In the Germanic languages, weak verbs are by far the largest group of verbs, and are therefore often regarded as the norm (the regular verbs). They are distinguished from the Germanic strong verbs by the fact that their past tense form is marked by an inflection containing a /t/, /d/, or /ð/ sound (as in English I walk~I walked) rather than by changing the verb's root vowel (as in English I rise~I rose).

Whereas the strong verbs are the oldest group of verbs in Germanic, originating in Indo-European, the weak verbs arose as an innovation in proto-Germanic. Originally the weak verbs consisted of new verbs coined from pre-existing nouns (for example the noun name was turned into the verb to name), or coined from strong verbs to express the sense of causing the action denoted by that strong verb (for example the strong verb to rise was turned into the weak verb to raise).

However, over time, the weak verbs have become the normal form of verbs in all Germanic languages, with most strong verbs being reassigned to the weak class. For example, in Old English the verb to lock (lūcan) was strong (present tense ic lūce 'I lock', past tense ic lēac 'I locked'), but has now become weak. This transition is ongoing. For example, the English verb to cleave currently exists in both a conservative strong form (past tense I clove) and an innovative weak form (past tense I cleaved).

General description edit

In Germanic languages, weak verbs form their preterites and past participles by means of a dental suffix, an inflection that contains a /t/ or /d/ sound or similar. (For comparative purposes, they will be referred to as a dental, but in some of the languages, including most varieties of English, /t/ and /d/ are alveolar instead.) In all Germanic languages, the preterite and past participle forms of weak verbs are formed from the same stem.

Infinitive Preterite
English (regular) to love loved
to laugh laughed
English (irregular) to say said
to send sent
to buy bought
to set set
German lieben (love) liebte
bringen (bring) brachte

Historically, the pronunciation of the suffix in the vast majority of weak verbs (all four classes) was [ð] but, in most sources discussing Proto-Germanic, it is spelled ⟨d⟩ by convention. In the West Germanic languages, the suffix hardened to [d], but it remained a fricative in the other early Germanic languages (Gothic and often in Old Norse).

In the English language, the dental is a /d/ after a voiced consonant (loved) or vowel (laid), a /t/ after a voiceless consonant (laughed), and /ɪd/ after the dentals/alveolars /t/ and /d/ themselves, but English uses the spelling in ⟨ed⟩ regardless of pronunciation, with the exception of a few verbs with irregular spellings.[a]

In Dutch, /t/ and /d/ are distributed as in English provided there is a following vowel. When there is no following vowel, terminal devoicing causes the pronunciation /t/ in all cases. Nevertheless, Dutch still distinguishes the spellings in ⟨d⟩ and ⟨t⟩ even in final position: see the 't kofschip rule.

In Afrikaans, which descends from Dutch, the past tense has fallen out of use altogether, and the past participle is marked only with the prefix ge-. Therefore, the suffix has disappeared along with the forms that originally contained it.

In German the dental is always /t/ and always spelled ⟨t⟩ because of the third phase of the High German consonant shift (d→t).

In Low German, the dental ending of the preterite tense was originally /d/ or /t/, according to the stem of the verb. However the ending has fallen out in pronunciation, starting in the 17th century when the preterite was written with the ending -er representing the sound [ɐ], which was already the last remnant of the former -de and -te endings of Middle Low German. Now, the only Low German verbs that still show a remnant of a dental ending are leggen, which has the preterite leed, and the verb hebben, which has harr with old r-ending from the Middle Low German dental.

In Icelandic, the dental was originally a voiced dental fricative /ð/. It is preserved as such after vowels, voiced fricatives, and /r/ but has been hardened to a stop /d/ after nasals and /l/. It and has been devoiced to /t/ after voiceless consonants and in some other cases (in most Old Norse texts, the alternation is already found in heavy roots, but the light ones preserve /ð/). Furthermore, the voicing contrast between /d/ and /t/ has been replaced in modern Icelandic by an aspiration contrast, which may not be realized phonetically in all the relevant positions.

The situation of early Norwegian was similar to Icelandic, but intervocalic /ð/ eventually disappeared. In the verbs in which it remains, the dental is /t/ or /d/, depending on conjugation class and dialect. It is spelled accordingly. In Nynorsk, it can be different in the preterite and the past participle.

Swedish has a similar situation to that of Norwegian, but the dental is retained in the spelling, even between vowels. Some informal spellings indicate a lost dental, such as in sa ("said") from the standard spelling sade.

Classes of verbs edit

In Proto-Germanic, there were seven types of weak verbs, five of which were significant. However, they are normally grouped into four classes, based on the conjugational system of Gothic.

