(Modern English bread)


Formally, ME bred must derive from OE brēad, < PGmc *brauðan; cp. OIcel brauð, OFris brād, OS brōd, OHG brōt (and notice also Crimean Go broe).  Most authorities look no further than a native etymon for the ME word in all its senses. It has often been remarked, however, that OE brēad is mainly attested in (what is assumed to be) the original sense, i.e. ‘piece, morsel of bread’ (glossing or translating Lat buccella or frustum; see DOE sense (1a)), whereas the usual word denoting ‘bread’ the substance more generally (translating Lat panis) was OE hlāf (see e.g. OED). Since the ON cognate could refer to both ‘bread, loaf (of bread)’ and a ‘piece of bread’, it has occasionally been suggested that ON input is to some extent behind the semantic broadening of late OE brēad, ME bred (thus perh. Jespersen 1938: §78 and (tentatively) Barber 2000: 132 and Barber, Beale and Shaw 2nd ed., 2009, p. 142, Miller 2012: 98 and Durkin 2014: 209). But the case for ON influence is not strong: the DOE’s entry for brēad cites a wide range of OE texts under its general sense (1) ‘bread’, inc. some for which ON lexical influence has not otherwise been supposed, and the same polysemy (‘piece of bread’ as well as ‘bread’ the substance) is also found in OS and OHG.

PGmc Ancestor


Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

brauð 'bread'
(ONP brauð (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far breyð, Icel brauð, Norw braud, brød, Dan brød, Sw bröd

OE Cognate

brēad 'bit, crumb, morsel'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



The general sense ‘bread’ is common and widespread in ME.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 891, 1361, 1610; Cl 620, 636, 1105


MED brēd (n.1) , OED bread (n.), HTOED , Dance bred, de Vries brauð, Mag brauð, Bj-L. brød, Orel *brauðan, Kroonen *brauda-, Bammesberger 79, AEW brēad, DOE brēad