Oldest Words In English Language [Top 10]

Oldest Words English

It is a strange yet a reconcilable fact that the pronouns ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘who’ (Prof. Mark Pagel includes ‘thou’ too), and the numerical words ‘two’, ‘three’, and ‘five’ are the oldest words the English language has dating back to tens and thousands of years.

The study of the oldest words has also led to the key finding that the more a word comes to the usage, the less it is likely to change over time.

This also implies that when a word undergoes rapid change it is more likely to disappear. The word ‘dirty’ is a classic example of this because it has 46 ways of saying in the whole of the Indo-European languages.

In The Article

I, We, Thou, Who

1. I – It is the First Person, Singular Pronoun and it is pronounced as ay.

  • The curious fact about ‘I’ is that it is the only English pronoun that is always written in capitals. The reason we may decipher is that the small letter ‘i’ might get lost or overlooked in a written script that carries quite a lot of letters with it.
    It should also be noted, however, the Old English pronoun was ic or ih; and around 1250, ‘I’ was used in the northern and midland dialects of England, and then extended to the south of England in the 1700s.
  • John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins offers an interesting historical note: “Essentially all the Indo-European languages share the same first-person singular pronoun, although naturally, it has diverged in form over the millennia.”
    (French – je, Italian – io, Russian – ja, Greek – ego).
    So also, the prehistoric German pronoun – eka became German – ich, Dutch – ik, Swedish – jag, Danish/Norwegian – jeg, and English – I.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary – ‘I’ had a great many spellings as it developed, some starting with ‘h’ or ‘y’ in addition to ‘I’ which was eventually shortened to a single, lowercase letter (i).

 2. We – It is the First Person, Plural Pronoun and it is pronounced as v.
The origin of ‘we’ is from German – wir -> Old English – wē ->Middle English we.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘we’ as: 

  • I and the rest of a group that includes me
  • you and I
  • you and I and yet another or others
  • I and yet another or others, not including you
  • also used by sovereigns – the royal ‘We’

◊ used coaxingly

eg – We don’t want to wake our guests, down?
We are happy with the way our lives are shaping up, aren’t we?

◊ used encouragingly

 eg – We are looking much better this morning.
We will surely win this time.

◊ used sarcastically

eg – A little fussy, arewe?
Too tired, aren’t we?

3. Thou A Second Person, Singular Pronoun was used instead of It may be said that it is an archaic or poetic form of you. It is pronounced as dhou.
The origin is Greek sy and Latin tu ->Old High German dū ->Middle Englishthou.
It was used in the Bible, and during the 15th and 16th centuries in the English Literature. In modern English now, we only find the use of ‘you’.

  • For hundreds of years English – speaking people in all parts of the world have been accustomed to using thee and thou in prayer to God in much the same way as these pronouns are used in the older versions of the Bible, in particular the King James (or Authorized) Version.  – Pieter Vander Meyden

In Shakespeare’s poems and plays:

◊ Sonnet 18 – “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date”.

◊ Hamlet – And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’ (Act I, Scene III).

◊ As You Like ItBlow, blow, thou winter wind! Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.’ (Act II, Scene VII).

4. Who it is an Interrogative as well as a Relative Pronoun.
It is of Germanic originwer (Dutch wie) ->
Old Englishhwā.
It is pronounced as hu/hoo.

◊ Interrogative Pronoun:
Who is used to frame questions:
Eg – Who are you?
Who drew this beautiful picture?
Who wants to have a nap?

◊ Relative Pronoun:
Who refers to a noun/pronoun.
Eg – She, who is in the middle, dances well.
Anitha, who is my best friend, is a gem of a person.
Tell me who(ever) wants to go on a tour.

Four, Five, Three, Two, One

1. Four The origin is Greek tessares and Latin quattuor-> Dutch and German vier -> Old English fēower.
It is pronounced as fo.
It is a numerical word, it comes after ‘three’ and before ‘five’. The Roman letter is IV, and the symbol is 4.

Some of the significances of ‘Four’:

♦ A square or a rectangle consists of four sides.
♦ North, East, South, West are the four directions.

There are the four seasons:

♦ There are four castes in India: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.
♦ The four Vedas of Hinduism: Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva.

2. Five – The origin is Greek penteandLatin quinque->Dutch vijfand German fünf ->Old English fīf.
It is pronounced as faiv.
It is a numerical word that comes after ‘four’ and before ‘six’. The Roman letter is V, and the symbol is 5.

Some of the significances of ‘Five’:

There are five elements in this universe: Dharti, Agni, Jal, Vayu, Akash (Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Space respectively).
The Muslims pray to Allah five times a day.
The Five Books of Moses = Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
 The Famous Five is a series of children’s books by the British writer Enid Blyton.

3. Three The origin is Greek treîs, Latin trēs -> Dutch drie, German drei ->Old English thrēo, thrīo, thrī(e).
It is pronounced as thri.
It is a numerical word that comes after ‘two’ and before ‘four’. The Roman letter is III and the symbol is 3.

Some of the significances of ‘Three’:

The threefold office of Christ: prophet, priest, and king.
♦ In Buddhism, The Three Jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha.

