I know that they, them, and their did not exist in Old English. What language are they derived from?

  • 2
    Old English definitely had a form of them. The others are from Old Norse.
    – Robusto
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 16:41

2 Answers 2


Old English had a set of plural pronouns that were very similar to the masculine/feminine pronouns, differing only in the vowels. The third person plural pronoun was:

Nom: hīe [hiːə], Acc: hīe, Dat: him, Gen: hira

These gradually fell out of use to be replaced by the Old Norse word þeir, originally meaning "those". This was partly because the sound changes from Old English to Middle English would have caused many of the 3rd-person pronouns to become identical. In particular, if the word hīe had not been replaced by þeir, it would eventually have been pronounced identically to "she"!

  • OE also had thǣm and thām, depending on the manuscript, IIRC. I don't have my ASD here but I'll look for a reference tonight.
    – Robusto
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 18:23
  • Huh, I asked some of my friends this question and they said that the reason for change was because of the impact Viking had on their occupation in England. Its either one or both. Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 23:55
  • German has managed to survive even though its word for she is the same as its word for they. In 4 case forms. Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 14:23

It is the impact of the Norse settlement in England and the fact that modern English is not directly rooted in the Wessex version of standard old English. After Normans conquered England they moved the capital back from Winchester to London and proceeded to ban English from being used for governance and administrative purposes for 200 years. As a result standard old English based on the Wessex dialect went into decline and disappeared. In the meantime the Anglo-Norse dialects of what was to be later called the Danelaw became the dominant form of English spoken in London and most of East Anglia the Midlands and the north. After the ban on English was lifted towards the end of the 13th century the Anglo-Norse variety of English already established in London became the official language and more or less what we call early Middle English. The language was a fusion of Anglian Old English and Old East Norse spoken by the Danish settlers in East midlands, Yorkshire and East Anglia up to London North of the Thames.

Their variety of English was significantly different from the Anglo Saxon as we know it which was largely based on one dialect that of Wessex. Given the fact that there was never one form old English spoken in England but as many as 5 different varieties however most of written old English is in the Wessex dialect hence the mistake people make of equating it to be standard old English whereas it is more akin to old Saxon or Old Frisian. Anglic dialects may have already contained proto Norse elements at the time they arrived in England but they were certainly not a single dialect and over time may have become less mutually intelligible with Wessex than they originally were.

  • Some sources for these facts would improve this as an answer. Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 10:38

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