Class I Verbs edit

Class I verbs actually consist of three classes in Proto-Germanic:

Class I, subclass (i) edit

A small class of verbs had no suffix in the present, and no suffix in the past (other than the -d- or -t- of all weak verbs). This class had only three members:

  1. **bringaną "to bring", past tense **branht-. This verb was continued as such in all the descendants, although an alternate stem **brangij- occasionally appeared in some of the West Germanic languages (e.g., Old English brenġan).
  2. **brūkaną "to use", past tense **brūht-. This verb tended to move into other classes. For example, in Gothic this verb moved into subclass (ii) of Class I (brūkjan, past brūhta), whereas in Old English it became a Class II strong verb (brūcan, past tense brēac*brauk).
  3. **būaną "to dwell", past tense **būd-. This verb continued as such in most descendants but became a Class III weak verb bauan in Gothic.

Class I, subclass (ii) edit

A small class of verbs had the suffix -j- in the present and no suffix in the past. This class had only five members in Proto-Germanic:

  1. **bugjaną "to buy," past tense **buht-
  2. **sōkijaną "to seek," past tense **sōht- (given a regularized subclass (iii) past sōkida in Gothic)
  3. **þankijaną "to think," past tense **þanht-
  4. **þunkijaną "to seem," past tense **þunht-
  5. **wurkijaną "to work," past tense **wurht-

Verbs of this class were said to undergo rückumlaut ("reverse umlaut") in the past, since the umlaut occurring in the present (triggered by the -j-) is undone or "reversed" in the past (due to the lack of the umlaut-triggering stem -i- of subclass [iii]), leading to a non-umlauted vowel in the past.

These verbs also have consonant and vowel alternations between present and past that are due to regular sound changes but result in strikingly different forms in the historical Germanic languages (e.g., think, past tense thought). Specifically:

  • There is an alternation between -k- or -g- in the present and -h- in the past, caused by the -t- of the past-tense suffix. Prior to the operation of Grimm's Law, the stem consonant was -g- or -gʰ-. Before -t-, the consonant was devoiced to -k- by assimilation and then became -h- by Grimm's Law. This alternation is sometimes called Primärberührung.
  • -n- before -h- disappeared after nasalizing the previous vowel. When the -n- disappeared, the vowel was lengthened by the process of compensatory lengthening.
  • -u- was lowered to -o- in the past tense due to a-mutation, since the following vowel was always non-high.

The class remained small in Gothic, but expanded significantly in the other languages:

  • In Old Norse, all short-stem verbs (those with a short vowel followed by at most one consonant, or a long vowel followed by no consonant) appeared to move into this class, as indicated by the fact that no umlaut occurs in the past, as would be caused by a suffix -i-. However, this may have been due to a regular sound change that eliminated unstressed, nonfinal short vowels coming after a short stem before the operation of umlaut.
  • In Old High German, short-stem verbs ending in -zz (-tz), -pf, -ck (Proto-Germanic root ending in *-t, -p, or -k), and optionally those in -ll, join this class. For example, zellen "to tell" < *taljan, past tense zalta, zelita. A number of long-stem verbs also join this class, like brennen "to burn," past tense branta; wenten "to turn," past tense wanta.
  • In Old English and the other northern West Germanic languages, a number of verbs ending in -(c)c- and -ll- joined the class, including the following Old English verbs:
  • cweccan "to shake" < *kwakjan, past tense cweahte < *kwaht-
  • dreccan "to afflict," past tense dreahte
  • læccan "to seize" (based on earlier *lǣcan?), past tense lǣhte
  • leccan "to moisten," past tense leahte
  • rǣcan "to reach" < *raikjan, past tense rǣhte, rāhte < *raiht-
  • reccan "to narrate," past tense reahte
  • reccan "to care for" (based on earlier *rēcan?), past tense rōhte
  • tǣcan "to teach," past tense tǣhte, tāhte
  • streccan "to stretch," past tense streahte
  • þeccan "to cover," past tense þeahte
  • weccan "to awake," past tense weahte
  • cwellan "to kill" < *kwaljan, past tense cwealde < *kwald
  • dwellan "to dwell," past tense dwealde
  • sellan "to give, sell," past tense sealde
  • stellan "to place," past tense stealde
  • tellan "to tell," past tense tealde

In Late Old English, further verbs in -can were drawn into this class by analogy, but with umlaut maintained, e.g., bepǣcan "to deceive", past tense bepǣhte, earlier bepǣcte, or wleccan "to warm," past tense wlehte, earlier wlecede. At the same time, verbs in -ccan were modified to follow the same pattern, as in the new past tense form cwehte alongside earlier cweahte.

