s preceding non-stop consonants and t in et,
and final e was pronounced [ə]. The phonological system can be
summarised as follows:
Old French consonants
All obstruents (plosives, fricatives and affricates) were subject to
word-final devoicing, which was usually indicated in the orthography.
The affricates /ts/, /dz/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/ became fricatives ([s], [z],
[ʃ], [ʒ]) in Middle French.
/ts/ had three spellings – c before e or i, ç before other vowels,
or z at the end of a word – as seen in cent, chançon, priz ("a
hundred, song, price").
/dz/ was written as z, as in doze "twelve", and did not occur
/ʎ/ (l mouillé), as in conseil, travaillier ("advice, to work"),
became /j/ in Modern French.
/ɲ/ appeared not only in the middle of a word, but also at the end,
as in poing "fist". At the end of a word, /ɲ/ was later lost, leaving
a nasalized vowel.
/h/ was found only in Germanic loanwords and was later lost (although
it is cheshirized as the so-called aspirated h that blocks liaison).
In native Latin words, /h/ was lost early on, as in om, uem, from
Intervocalic /d/ from both Latin /t/ and /d/ was lenited to [ð] in
the early period (cf. contemporary Spanish: amado [aˈmaðo]). At the
end of words it was also devoiced to [θ]. In some texts it was
sometimes written as dh or th (aiudha, cadhuna, Ludher, vithe). By
1100 it disappeared altogether.
In Old French, the nasal vowels were not separate phonemes but only
allophones of the oral vowels before a nasal consonant. The nasal
consonant was fully pronounced; bon was pronounced [bõn] (Modern
French [bɔ̃]). Nasal vowels were present even in open syllables
before nasals where Modern French has oral vowels, as in bone [bõnə]
(Modern French bonne [bɔn]).
Old French vowels
[ĩ ] [ỹ]
/o/ had formerly existed but closed to /u/; the original Western
Romance /u/ having previously been fronted to /y/ across most of what
France and northern Italy.
/o/ would later appear again when /aw/ monophthongized and also when
/ɔ/ closed in certain positions (such as when it was followed by
original /s/ or /z/ but not by /ts/, which later became /s/).
/õ/ may have similarly been closed to /ũ/, in at least in some
dialects, since it was borrowed into
Middle English as /uːn/ >
/aʊn/ (Latin computāre > OF conter > English count; Latin
rotundum > OF ront > English round; Latin bonitātem > OF
bonté > English bounty). In any case, traces of such a change were
erased in later stages of French, when the close nasal vowels /ĩ ỹ
õ~ũ/ were opened to become /ɛ̃ œ̃ ɔ̃/.
/ə̃/ may have existed in the unstressed third-person plural verb
ending -ent, but it may have already passed to /ə/, which is known to
have happened by the
Middle French period at the latest.
Diphthongs and triphthongs
Old French diphthongs and triphthongs
/ew/ ~ /øw/
/iw/ ~ /iɥ/
/we/ ~ /wø/
count (nom. sg.)
stress always falls on middle vowel
/wew/ ~ /wøw/
Old French (up to about the mid-12th century), the spelling
⟨ai⟩ represented a diphthong /aj/ instead of the later monophthong
/ɛ/, and ⟨ei⟩ represented the diphthong /ej/, which merged
with /oj/ in Late
Old French (except when it was nasalized).
In Early Old French, the diphthongs described above as "rising" may
have been falling diphthongs (/ie̯/, /yj/, /ue̯/). In earlier works
with vowel assonance, the diphthong written ⟨ie⟩ did not assonate
with any pure vowels, which suggests that it cannot have simply been
The pronunciation of the vowels written ⟨ue⟩ and ⟨eu⟩ is
debated. In the first records of Early Old French, they represented
and were written as /uo/, /ou/, and by Middle French, they had both
merged as /ø ~ œ/, but the transitional pronunciations are unclear.
