Does anyone know how you pronounce the root vowel of the word cometh in ME and EModE? What is this particular sound change called?


1 Answer 1


In Middle English it was /u/ — en.wiktionary.org/wiki/comen#Middle_English. The letter o is written there for practical reasons: near m, n, w, v made up of vertical strokes the letter u also made up of vertical strokes is hard to discern, many vertical strokes in a row are ambiguous when hand-written.

And, irrespective of its spelling, ME /u/ > ModE /ʌ/, like in ‘but’ or ‘cup’. In ‘some’ (< ‘summe’), ‘love’ (< ‘luve’), ‘wonder’, ‘month’, etc. the original letter u was replaced by o because of the reason I mentioned above. Here's an article about this substitution:
The Clever Monks and the Lazy O: Why O sometimes says /ŭ/.

This change of /u/ > /ʌ/ is a part of what is called “FOOT–STRUT split”, the split of Middle English short /u/ into two distinct phonemes: /ʊ/ (as in foot) and /ʌ/ (as in strut).

  • Is there any comprehensive list of words which underwent the orthographic (o --> u) change? Jul 20, 2021 at 12:25
  • @QuintusCaesius-RM - Those words are not many, see lists 1 and 2 here. In all respects this question better suits the English Language & Usage SE.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 20, 2021 at 13:33
  • These lists are mainly based on the pronunciation, many of them were never ‘u’ in the first place and just became schwas because they were in unstressed positions, but thank you anyway. Jul 21, 2021 at 14:14

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