In Hinduism:
♦ The three Gods are Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer.
♦ The three Goddesses are Saraswathi, Lakshmi, and Parvathi.
♦ The three paths to salvation in the Bhagavad Gita are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Jnana Yoga.
♦ The Christian doctrine of the Trinity refers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
♦ The Time concept – Past, Present, and Future.

4. Two The origin is a Greek and Latin duo -> German zwei and Dutch twee -> Old English twā.
It is pronounced as tu, tu. 

It is a numerical word that comes after ‘one’ and before ‘three’. The Roman letter is II and the symbol is 2.

Some of the significances of ‘Two’:

♦ There are the dual aspects of life like the two sides of a coin – good, bad; near far, now, then; front, back; up, down; light, dark; for, against; positive, negative; yes, no…
♦ Two refers to partners in life – male. female.
♦ The planet Mars has two moons – Phobos and Deimos.

5. One The origin is Greek oínē and Latin ūnus -> German ein and Dutch een -> Old English ān.
It is pronounced as won
It is a numerical word that comes after ‘zero’ and before ‘two’. The Roman letter is I and the symbol is 1.

 Some of the significances of ‘One’:

♦ There is just one God in this world propagating one religion called Love.
♦ In sports being No.1 indicates victory.
♦ How can we forget to relate the First Creation?

How, What, Where

1. How West Germanic origin from Dutch hoe -> Old English hū. It is an adverb. It is pronounced as how.

It indicates

  • in what manner – How did you agree to do this?
  • to what degree/extent – How far do you intend traveling?/ How have a log you been in this place?
  • in what state – How do you do?
  • a modifier expressing an emotion / How lucky you seem!

2. What The origin of the word is Greek tí and Latin quod -> Dutch wat and German was -> Old English hwæt.

 It is used

  • for interrogation – What is your name? / What did you have for lunch?
  • to express an emotion – What, no movie plan?
  • to indicate an amount/measure – What does it cost/weigh?

3.Where The origin of the word is Old Norse hvar, Gothic hwar -> Dutch waar and German hwār -> Old English hwǣr -> Middle English quher, wher.

 It is used

◊ in interrogation

  • to indicate place – Where are you put up?
  • to indicate source – Where did you get this money from?

◊ as a pronoun

  • This is where I studied.

◊ as an adjective

  • This is the school where I studied.


The origin of the word is Greek onoma and Latin nomen -> Dutch naam and German Name -> Old English nama, noma.
It is used as a noun and a verb. It is pronounced as neim.

  • as a Proper Noun – It is used to refer to a person, animal or place. Eg – Anbu, Jackie, U.S.A.
  • as a verb – What have you named your baby?

The minister has named you for the post.


  • The origin of the word is Latin lingua-> Dutch tong and German Zunge-> Old English tunge.
  • It is a noun and it is pronounced as tung.
  • It is a part of the mouth and is used for talking and tasting food.


  • The origin of the word is Greek news and Latin novus->Dutch nieuw and German neu->Old English nīwe, nēowe.
  • It is an adjective and it is pronounced as neu.
  • It refers to something that is recently introduced.

Eg. I bought a new book/house.
There is a new arrival in our house.

The other term applied is novel as referring to a novel (new) idea.
The term novel also means fiction, for it was a new genre that appeared around the 16th and 17th centuries in English Literature.


  • The origin of the word is Greek aster and Latin stella ->Dutch ster, German Stern ->Old English steorra.
  • It is a noun and it is pronounced as sta
  • Definition – A star is a luminous sphere of plasma held together by its own gravity.

About the stars – The nearest star to the Earth is the Sun. Many other stars that appear in multitudes are visible at night. The most prominent stars are grouped as constellations and asterisms.

However, most of the stars in the Universe, including all the stars outside our galaxy, the Milky Way, are invisible to the naked eye from Earth.

Indeed, most are invisible from Earth even through the most powerful telescopes. – from Wikipedia

It is believed that our life itself is modeled on the position of the stars under the influence of which we are born. It is discussed through horoscope.

The calendars were made based on the Sun’s position against the stars behind. The calculation helped in the climatic forecast of a year.


  • The origin of the word is Greek nux and Latin nox -> Dutch nacht andGerman Nacht -> Old English neaht, niht.
  • It is a noun and it is pronounced as nait.

The night is defined as the time from dusk to dawn when no sunlight is visible. – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Eg. It is very dark outside. I think it is night time.

Only during the night, the Moon and the stars are visible, and not during the daytime, when the Sun alone is prominent. The night is associated with darkness, fear, the nocturnal creatures and many unethical deeds which the anti-social elements are involved in.


  • The origin of the word is German Hand and Dutch hand -> Old English hand, hond.
  • It is a noun and it is pronounced as hand.

The hand is an upper limb of a person comprising wrist, palm, and fingers. Every man has two hands to do various functions like eating, feeding, lifting, carrying, etc.
Interestingly, The Hand is a fictional supervillain organization appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics.

To give

  • The origin of give is German geben and Dutch geven->Old English giefan, gefan.
  • It is a verb and it is pronounced as giv.

‘To give’ is an infinitive form.
Eg – I feel I am blessed to give alms to the poor.
I have to give this book back to my teacher. (return)

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