Old French had additional triphthongs /iej/ and /uoj/
(equivalent to diphthongs followed by /j/); these soon merged into /i/
and /ɥi/ respectively.
The diphthong ⟨iu⟩ was rare and had merged into ⟨ui⟩ by Middle
French (OF tiule > MF tuile 'tile'; OF siure > Late OF suire
> MF suivre 'follow').
In addition to diphthongs,
Old French had many instances of hiatus
between adjacent vowels because of the loss of an intervening
consonant. Manuscripts generally do not distinguish hiatus from true
diphthongs, but modern scholarly transcription indicates it with a
diaeresis, as in Modern French:
Latin audīre > OF oïr /oˈir/ 'hear'
Vulgar Latin *vidūtum > OF veü /vəˈy/ 'seen'
Latin rēgīnam > OF reïne /rəˈinə/ 'queen'
Latin pāgēnsem > OF païs /paˈis/ 'country'
Latin augustum > OF aoust /aˈust/ 'August'
Latin patellam > OF paele /paˈɛlə/ 'pan'
Late Latin quaternum > OF quaïer /kwaˈjer/ 'booklet, quire'
Late Latin aetāticum > OF aage, eage /aˈad͡ʒə/ ~
Old French maintained a two-case system, with a nominative case and an
oblique case, for longer than did some other
Romance languages like
Spanish and Italian. Case distinctions, at least in the masculine
gender, were marked on both the definite article and the noun itself.
Thus, the masculine noun li veisins "the neighbour" (Latin vicīnus
Proto-Romance *vecínos /veˈt͡sinos/ > OF
veisins /vejˈzĩns/; Modern French le voisin /vwazɛ̃/) was declined
Evolution of the nominal masculine inflection from
Classical Latin to
oblique (Latin accusative)
oblique (Latin accusative)
In later Old French, the distinctions had become moribund. As in most
other Romance languages, it was the oblique case form that usually
survived to become the Modern French form: l'enfant "the child"
represents the old oblique (Latin accusative īnfāntem); the Old
French nominative was li enfes (Latin īnfāns). There are some cases
with significant differences between nominative and oblique forms
(derived from Latin nouns with a stress shift between the nominative
and other cases) in which either it is the nominative form that
survives or both forms survive with different meanings:
Both OFr li sire, le sieur (Latin seiior, seiiōrem) and le seignor
(nom. †sendra; Latin senior, seniōrem) survive in the
vocabulary of later French (sire, sieur, seigneur) as different ways
to refer to a feudal lord.
Modern French sœur "sister" is the nominative form (
Old French suer
< Latin nominative soror); the
Old French oblique form seror (<
Latin accusative sorōrem) no longer survives.
Modern French prêtre "priest" is the nominative form (Old French
prestre < presbyter); the
Old French oblique form prevoire, later
provoire (< presbyterem) survives only in the Paris street name Rue
Modern French indefinite pronoun on "one" continues Old French
nominative hom "man" (< homō); homme "man" continues the oblique
form (OF home < hominem).
In a few cases in which the only distinction between forms was the
nominative -s ending, the -s was preserved in spelling to distinguish
otherwise-homonymous words. An example is fils "son" (< Latin
nominative fīlius), spelled to distinguish it from fil "wire". In
this case, a later spelling pronunciation has resulted in the modern
pronunciation /fis/ (earlier /fi/).
As in Spanish and Italian, the neuter gender was eliminated, and most
old neuter nouns became masculine. Some Latin neuter plurals were
reanalysed as feminine singulars: Latin gaudium was more widely used
in the plural form gaudia, which was taken for a singular in Vulgar
Latin and ultimately led to modern French la joie, "joy" (feminine
Nouns were declined in the following declensions:
Class I (feminine)
Class II (masculine)
Class I normal
Class II normal
Class III (both)
Class I is derived from the Latin first declension. Class Ia mostly
comes from Latin feminine nouns in the third declension. Class II is
derived from the Latin second declension. Class IIa generally stems
from second-declension nouns ending in -er and from third-declension
masculine nouns; in both cases, the Latin nominative singular did not
end in -s, which is preserved in Old French.
