German uses contractions a lot, including im (in+dem) and zum (zu+dem) to name a few. As an Old English learner, I wanted to know if there were any attested similarities. My research hereto has yielded no results.


3 Answers 3


Yes, Old English had contractions:

Old English contractions include nis from ne is (“is not”), naes from ne waes (“was not”), nolde from ne wolde (“would not”), naefde from ne haefde (“did not have”), and nat from ne wat (“does not know”).
Is “who’s” short for “who is” or “who has”?

For example, take a look at Ælfric's translation of Genesis 2:5:

Mann næs, ðe ða eorðan worhte.

(For comparison, here are some modern translations of that verse.)

A source that covers this more in depth is Negative Contraction: An Old and Middle English Dialect Criterion.

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    Also ne (not) + æfre (ever) = næfre (never), na (no) + wiht (thing, being, creature) = nawiht (naught) → naht / noht (not), and na (no) + hwæðer (whether) = nahwæþernawþer (neither). It was apparently pretty common for ne and na to be contracted to n-, but I don’t know offhand about other contractions.
    – Jon Purdy
    Feb 10, 2018 at 7:36

Yes, in Old English, we find contractions.

Nis is the contraction of ne is (meaning “is not”) and naefde from ne haefde (meaning “did not have”). Naes was from ne waes (meaning “was not”) and nolde came from the contraction of both ne and wolde (meaning “would not”).

Old English was full of contractions, and these contractions have remained in place (of course, not with the same words) in our Modern English today.

("The History of Contractions", from Historically Irrelevant, by Conor Reid)

From "Orthography and Punctuation", by Vivian Salmon, in The Cambridge History of the English Language, Volume 3: 1476-1776, edited by Roger Lass:

Contractions of various kinds had occurred even in Old and Middle English, as in bufan for be + ufan and þoþer for þe oþer (Dobson 1968: 836), and Hart comments on certain forms of contraction (though not those still valid) in his discussion of the correct writing of “certaine propositions, articles and pronowns”.

(p. 18)

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    What's with the second link?
    – Andriy M
    Feb 10, 2018 at 1:48
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    Hyperlinks to Google Books do not work the same everywhere, note.
    – JdeBP
    Feb 10, 2018 at 8:50
  • @JdeBP: Andriy M's comment is not related to how Google Books hyperlinks work. The link for the second source was accidentally broken in an earlier draft of the question (it was the%20cambridge%20history%20of%20the%20english%20language%20a%2…).
    – herisson
    Feb 13, 2018 at 20:26

nyllan = ne willan and similar negations (nabban = ne habban) (see bosworth-toller http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/023953 for nyllan)

This is covered in Mitchell and Robinson's "Guide to Old English", but I don't have my copy at hand to give page/secsion numbers).


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