Class I, subclass (iii) edit

A large class of verbs had the suffix -j- in the present and -i- in the past, for example, Gothic satjan "to set" (Old English settan) and sandjan "to send" (Old English sendan). As shown in the Old English cognates:

  • The -j- produced umlaut of the stem vowel in languages other than Gothic.
  • The -j- caused West Germanic gemination in the West Germanic languages in short-stem verbs ending in a consonant other than -r.
  • The -j- resulted in palatalization of preceding velar consonants in Old English.
  • The -j- remained in Gothic and Old Saxon, but disappeared in the other languages: In long-stem verbs in Old Norse, and in all verbs except those in -r in the remaining West Germanic languages. (In Old High German, it deflected *-jan into *-jen before disappearing, leaving the suffix -en. This phenomenon, which resembles the usual umlaut of a in syllables preceding j, is nevertheless distinct and must have happened later, as the missing j also caused umlaut.)

This class was split into two subclasses in all the Old Germanic languages, one consisting of short-stem verbs and one of long-stem verbs. The distinction between the two was originally due to Sievers' Law, and was extended due to changes such as West Germanic gemination, which affected short-stem but not long-stem verbs. The West Germanic languages had a third subclass consisting of short-stem verbs ending in -r (e.g., Old English erian "to plow," nerian "to save," styrian "to stir"), due to West Germanic gemination and subsequent loss of -j- not taking place.

The following is a cross-language paradigm of a short-stem Class I verb **gramjaną "to anger" (Gothic gramjan, Old Norse gremja, Old High German gremmen, Old Saxon *gremmian, Old English gremman, Old Frisian *gremma). Note that the Old Saxon and Old Frisian verbs given here are unattested, almost certainly due to the small nature of the respective corpora.

Gothic Old Norse Old High German Old Saxon Old English Old Frisian
Infinitive gramjan gremja gremmen gremmian gremman gremma
Pres. 1sg. gramja grem gremmu gremmiu gremme gremme
Pres. 2sg. gramjis gremr gremis(t) gremis gremes(t) gremest
Pres. 3sg. gramjiþ gremit gremid gremeþ gremeth
Pres. 1du. gramjōs
Pres. 2du. gramjats
Pres. 1pl. gramjam gremjum gremmemēs (-ēn) gremmiad gremmaþ gremmath
Pres. 2pl. gramjiþ gremið gremmet
Pres. 3pl. gramjand gremja gremment
Pres. subj. 1sg. gramjáu gremme gremmia (-i.e.) gremme
Pres. subj. 3sg. gramjái gremi
Pres. subj. 2sg. gramjáis gremir gremmēs(t) gremmias (-ies)
Pres. subj. 1du. gramjáiwa
Pres. subj. 2du. gramjáits
Pres. subj. 1pl. gramjáima gremim gremmēm (-ēn, -ēmēs) gremmian gremmen
Pres. subj. 2pl. gramjáiþ gremið gremmēt
Pres. subj. 3pl. gramjáina gremi gremmēn
Past 1sg. gramida gramda gremita gremida gremede
Past 3sg. gramida gramdi
Past 2sg. gramidēs gramdir gremitōs(t) gremidōs gremedes(t) gremedest
Past 1du. gramidēdu
Past 2du. gramidēduts
Past 1pl. gramidēdum grǫmdum gremitum (-un, -umēs) gremidun gremedon
Past 2pl. gramidēduþ grǫmduð gremitut
Past 3pl. gramidēdun grǫmdu gremitun
Past subj. 1sg. gramidēdjáu gremda gremiti (-ī) gremidi gremede
Past subj. 3sg. gramidēdi gremdi
Past subj. 2sg. gramidēdeis gremdir gremitīs(t) gremidīs
Past subj. 1du. gramidēdeiwa
Past subj. 2du. gramidēdeits
Past subj. 1pl. gramidēdeima gremdim gremitīm (-īn, -īmēs) gremidīn gremeden
Past subj. 2pl. gramidēdeiþ gremdið gremitīt
Past subj. 3pl. gramidēdeina gremdi gremitīn
Imper. 2sg. gramei grem gremi greme
Imper. 3sg. gramjadáu
Imper. 2du. gramjats
Imper. 1pl. gramjam gremjum gremmemēs (-ēn)
Imper. 2pl. gramjiþ gremið gremmet gremmiad gremmaþ gremmath
Imper. 3pl. gramjandáu
Pres. participle gramjands gremjandi gremmenti gremmiand gremmende gremmand
Past participle gramiþs *gramiðr gigremit gremid gremed

The following is a cross-language paradigm of a long-stem Class I verb **hauzijaną "to hear" (Gothic hausjan, Old Norse heyra, Old High German hōren, Old Saxon hōrian, Old English hīeran, Old Frisian hēra)

