Lecture 4 old english grammar. The verbal system
1. KYIV NATIONAL LINGUISTIC UNIVERSITYSubota S.V.
OLD ENGLISH GRAMMAR.
THE VERBAL SYSTEM.
2. Plan1. Grammatical Categories of the finite
forms of the OE Verb.
2. Morphological classification of verbs
Preterite-present and irregular verbs
3. Conjugation of Verbs.
4. Non-finite forms of the verb.
3. LiteratureРасторгуева Т.А. История английского языка.
– М.: Астрель, 2005. – С. 108-124.
Ильиш Б.А. История английского языка. – Л.:
Просвещение, 1972. – С. 87-110.
Иванова И.П., Чахоян Л.П. История
английского языка. – М.: Высшая школа, 1976.
Студенець Г.І. Історія англійської мови в
таблицях. - К.: КДЛУ, 1998. – Tables 47-53
the finite forms of the OE
The system of the OE verb was rather
developed though less complicated than it is
to-day. The main form-building means were
synthetic: suffixation (endings), gradation
(ablaut, vowel interchange) and suppletion
(suppletive formations). Some of them could be
The forms of verbs could be finite (changeable
in accordance with grammatical categories)
and non-finite. Non-finite forms existing in OE
are: the Verbal Noun, the Infinitive, Participle I
and Participle II.
Person, Number, Tense and Mood.
The category of Person was based on the opposition of
three persons: the first, the second and the third,
which were grammatically marked only in the singular.
There were no person distinctions in the plural. There
were two numbers – the singular and the plural. Dual
pronouns took the plural forms of verbs.
opposite members – the Present and the Past.
Indicative Ic wrīte
There was no Future tense in OE, future events
were expressed with the help of a present tense
verb + an adverb denoting future or by a combination
of a modal verb: sculan (shall) or willan (will)
Ic lufiʒe tō dæʒ oððe tō merʒen.
(I will fall in love today or tomorrow)
Wille ic asecʒan mærum þeodne min ærende.
(I want to tell the glorious prince my permission)
in meaning. The passive meaning is
rendered through the combination of
bēon (to be), wesan or weorðan
(to become) + Participle II:
Hīe wæron micle swiþor ʒebrocede on
þæm þrīm ʒearum.
(They were badly afflicted in these 3
The only “passive” form (mediopassive) which
existed in OE was the form of the verb hātan
(to call, to be named).
Þā ēa þe hātte Araxis (the river that is called Arax)
Þā dēor hie hātaþ hrānas (the deer they called
One verb is not enough to speak about the
category. The sentences with the verbs bēon,
weorðan and Participle II were still free wordcombinations and not yet analytical
They will become as such at the end of OE and
beginning of ME, when the endings become
the auxiliaries lose their lexical meaning.
Imperative and Oblique.
Indicative Imperative Oblique
The Indicative Mood and the Imperative
Mood were used in cases similar to those in
which they are used now. But the Oblique
Mood in OE differed greatly from the
corresponding mood in PDE.
There was only one mood form in OE that
was used both to express events that are
thought as unreal and as problematic.
All the OE finite verbs can be subdivided into
four groups according to the grammatical
means with the help of which they built their
basic forms: two major – strong and weak
and two minor – preterite-present and
anomalous (sometimes called suppletive).
Strong verbs built their forms by means of
vowel gradation and by adding certain
inflections and suffixes. Among all the
paradigmatic forms of strong verbs there are
four basic forms: 1) the Infinitive 2) the Past
singular 3) the Past Plural and 4) Participle II.
OE wrītan – wrāt – writon – writen (to write)
OE wrītan – wrāt – writon – writen (to write)
The forms are basic because they are at the basis
of other (not basic) forms.
1) The stem with the vowel which is used in the
Infinitive is used also in the Present Indicative, the
Present Subjunctive, the Imperative Mood and
2) the second stem is used to form the 1st and the
3rd persons singular of the Past Indicative;
3) the stem of the third basic form helps to build the
2nd person singular and the plural of the Past
Indicative and also the forms of the Past Subjunctive
4) the stem of Participle II forms only itself.
a chain of four alternating vowels responsible for
a specific form in the line. The OE alternation
of vowels goes back to the original IE alternation
which differentiated the forms of the verb. The
scholars called it Ablaut (in German the word means
“the interchange of sounds”). Ablaut (Vowel
gradation), an independent vowel interchange
unconnected with any phonetic conditions: different
vowels appear in the same environment, surrounded
by the same sounds. The IE Ablaut involved
only vowels [e] and [o], which could be short or
long. These vowels alternated with each other and
also with the zero position.
