Why do English words sheer and week (from OE scære and wice) have "ee"?
The expected English ee <- Old English ē / eo:
street strēt
sleep slēpan
weep wēpan

deep dēop
deer dēor
reek rēocan

  • Because English.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 12:38
  • 2
    Just because some OE sounds migrated in a particular way doesn't stop the [possibly irregular or unexpected] migration of any other OE sounds. I'm not sure that asking "Why" about anything in English is particularly worthwhile, but there may be an answer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 12:49
  • Can you look at the OED? It has a lot of information on "week" and a variety of different forms with different vowels in Old English, and Old Scots. Also something about strong vs weak forms affecting the inflection (it's not uncommon for forms other than the nominative to carry forward from Old English), and the influence of the /w/. Definitely an element of historical happenstance, but maybe someone with more of a knowledge of Old English can put it in context.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 13:13

1 Answer 1


To follow on from Andrew Leach's suggestion of consulting the OED, this is an extract of what it says about the forms of "week":

Form history.

In Old English usually a weak feminine (inflected wican , wucan , etc.; compare the early nominative singular wiice ); in West Saxon the originally strong feminine form wucu (see β. forms) is normally used for the nominative singular.

In West Saxon the stem vowel i frequently undergoes back mutation to u as a result of the influence of the initial w and the u of the inflectional ending. In Middle English comparable forms, apparently due to the influence of initial w, also appear in other regional varieties (see β. forms).

Loss of initial w before following u is occasionally attested in late West Saxon (see γ. forms); quot. c1460 at sense 1aγ. , if it is not simply a scribal error, may perhaps show an isolated reflex of such forms. Comparable forms are independently attested in Older Scots. Influence from Scandinavian languages has been suggested for the latter.

In Middle English the word shows open syllable lengthening of i to long close ē , apparently originally in disyllabic forms in northern dialects; such forms subsequently also appear in other varieties […] Some examples of wick (with short ĭ , […]) may show a subsequent shortening of long close ē.

As you might gather, there is much more detail in the OED, but this covers the general transition.

You probably know that English spelling was not standardised until the late 18th century, and probably still isn't. It is not unreasonable therefore to note that "Old English" was not one language but several, closely related languages and that phonetic spelling of words as heard in the local dialect gave rise to varieties of representation of most words at any given time.

I note the OED contains about 100 different spellings of "week" (and hence pronunciations) from early Old English to current Modern English.

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