Weak Verbs in Germanic languages

In Germanic languages, including English, weak verbs are by far the largest group of verbs, which are therefore often regarded as the norm, though historically they are not the oldest or most original group (three classes of Old English weak verbs).

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Weak Verbs

In Germanic languages, including English, weak verbs are by far the largest group of verbs, which are therefore often regarded as the norm, though historically they are not the oldest or most original group.

In Germanic languages, weak verbs are those verbs that form their preterites and past participle by means of a dental suffix, an inflection that contains a /t/ or /d/ sound or similar. In all Germanic languages, the preterite and past participle forms of weak verbs are formed from the same stem. For example:

Infinitive

Preterite

Past Participle

English (regular)

to love

loved

loved

to laugh

laughed

laughed

English (irregular)

to say

said

said

to send

sent

sent

to buy

bought

bought

to set

set

set

German

lieben (love)

liebte

geliebt

bringen (bring)

brachte

gebracht

There are three classes of Old English weak verbs as contrasted to four in Gothic. Their number was ever growing in the Old English as it was a productive pattern. They are divided into three classes depending on the ending of

I he infinitive, the sonority of the suffix and the sounds preceding the suffix.

New verbs derived from nouns, adjectives and partly adverbs (that was a

very productive way of word-building in Old English) were conjugated weak:

hors n (horse) --> horsian w v 2 (to supply with horses)

lytel adj (little) --> lytlian w v 2 (to diminish)

neah adv (near) --> nealsecan w v 1 (to approach)

Another group of weak verbs were causative (transitive) verbs derived

from strong intransitive verbs:

licjan svV (lie) --" lecjean w v I (to lay)

sittan s v V (sit) --> settan w v 1 (to set)

Borrowed verbs (though not very numerous in Old English) were

also weak: Lat. signare --> sejnian w v 2 (to mark with a sign, esp. the sign

of the cross).

Class I

Regular class I verbs have mutation of their root vowel (due to an

original -/-element in the suffix in all their forms), and the three basic forms

of the verb end in:

-an/-ian --de/ede/te - ed/-t-d

(domian -->} demon - demde - domed (to judge)

(arjan -->) erian - erede - ered (to plough)

(nasjan --> ) nerian -- nerede -- nered (to save)

(tamian -->) temman -- temede - temed (to tame)

When the suffix was preceded by a voiceless consonant, the suffix

-d- changed into -t-; in the second participle both -t- and -ed are found:

cepan - cepte - cept, ceped (to keep)

jretan - jrette - jrel, jreted (to greet)

If the stem ended in two consonants, the second being d or t, participle

11 of such verbs can have variant endings - in -d, -t, or -ded, -ted:

sendan - sende - send, sended (to send)

restan - reste - rest, rested (to rest)

Irregular verbs of the 1st class of the weak verbs had mutated vowel

only in the infinitive, while in the past tense and in participle II it remained

unchanged. Thus they had different vowels in the root of the first form as

against the second and the third, but that is not gradation! Examples of such

verbs are:

(salian --^ ) sellan -- sealde -- seald (to give)

(talian -->) tellan--tealde - teald (to tell)

(the sound a in the root of the second and the third forms is changed

llirough breaking into ea, but it is not mutated)

tascan -- tahte - taht (to teach)

ras can - rdhte-rdht (to reach)

bye jean - bohte - boht (to buy)

secan - sdhte - soht (to seek)

brinjan - brohte - broht (to bring)

denc(e)an - dohte - doht (to think)

wyrcean - worhte - worht (to work)

Other verbs of class I of the weak verbs are: leornian (to learn), hselan

(In heal), hyran (to hear), fyllan (to fill), felan (to feel), lyhtan (to light),

nemnatt (to name), menjan (to mingle, to mix), bestri(e)pan (to strip, plunder),

hynan (to humiliate), las stan (to follow), nyrwan (to restrict), onstellan (to

institute), (je)sejlian (to sail), yean (to increase), styrian (to stir).

Class II

These verbs originally had the suffix -oia- in the infinitive; the root

vowel is the same in all three forms. The absence of mutation in the infinitive weak verb english

is due to the fact that the -/- (from -oja-) appeared at the time when the:

process of mutation was over. The suffix gave the vowel -o- in the past

tense and in the infinitive. Their paradigm is the most regular, and so the

majority of latter lexical innovations joined this class.

The pattern of the three basic forms has the following endings:

-ian -ode -od

macian - macode - macod (to make)

lufian - lufode - lufod (to love)

hopian - hopode - hopod (to hope)

jemartyrian - jamartyrode - jemartyrod (to martyr)

Other verbs of this class are: andswarian (to answer), ealdijan (to

grow old), earnian (to earn), jedeowian (to enslave), jedolian (to endure),

Jddian (to improve), locian (to look), ricsian (to govern), wyrsian (to

worsen), yfelian (to get worse), seowian (to sew), mettian (to supply with

food), horsian (to provide horses), wundrian (to wonder).

Class III

The suffix -ai-, that determined the peculiarities of conjugation of the

weak verbs of the third class in Old English is no longer found. The class is

not numerous (there are about eight verbs) and a closed system. Moreover,

there is a tendency to disintegration of this class, some of the verbs changing

into the first and the second classes.

Some verbs of this class have doubled consonants in the Infinitive

and the mutated vowels, which are accounted for by the presence of the

element -i-/-j- in some forms in Old English. The pattern of forms of the

most frequent class I I I verbs forms is:

-an -de -d

hahban - heefde - hsefd (to have)

libban - lifde - lifd (to live)

secj(e)an - ssejde - ssejd (to say)

Other less frequent verbs of this class are feojean (to hate), hycjean

(to think); dreajean (to threaten), smeajean (to think), freojean (to free).

Note: negative particle ne-, when it merges with the verb habban,

does not influence its paradigm (nabban (= ne habban) - neefde - narfd)

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