The classes show various analogical developments: -es from the
accusative instead of -∅ (-e after a consonant cluster) in Class I
nominative plural (Latin -ae), li pere instead of *li peres (Latin
illi patres) in Class IIa nominative plural, modelled on Class II,
Class III nouns show a separate form in the nominative singular that
does not occur in any of the other forms. IIIa nouns ended in -ātor,
-ātōrem in Latin and preserve the stress shift; IIIb nouns also had
a stress shift, from -ō to -ōnem. IIIc nouns are an Old French
creation and have no clear Latin antecedent. IIId nouns represent
various other types of third-declension Latin nouns with stress shift
or a change of consonant (soror, sorōrem; īnfāns, īnfāntem;
presbyter, presbyterem; seiior, seiiōrem; comes, comitem).
Regular feminine forms of masculine nouns are formed by adding an -e
to the masculine stem unless the masculine stem already ends in -e.
For example, bergier (shepherd) becomes bergiere (Modern French berger
Adjectives agree in terms of number, gender and case with the noun
that they are qualifying. Thus, a feminine plural noun in the
nominative case requires any qualifying adjectives to be feminine,
plural and nominative. For example, in femes riches, riche has to be
in the feminine plural form.
Adjectives can be divided into three declensional classes:
Class I corresponding roughly to Latin 1st- and 2nd-declension
Class II corresponding roughly to Latin 3rd-declension adjectives
Class III containing primarily the descendants of Latin synthetic
comparative forms in -ior, -iōrem.
Class I adjectives have a feminine singular form (nominative and
oblique) ending in -e. They can be further subdivided into two
subclasses, based on the masculine nominative singular form. Class Ia
adjectives have a masculine nominative singular ending in -s:
bon "good" (< Latin bonus, > modern French bon)
For Class Ib adjectives, the masculine nominative singular ends in -e,
like the feminine. There are descendants of Latin second- and
third-declension adjectives ending in -er in the nominative singular:
aspre "harsh" (< Latin asper, > modern French âpre)
For Class II adjectives, the feminine singular is not marked by the
granz "big, great" (< Latin grandis, > modern French grand)
An important subgroup of Class II adjectives is the present
participial forms in -ant.
Class III adjectives have a stem alternation, resulting from stress
shift in the Latin third declension and a distinct neuter form:
mieudre "better" (< Latin melior, > modern French meilleur)
In later Old French, Classes II and III tended to be moved across to
Class I, which was complete by Middle French. Modern French thus has
only a single adjective declension, unlike most other Romance
languages, which have two or more.
Old French show the same extreme phonological deformations as
Old French words. Morphologically, however,
Old French verbs are
extremely conservative in preserving intact most of the Latin
alternations and irregularities that had been inherited in
Old French has much less analogical reformation than
Modern French has and significantly less than the oldest stages of
other languages (such as Old Spanish) despite the fact that the
various phonological developments in
Gallo-Romance and Proto-French
led to complex alternations in the majority of commonly-used verbs.
For example, the
Old French verb laver "to wash" (Latin lavāre) is
conjugated je lef, tu leves, il leve in the present indicative and je
lef, tu les, il let in the present subjunctive, in both cases regular
phonological developments from Latin indicative lavō, lavās, lavat
and subjunctive lavem, lavēs, lavet. The following paradigm is
typical in showing the phonologically regular but morphologically
irregular alternations of most paradigms:
The alternation je lef ~ tu leves is a regular result of the final
devoicing triggered by loss of final /o/ but not /a/.
The alternation laver ~ tu leves is a regular result of the
diphthongization of a stressed open syllable /a/ into /ae/ > /æ/
The alternation je lef ~ tu les ~ il let in the subjunctive is a
regular result of the simplification of the final clusters /fs/ and
/ft/, resulting from loss of /e/ in final syllables.