E.g. Ukr. нести – ноша
Rus. беру – сбор – брал
called qualitative (якісне чергування), Rus.
бреду – брод the interchange between short
and long vowels E.g. Lat. sedo – sēdi (to sit sat) or one of them with the zero position
was considered quantitative (кількісне
чергування) Rus. беру – сбор – брал
Alternation made it possible to express
different aspects of actions. It is supposed
(on the basis of comparative analysis of IE
languages) that PIE did not have tenses but
only aspects, on the basis of which different
tenses developed later.
system of IE ablaut became so complicated
in OE. The matter is that the vowels which
took part in the ablaut (ablaut vowels)
underwent different changes since the IE
period, and it is even possible to determine
the steps of them. Some changes of vowels
took place in CG (such as CG Vowel shift,
CG Fracture etc.); some other phonetic
changes took place already in OE.
PIE [o] – [o:]
PG [a] – [o:] OE faran – fōr (to go)
the verbs which have the alternation of vowels in the
stems. The ablaut lines vary and it is the kind of ablaut
series which made it possible to distribute all strong
verbs into 7 classes. The first five classes in PIE are
based on the ablaut “chains” which are characterized by
qualitative ablaut ([e] – [o] – [-] – [-]), in the sixth class
the original gradation was purely quantitative ([o] – [o:]
– [o:] – [o]) , but in PG it changed into a quantitativequalitative series ([a] – [o:] – [o:] – [a]). The seventh
class is based on the reduplication of the root – the
verbs built their past tense by repeating the root
Goth. haitan – haihait – haihaitun – haitans (to call)
In OE we have only the relicts of this process:
roots in the past tense stems had been contracted and
appeared as a single syllable with a long vowel
OE hatan – hēt (heht) – hēton (hehton) – hāten (to call)
16. The strong verbs in OE are divided into 7 classes acc. to the ablaut line1
classes, if they had a fricative in the root, had
in their forms the interchange of consonants
under Verner’s Law (voicing of fricatives):
cēosan - cēas – curon – coren (to choose, Class II);
sniðan – snāþ – snidon – sniden (to cut, Class I);
cweðan – cwæþ – cwædon – cweden (to say, Class V);
in case of - s the latter changed into -r (due to
rhotacism). These changes are often called
“grammatical” Verner’s Law.
(vowel interchange) as a means of differentiation
among the basic forms, weak verbs used for that
purpose suffixation. Weak verbs formed their Past
and Participle II by means of the dental suffix -d- or
-t-. This way of building grammatical forms is
considered to be a purely Germanic phenomenon.
It is found only in Germanic languages.
The origin of the dental suffix is a disputable
question. Some scholars trace it back to the Past
tense of the verb dōn. Some consider that it
originated from the suffix of Participle II.
Weak verbs are considered to have only three basic
E.g. lōcian – lōcode – lōcod (to look)
the kind of ending in the Infinitive;
the sonority of the suffix;
the sounds preceding the suffix.
In Class I the Infinitive ended in -an or –ian (after r);
the Past tense had –ede / -de / -te at the
end; Participle II had –ed / -d / -t: dōmian - dēmde
- dēmed (to judge). Final -d changed into -t
after a voiceless consonant: cēpan - cēpte - cēpt
Regular weak verbs (Class I)
temman (to tame) temede
styrian (to stir)
dēman (to deem) dēmde
cēpan (to keep)
The Infinitive of the irregular verbs had mutated
root-vowel, while in the Past tense and in
Participle II the vowel remained unchanged.
