Is there any rule in Old English / Modern English a/o (ham/home, ban/bone, stan/stone), a/oa (fam/foam, hlaf/loaf, gat/goat) transformation?

  • 2
    The Middle English vowel in all of these was /ɔː/. The modern spelling differences seem to be arbitrary.
    – Cairnarvon
    Jun 18, 2020 at 0:59
  • 1
    I don't think there's a special term for this change (it involves backing, rounding and lowering). Minkova 2014 informally (?) refers to it the Southern Vowel Shift. for more info see Stenbrenden 2016 doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107295469.002
    – Alex B.
    Jun 25, 2020 at 20:29

2 Answers 2


This difference is arbitrary: all of goot, gote, goote, goate, goat are attested by the end of Middle English in the 16th century, and the standardisation that happened afterward does not reflect any diachronic phonological difference.

The oCV orthography (as in gote, stone) is the older one, as it reflects the consequence of early Middle English /o/ undergoing open syllable lengthening to /ɔː/.

The "competing" value for the orthographic o, the closed /oː/, generally came from long vowels in early Midde English, so had settled into oo as its orthography.

The oa orthography is a 15th century feature, evidently by analogy with ea for /ɛː/. Compare the following, where the first two in each triplet are open-mid, and the third is close-mid.



These equivalent orthographies have had different outcomes in Modern English, a merger having happened between /ɛː/ and /eː/ (the MEAT-MEET merger) in the Great Vowel Shift.


I found a picture on Wikipedia which lead me to believe that it was ðe old English long 'a' which evolved into modern English 'oa' as in 'hláf' to 'loaf' and 'gát' to 'goat' or sometimes 'o_e' as in 'hám' to 'home' or 'bán' to 'bone'. Ðis change does not take place if ðe 'a' is short, so if ðou have a textbook or oðer reference which marks long vowels wiþ perhaps a macron, ðat would be of great help. However, try as I might, I have failed to find any rule governing where it becomes 'o_e' and where it becomes 'oa', ðis, quite alike many oðer irregularities in English orþography probably occured due to variations in ðe preferences of fifteenþ century scribes, and ðerefore is quite unpredictable, sorry. One oðer problem is ðat not all words wiþ 'o_e' originated as having a long 'a', meaning ðere is even more uncertainty in knowing ðe origins of such words, so I am unable to help ðee ðere as well. However, if ðou are willing to do your own research, ðis is ðe Wikipedia page on which I found ðe picture, and it will also lead ðee to oðer pages regarding boþ ðe orþographical and sound changes ðat have occurred in English history, so I hope ðat comes to be of help.

  • Don't you mean "do ðine own research"?
    – TKR
    Apr 20, 2021 at 20:08
  • 'Ðine' is ðe equivalent of 'yours', and 'do yours own research' is wrong, 'ðy' on ðe oðer hand is ðe equivalent of 'your', so 'do your own research'. Apr 21, 2021 at 8:26
  • Very well, to ðine own self be true. Or as ðey say ðese days, ðou do ðou.
    – TKR
    Apr 21, 2021 at 17:23
  • I but checked again, simply to be sure and, you are right, it would be 'ðine own research', I was right in ðe sense ðat ´ðine' is equivalent to 'yours' but it is also used before vowels, so my bad, however, unless I am wrong (again), it would be 'ðou do ðee', but do correct me if I am wrong. Apr 26, 2021 at 8:11

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