In Modern English, the only word that has a final n only before a vowel is a/an:

a face

an eye

In Middle English, there was the pair my/mine:

my face

mine eye

Also, the was then before a vowel. What these words have in common (apart from changing pronunciation depending on the following sound) is that they are determiners. As such there should be a finite number of them.

Which words in the history of English have had two forms, one before consonants and one before vowels?

  • 3
    I haven’t seen “then” as a variant of “the”. Was it used as often as the others? – herisson Nov 27 '19 at 22:45
  • 1
    You don't mean thy/thine? – Juhasz Nov 27 '19 at 22:46
  • 3
    In non-rhotic dialects words with terminal /r/ exhibit this variation. ... I think you'll find that the -n forms of th- are Old English inflectional endings which collapsed into the, although [OED 1 s.v. The, III.9. ] says that "the neuter đat,đet remained longer before a vowel". – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 27 '19 at 23:17
  • @Juhasz Yes, thy / thine would be another example, but hopefully someone can produce a complete list, not just more isolated examples. – CJ Dennis Nov 27 '19 at 23:51
  • Even Early Modern English had mine/thine before a word starting with a vowel sound. "To thine own self be true"; "Weep O mine eyes and cease not"; "Lift thine eyes, O lift thine eyes to the mountains, whence cometh help"; "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord". Plus here's a twofer in this medieval Christmas carol, although not because they precede vowel sounds: ‘Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva. / "It is not yet six weeks agone / Sin Elizabeth conceived John / As it was prophesied beforn." / Nova, nova.’ Now we would just say ago not agone. – tchrist Nov 28 '19 at 1:19

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