Thus they had different vowels in the root of
the 1st form as against the 2nd and the 3rd:
sellan – sealde – seald (to give). The vowel
interchange was caused by -j in the stem in
accordance with assimilative i-Umlaut. Ablaut, in its
turn, is not assimilative, but spontaneous and
OE*salian > sellan (to give) – I-Umlaut
OE*salde > sealde (gave) – OE Breaking
in the infinitive; the root vowel was the
same in all the three forms. The absence of
mutation is due to the fact that -i- (from -oja-)
appeared at the time when the process of imutation was already over. The suffix gave
the vowel -o- in the Past tense and in the
Infinitive. The paradigm is the most regular:
the three basis forms had the endings -ian
macian – macode – macod (to make);
lufian – lufode – lufod (to love);
hopian – hopode – hopod (to hope);
which is no longer found in OE. This class is
not numerous and has a tendency to
some of the verbs pass into the 1st or
the 2nd class. The most frequent verbs in
this class are:
habban – hæfde – hæfd (to have);
libban – lifde – lifd (to live);
secʒ(e)an – sæʒde – sæʒd (to say).
The verbs have doubled consonant in the
Infinitive and the mutation of the root vowel
caused by –i / j- in the suffix and the endings
of the forms: -an / -de / -d.
These verbs are of specific character in the
verb system of OE.
There were 12 preterite-present verbs: wītan
(know), āʒan (have), duʒan (be useful), unnan
(presént), cunnan (know), ðurfan (need),
durran (dare), sculan (shall, be obliged),
munan (remember), maʒan (may), ʒeneah
(past sing. sufficed), mōtan (may).
Originally (before the CG period) these verbs
were strong and each belonged to a
corresponding strong class in accordance
with its ablaut series (line)
became present, and they got the name
of “preterite-present” verbs. So these
verbs appeared not to have the past
form. Thus, to render the past, the “new”
form of past was built in accordance with
the pattern of weak verbs, that is, with
the help of the dental suffix. Hence the
preterite-present verbs appeared to be of
mixed type: they had the past of former
strong verbs with the present meaning
and a new “weak” past form.
witen to know
Preterite-present verbs combine the qualities
of the strong verbs as well as the weak
verbs. Their Present tense is formed
according to the rules of formation of the
past tense of the strong verbs (vowel
gradation), while their Past tense has the
peculiarities of the weak verbs (a dental
OE which are sometimes named irregular.
To avoid associations with modern
irregular (non-standard) verbs, we prefer
the term “anomalous”. Two of them are
suppletive (the forms of which are based
on different roots): bēon / wesan (to be)
and ʒan (to go); and two verbs are with
irregular paradigms: dōn and willan.
The paradigms of these verbs contain
many individual forms because they go
back to the time when “abstract”
grammar was not enough developed.
eom / bēo
eart / bist
hē, hēo, hit is / bið
sindon, sint / bēoð
hē, hēo, hit wæs
ʒān (to go)
The verb conjugation in OE.
The paradigm of the OE verb includes
a little bit more than 30 positions
(less than theoretically possible);
in addition, many forms were fully or
partially homonymous. Practically
speaking there were about ten
endings which marked different
grammatical categories. Thus each
marker was used for some categories:
e. g.: the ending -e could be found
in 9 positions, -en – in 5 positions,
-að in 4 positions etc.
31. Non-finite forms of the verbIn OE there were 2 non-finite forms of the verbals.
In many respects they were closer to the nouns and
adjectives than to the finite verbs.
There are more nominal features than verbal especially at the
THE INFINITIVE had no verbal grammatical
characteristics being a verbal noun by origin. It had a
sort of reduced case-system: there were 2 forms
which roughly corresponded to Nom. and Dat. cases
Dat. to berenne
The preposition to could be used to indicate the direction or
purpose of the action.
Maniʒe cōmen tō bycʒenne þa þinʒ (Many (people) came
to buy those things)
Hīe woldon hine forbærnan (They wanted to burn him).
adjective which was characterized not only
by nominal but also by certain verbal
features. Present Participle was opposed to
Past Participle through voice and tense
distinctions: it was active and expressed
present or simultaneous processes and
qualities, while Participle II expressed states
or qualities resulting from past action and
was contrasted to Participle I as passive to
active if the verb was transitive. Participle II
of intransitive verbs had an active meaning;
it indicated a past action and was opposed to
Participle I only through tense.
differentiated. Participle I was formed from
the Present Tense stem with the help of
the suffix –ende. Participle II had a stem of
its own: in strong verbs it was marked by
a certain grade of the root vowel
interchange and by the suffix –en; in weak
verbs it ended in -d
- / -t. Participle II was
commonly marked by the prefix ʒe-, though it
could also occur without it, especially if the
verb had other word building prefixes.