Common Old English words

August 16, 2015
Old books

The list below presents some 500 Old English words which could be regarded as literary core vocabulary. Some of the words are among the most frequent in Old English literature; some are of particular importance on account of their literary or linguistic usage. The reference ‘poet.’ signals predominant usage of a word in poetry. The cognates in a number of related languages (MnE = Modern English, MnG = Modern German, MnDu = Modern Dutch, MnDa = Modern Danish, L = Latin, MedL = Medieval Latin, MedGr = Medieval Greek) are intended to make memorisation of the words easier. A word signalled as ‘hapax legomenon’ is found only once in the entire Old English corpus, and was possibly coined for the passage in question.

This list of Old English Core Vocabulary is intended as a teaching aid: the idea is that students learn this list of words by heart. It can be used in undergraduate or postgraduate Old English teaching, either for compulsory or optional assessments, or just for background. Tests can be made easier or harder, depending on whether the examined translation is from Old English to Modern English, or vice versa, or both, and depending on how much time students are allowed to memorise the vocabulary.

I try to keep the word list as stable as possible; the insertion of updates and corrections is limited to one week during the summer, when students are unlikely to be using it formally. There are no plans for moving this page to another address. If you have any corrections, comments, or questions, please feel free to contact me by emailing

Christine Rauer, University of St Andrews

Last updated 06/05/14: all instances of eth standardised to thorn; spelling of 'ferhþ' standardised and gender changed from n. to m.; typo corrected in Modern English word 'shrine' (with many thanks to Katrina Wilkins for this one).

See also:
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