We have put together a dozen ‘rules’ which are geared specifically towards helping you to understand the charter boundaries in their original language. They thus concentrate more on how the sounds evolved into modern English than on precisely how the sounds were pronounced in Old English.

  1. þ and ð represent the sound ‘th’, then as now used to represent both the sound in ‘think’ and the sound in ‘that’. So broþor, þistel, þis, oþer, norþ, suþ (brother, thistle, this, other, north, south)

    What are these words?: ðancful, ðing, þinc, norðweard, furþur, ðusend, Norþfolc


  2. æ can represent a sound somewhere between the ‘a’ in ‘cat’ and that in ‘any’, but it can also represent a longer sound pronounced as in standard English ‘lad’ (try pronouncing ‘cat’ and ‘lad’ out loud to hear the difference). Between Old English and modern English, changes in the long vowel sound sometimes led to a sound represented in modern English by the letters ‘ea’ or ‘ee’. When followed by ‘r’, the æ was pronounced like the sound in ‘there’, ‘air’ and ‘bare’. Thus æfter, blæc (after, black), dæl, mæd (deal, mead), stræt, æl (street, eel), þær, bær (there, bare).

    More examples: stærling, fæst, fæstnes, bæc, Æþelræd, wæpen, læst, wæter, hæþ, ær


  3. cg is pronounced like our dge. So ecg and brycg should now be clear: 'edge' and 'bridge' respectively (OE ‘y’ being pronounced somewhere between an ‘i’ and a 'u').

    More examples: hecg, secg, wecg, lecg, mycg, bacga (hint: black and white and lives in a sett)


  4. sc - you’ll have seen from the word ‘Englisc’ that the combination sc is pronounced like modern English sh. So englisc, scip, fisc, and scearp are ‘English’, 'ship', 'fish', and 'sharp'.

    More examples: sciell, sceadu, sceaf, sceap, sceaft, disc, scir, scort, screawa, sciellfisc, wæschus, sæsciell (hints: found on the seashore, cast in sunshine, wheat bunch, baa, spears have them, eat out of it, where hobbits live, not tall, tiny rodent, scampi, place for a shower, found on the seashore)


  5. ht is almost always equivalent to ‘ght’ in modern English and was originally given a gutteral pronunciation. So briht, monliht, niht (bright, moonlight, night)

    More examples: fliht, siht, miht, þohte, bohte, sohte, brohte, wrohte


  6. f can be like English ‘f’ but it can also be pronounced like ‘v’ (usually when between vowels). So Old English heofon, and seofon are 'heaven' and 'seven', but Old English for sounds like modern English 'for'.

    More examples: full, flor, feþer, ofer, heafon, hærfest, beofor (hint: an animal that builds a damm)


  7. g is mostly pronounced either as ‘g’ (as in ‘goat’) or as ‘y’ (as in 'yet'). A rule of thumb is that before and after ‘e’ and ‘i’ and after ‘æ’ it is likely to be pronounced as ‘y’. So gat, Godric, god, grene and gylden are ‘goat’, ‘Godric’, ‘good’, ‘green’ and ‘golden’, but weg, giet, geong, læg and ænig are 'way', 'yet', 'young', ‘lay’ and 'any'.

    More examples: gold, gos, glæd, græs, græshoppa, gnæt, manig, græg, grædig, dæg, geong, geard, gear, þegn, sixtig, snægl


  8. c follows the same pattern, pronounced as the ‘c’ in ‘cat’ or as the ‘ch’ in 'chin'. A rough rule of thumb here is that before and after ‘e’ and ‘i’ (and after ‘æ’ when doubled), it is likely to be pronounced as ‘ch’. So boc, cræft, clæne, cæg, cald, cocc, bæc and cumb are ‘book’, ‘craft’, ‘clean’, ‘key’, ‘cold’, ‘cock’, ‘back’ and ‘coomb’ (valley), whereas cealc, ceorl, cild, hæcc and læce are ‘chalk’, ‘churl’, ‘child’, ‘hatch’ and ‘leech’.

    More examples: clif, crypel, cræft, corn, cyning, cniht, cu, cinn, cisel, Ceodor (hint: where the ciese comes from)


  9. At the beginning of words ‘hr’ usually equates to modern English ‘r’ and ‘hw’ to modern English ‘wh’; thus hring and hreod (‘ring’ and ‘reed’), hwæt and hweol (‘what’ and ‘wheel’).

    More examples: hricg, hrung, hrof, hriddel, hreod, hræfn, hwistlere, hwæte, hwy


  10. The vowel sound in Old English ‘mus’ (pronounced a little like 'moose’) changed over time to become equivalent to the sound ‘ow’ as in Standard English ‘mouse’: so mus, ut, abut and lus have become ‘mouse’, ‘out’, ‘about’ and ‘louse’.

    More examples: hu, nu, brun, cu, ful, dun, bru, tun, suþ, sur, hus


  11. The vowel sound in Old English ‘ham’ with a long ‘a’ (pronounced as in ‘harm’) has usually emerged into modern English pronounced as the ‘o’ in ‘home’, so ham and ban are ‘home’ and ‘bone’. When followed by ‘r’, the modern English descendent word is likely to be pronounced with the vowel sound in ‘oar’. So ar, bar, lar (‘oar’, ‘boar’, ‘lore’)

    More examples: laþ, ban, bar, bat, gast, halig, har, lam, ra, stan, hwetstan


  12. The vowel sound in Old English ‘lif,’ with a long ‘i’ as in ‘machine’, is usually equivalent to the ‘i’ as in modern English ‘life’, so lif, fif and tima are ‘life’, 'five' and ‘time’.

    More examples: wid, lim, hid, mil, hwil, hwit, igland, wif


Here are some more examples of Old English words which have survived (or almost survived) into modern English:

  • pund, scilling, pennig
  • scoh, socc, fot, ta, lytel ta
  • mihtig, almihtig
  • moðor, fæþer, broþor, sweostor, sunu, dohtor
  • hiþer and þiþer, her and þær
  • up and adun, in and ut
  • middansummer, middanwinter; sunne, mona, steorra
  • he is hungrig and þyrstig; he sitteþ and drinceð; his disc and his glæs beoð nu æmtige
  • English tea rooms still serve crompehtas with butere and hunige
  • Translations

The character ‘æ’ is perhaps the letter which appears in the widest number of different spellings in the modern English ‘descendents’ of Old English words.

The following sentences are written in modern English, but with the letter ‘æ’ replacing the modern English sound. Their purpose is solely to show the leeway you need to use when trying to guess what this character may equate to in any descendent modern word. It will also illustrate the importance of context and of concentrating on the consonants in order to guess at meaning: The cæt sæt on the mæt. Whær? Thær by the chær. The cæt læped to her fæt and læpped up her tæsty træt of æpples and pærs.

(The cat sat on the mat. Where? There by the chair. The cat leaped to her feet and lapped up her tasty treat of apples and pears).

To familiarise yourselves further, you could try making up similar sentences in modern English, and þen gracguallig substitute Old Englisc letters.

These twelve rules should be enough to get started. They are not absolute, and vowels are more likely to be unpredictable than consonants, so concentrate on the consonants and on the textual context.

To this end you are now invited to go on some Anglo-Saxon Beorhus Gangas.