In northern Middle English and Middle Scots, a verb in the present indicative plural ends in -e (later zero) if the subject is an adjacent personal pronoun; otherwise it ends in -s. This ‘northern subject rule’ is generally supposed to have become established in early Middle English. Its history is undocumented, but the idea that it arose from contact with Celtic has recently gained ground. The case is here reviewed, and though still far from compelling, is found better than has previously appeared. Regardless of language contact, it is shown that the system evident in the rule is independent of the suffix in -s, and could have arisen very early in Old English. Central to the account are the origins of the reduced inflection, and the loss at syllable boundaries of Old English h (Germanic χ).