Modern French, on the other hand, has je lave, tu laves, il lave in
both indicative and subjunctive, reflecting significant analogical
developments: analogical borrowing of unstressed vowel /a/, analogical
-e in the first singular (from verbs like j'entre, with a regular -e )
and wholesale replacement of the subjunctive with forms modelled on
-ir/-oir/-re verbs. All serve to eliminate the various alternations in
Old French verb paradigm. Even modern "irregular" verbs are not
immune from analogy: For example,
Old French je vif, tu vis, il vit
(vivre "to live") has yielded to modern je vis, tu vis, il vit,
eliminating the unpredictable -f in the first-person singular.
The simple past also shows extensive analogical reformation and
simplification in Modern French, as compared with Old French.
The Latin pluperfect was preserved in very early
Old French as a past
tense with a value similar to a preterite or imperfect. For example,
Sequence of Saint Eulalia
Sequence of Saint Eulalia (878 AD) has past-tense forms such as
avret (< Latin habuerat), voldret (< Latin voluerat),
alternating with past-tense forms from the Latin perfect (continued as
the modern "simple past").
Old Occitan also preserved this tense, with
a conditional value; Spanish still preserves this tense (the -ra
imperfect subjunctive), as does Portuguese (in its original value as a
In Latin, stress was determined automatically by the number of
syllables in a word and the weight (length) of the syllables. That
resulted in certain automatic stress shifts between related forms in a
paradigm, depending on the nature of the suffixes added. For example,
in pensō "I think", the first syllable was stressed, but in pensāmus
"we think", the second syllable was stressed. In many Romance
languages, vowels diphthongized in stressed syllables under certain
circumstances but not in unstressed syllables, resulting in
alternations in verb paradigms: Spanish pienso "I think" vs. pensamos
"we think" (pensar "to think"), or cuento "I tell" vs. contamos "we
tell" (contar "to tell").
In the development of French, at least five vowels diphthongized in
stressed, open syllables. Combined with other stress-dependent
developments, that yielded 15 or so types of alternations in so-called
strong verbs in Old French. For example, /a/ diphthongized to /ai/
before nasal stops in stressed, open syllables but not in unstressed
syllables, yielding aim "I love" (Latin amō) but amons "we love"
The different types are as follows:
Vowel alternations in
Old French verbs
Example (-er conjugation)
Example (other conjugation)
/ Other form
"to give birth"
free /a/ + nasal
palatal + free /a/
palatal + /a/ + palatal
"to lie (down)"
palatal + blocked /a/
intertonic /a/ + palatal?
"to torment, make suffer"
free /ɛ/ + nasal
creindre (var. cremir, -oir)
/ɛ/ + palatal
"to go out"
intertonic /ɛ, e/ + double cons.
free /e/ + nasal
palatal + free /e/
intertonic /e/ + palatal
"to cart around"
"to invent, discover"
/ɔ/ + palatal
intertonic blocked /o/
"to get angry"
intertonic blocked /o/ + nasal
In Modern French, the verbs in the -er class have been systematically
levelled. Generally, the "weak" (unstressed) form predominates, but
there are some exceptions (such as modern aimer/nous aimons). The only
remaining alternations are in verbs like acheter/j'achète and
jeter/je jette, with unstressed /ə/ alternating with stressed /ɛ/
and in (largely-learned) verbs like adhérer/j'adhère, with
unstressed /e/ alternating with stressed /ɛ/. Many of the non-er
verbs have become obsolete, and many of the remaining verbs have been
levelled. A few alternations remain, however, in what are now known as
irregular verbs, such as je tiens, nous tenons; je dois, nous devons
and je meurs, nous mourons.
Some verbs had a more irregular alternation between different-length
stems, with a longer, stressed stem alternating with a shorter,
unstressed stem. That was a regular development stemming from the loss
of unstressed intertonic vowels, which remained when they were
j'aiu/aidier "help" < adiūtō, adiūtāre
j'araison/araisnier "speak to" < adratiōnō, adratiōnāre
je deraison/deraisnier "argue" < dēratiōnō, dēratiōnāre
je desjun/disner "dine" < disiēiūnō, disiēiūnāre
je manju/mangier "eat" < mandūcō, mandūcāre
je parol/parler "speak" < *paraulō, *paraulāre < parabolō,
The alternation of je desjun, disner is particularly complicated; it
appears that disiēiūnāre >
Western Romance /desjejuˈnare >
/desjejˈnare/ (preliminary intertonic loss) > /desiˈnare/
(triphthong reduction) > /disiˈnare/ (metaphony) > /disˈner/
(further intertonic loss and other proto-French developments). Both
stems have become full verbs in Modern French: déjeuner "to have
lunch" and dîner "to dine". Furthermore, déjeuner does not derive
directly from je desjun (< *disi(ēi)ūnō, with total loss of
unstressed -ēi-). Instead, it comes from
Old French desjeüner, based
on the alternative form je desjeün (< *disiē(i)ūnō, with loss
of only -i-, likely influenced by jeûner "to fast" < Old French
jeüner < je jeün /d͡ʒe.ˈyn/ "I fast" < iē(i)ūnō: iē- is
an initial rather than intertonic so the vowel -ē- does not
Example of regular -er verb: durer (to last)
Present participle: durant
Past Participle: duré
Auxiliary verb: avoir
Example of regular -ir verb: fenir (to end)
Present participle: fenissant
Past participle: feni(t)
Auxiliary verb: avoir
Example of regular -re verb: corre (to run)
Present participle: corant
Past participle: coru(t)
Auxiliary verb: estre
Examples of auxiliary verbs
avoir (to have)
Infinitive: avoir (earlier aveir)
Present participle: aiant
Past participle: eü(t)
Auxiliary verb: avoir
estre (to be)
esteie > estoie
seie > soie
sereie > seroie
estreie > estroie
esteies > estoies
seies > soies
sereies > seroies
estreies > estroies
seies > soies
esteit > estoit
seit > soit
sereit > seroit
estreit > estroit
seiiens, seions > soiiens, soions
seiiens > soiiens, seions > soions
seiiez > soiiez
seiiez > soiiez
esteient > estoient
seient > soient
sereient > seroient
estreient > estroient
Present participle: estant
Past participle: esté(t)
Auxiliary verb: avoir
Other parts of speech
Adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections are generally
invariable, one notable exception being the adverb tot, like Modern
French tout: all, every.
For a list of words relating to Old French, see the Old French
category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
History of French
History of the English language
Languages of France
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
(2017). "Old French".
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck
Institute for the Science of Human History.
^ Kinoshita 2006, p. 3.
^ Lusignan, Serge. La langue des rois au Moyen Âge: Le français en
France et en Angleterre. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France,
^ "Brill Online Dictionaries". Iedo.brillonline.nl. Archived from the
original on 2013-06-17. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
Romance languages - Encyclopædia Britannica". Britannica.com.
^ "Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture - Google Boeken".
Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
^ "Definition of Italic in Oxford Dictionaries (British & World
English)". Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
^ "Definition of Romance in Oxford Dictionaries (British & World
English)". Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
^ Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Paris:
Errance, 2003, 96.
^ Delamarre (2003, pp. 389–90) lists 167
^ Pierre-Yves Lambert, La Langue gauloise (Paris: Errance, 1994),
46-7. ISBN 978-2-87772-224-7
^ Lambert 46-47
^ Bernard Cerquiglini, La naissance du français, Presses
Universitaires de France, 2nd edn., chap. 3, 1993, p. 53.
^ Cerquiglini 53
^ Cerquiglini 26.
^ "Etymology of ''frambuesa'' (Spanish)". Buscon.rae.es. Retrieved
^ Portuguese framboesa ‘raspberry’ and Spanish frambuesa are
^ La Chanson de Roland. Edited and Translated into Modern French by
Ian Short. Paris: Livre de Poche, 1990. p. 12.
^ (in French) Antoine Adam, Georges Lerminier, and Édouard Morot-Sir,
eds. Littérature française. "Tome 1: Des origines à la fin du
XVIIIe siècle," Paris: Larousse, 1967, p. 16.
^ (in French) Antoine Adam, Georges Lerminier, and Édouard Morot-Sir,
eds. Littérature française. "Tome 1: Des origines à la fin du
XVIIIe siècle," Paris: Larousse, 1967, p. 36-37.
^ The chart is based on phonologies given in Laborderie, Noëlle,
Précis de Phonétique Historique, Nathan 1994; and in Rickard, Peter,
A History of the French Language, 2nd edition, Routledge 1989, pp.
^ Berthon, H. E.; Starkey, V. G. (1908). Tables synoptiques de
phonologie de l'ancien français. Oxford Clarendon Press.
^ Zink (1999), p. 132
Old French nominative sendra, inherited from Latin senior,
appears only in the
Oaths of Strasbourg
Oaths of Strasbourg before it become obsolete.
^ Moignet (1988, p. 26–31), Zink (1992, p. 39–48), de La Chaussée
(1977, p. 39–44)
Ayres-Bennett, Wendy (1995). A History of the French Language through
Texts. London/New York: Routledge.
Banniard, Michel (1997). Du latin aux langues romanes. Paris:
de la Chaussée, François (1977). Initiation à la morphologie
historique de l'ancien français. Paris: Klincksieck.
Cole, William (2005). First and Otherwise Notable Editions of Old
French Texts Printed from 1742 to 1874: A Bibliographical Catalogue of
My Collection. Sitges: Cole & Contreras.
Delamarre, X.; P.-Y. Lambert (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue
gauloise : Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique
continental (2nd ed.). Paris: Errance. ISBN 2-87772-237-6.
Einhorn, E. (1974). Old French: A Concise Handbook. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-20343-0.
Kibler, William (1984). An Introduction to Old French. New York:
Modern Language Association of America.
Kinoshita, Sharon (2006). Medieval Boundaries: Rethinking Difference
Old French Literature. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Lanly, André (2002). Morphologie historique des verbes français.
Paris: Champion. ISBN 2-7453-0822-X.
Lodge, R. Anthony (1993). French: From Dialect to Standard. London/New
Moignet, Gérard (1988). Grammaire de l'ancien français (2nd ed.).
Paris: Klincksieck. ISBN 9782252015094.
Pope, Mildred K. (1934). From Latin to Modern French with Especial
Consideration of Anglo-Norman Phonology and Morphology. Manchester:
Manchester University Press.
Zink, Gaston (1999). Phonétique historique du français (6th ed.).
Paris: PUF. ISBN 2-13-046471-8.
Zink, Gaston (1992). Morphologie du français médiéval (2nd ed.).
Paris: PUF. ISBN 2-13-044766-X.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Old French language.
Old French test of at Wikimedia Incubator
Old French on the Web
An introduction to old French François Frédéric Roget (1887)
Old French Online from the University of Texas at Austin
Lexilogos: Online dictionaries of Old French
DÉCT- (Electronic Dictionary of Chretien de Troyes) : complete
lexicon and transcriptions of the five romances of this Old French
author. University of Ottawa - CNRS.
Du Bellay, Joachim (1549). La Défense, et illustration de la langue
française. Paris: Arnoul L'Angelier.
Romance languages (Classification)
North Italian dialects
Gallo-Italic of Sicily
Gallo-Italic of Basilicata
Mediterranean Lingua Franca
Central, Sardinian and Eastern
Italics indicate extinct languages
Bold indicates languages with more than 5 million speakers
Languages between parentheses are varieties of the langu