Gothic Old Norse Old High German Old Saxon Old English Old Frisian
Infinitive hausjan heyra hōren hōrian hīeran hēra
Pres. 1sg. hausja heyri hōru hōriu hīere hēre
Pres. 2sg. hauseis heyrir hōris(t) hōris hīer(e)s(t) hēr(i)st
Pres. 3sg. hauseiþ hōrit hōrid hīer(e)þ hēr(i)th
Pres. 1du. hausjōs
Pres. 2du. hausjats
Pres. 1pl. hausjam heyrum hōremēs (-ēn) hōriad hīeraþ hērath
Pres. 2pl. hauseiþ heyrið hōret
Pres. 3pl. hausjand heyra hōrent
Pres. subj. 1sg. hausjáu hōre hōria (-i.e.) hīere hēri (-e)
Pres. subj. 3sg. hausjái heyri
Pres. subj. 2sg. hausjáis heyrir hōrēs(t) hōrias (-ies)
Pres. subj. 1du. hausjáiwa
Pres. subj. 2du. hausjáits
Pres. subj. 1pl. hausjáima heyrim hōrēm (-ēn, -ēmēs) hōrian hīeren hēri (-e)
Pres. subj. 2pl. hausjáiþ heyrið hōrēt
Pres. subj. 3pl. hausjáina heyri hōrēn
Past 1sg. hausida heyrða hōrta hōrda hīerde hērde
Past 3sg. hausida heyrði
Past 2sg. hausidēs heyrðir hōrtōs(t) hōrdōs hiērdes(t) hērdest
Past 1du. hausidēdu
Past 2du. hausidēduts
Past 1pl. hausidēdum heyrðum hōrtum (-un, -umēs) hōrdun hīerdon hērdon
Past 2pl. hausidēduþ heyrðuð hōrtut
Past 3pl. hausidēdun heyrðu hōrtun
Past subj. 1sg. hausidēdjáu heyrða hōrti (-ī) hōrdi hīerde hērde
Past subj. 3sg. hausidēdi heyrði
Past subj. 2sg. hausidēdeis heyrðir hōrtīs(t) hōrdīs
Past subj. 1du. hausidēdeiwa
Past subj. 2du. hausidēdeits
Past subj. 1pl. hausidēdeima heyrðim hōrtīm (-īn, -īmēs) hōrdīn hīerden hērde
Past subj. 2pl. hausidēdeiþ heyrðið hōrtīt
Past subj. 3pl. hausidēdeina heyrði hōrtīn
Imper. 2sg. hausei heyr hōri hīer hēre
Imper. 3sg. hausjadáu
Imper. 2du. hausjats
Imper. 1pl. hausjam heyrum hōremēs (-ēn)
Imper. 2pl. hauseiþ heyrið hōret hōriad hīeraþ hērath
Imper. 3pl. hausjandáu
Pres. participle hausjands heyrandi hōrenti hōriand hīerende hērand
Past participle hausiþs heyrðr gihōrit hōrid hīered hēred

Class II Verbs edit

Class II verbs were formed with a suffix -ō-. In the northern West Germanic languages, an alternative extended suffix -ōja- sometimes appears in the non-past forms, e.g., the Old English infinitive -ian < *-ōjan.

The following is a cross-language paradigm of **laþōną "to invite" (Gothic laþōn, Old Norse laða, Old High German ladōn, lathōn, Old Saxon lathian [-ōjan], ladian [-ōjan], Old English laþian, Old Frisian lathia).

Gothic Old Norse Old High German Old Saxon Old English Old Frisian
Infinitive laþōn laða ladōn, lathōn lathian (-ōjan), ladian (-ōjan) laþian lathia
Pres. 1sg. laþō ladōm (-ōn), lathōm (-ōn) lathōn, ladōn laþie lathie
Pres. 2sg. laþōs laðar ladōs(t), lathōs(t) lathōs, ladōs laþast lathast (-est)
Pres. 3sg. laþōþ ladōt, lathōt lathōd, ladōd laþaþ lathath
Pres. 1du. laþōs
Pres. 2du. laþōts
Pres. 1pl. laþōm lǫðum ladōmēs (-ōn), lathōmēs (-ōn) lathōd (-ōjad), ladōd (-ōjad) laþiaþ lathiath
Pres. 2pl. laþōþ laðið ladōt, lathōt
Pres. 3pl. laþōnd laða ladōnt, lathōnt
Pres. subj. 1sg. laþō lado, latho lathō (-ōja), ladō (-ōja) laþie lathie
Pres. subj. 3sg. laði
Pres. subj. 2sg. laþōs laðir ladōs(t), lathōs(t) lathōs (-ōjes), ladōs (-ōjes)
Pres. subj. 1du. laþōwa
Pres. subj. 2du. laþōts
Pres. subj. 1pl. laþōma laðim ladōm (-ōn, -ōmēs), lathōm (-ōn, -ōmēs) lathōn, ladōn laþien lathie
Pres. subj. 2pl. laþōþ laðið ladōt, lathōt
Pres. subj. 3pl. laþōna laði ladōn, lathōn
Past 1sg. laþōda laðaða ladōta, lathōta lathōda, ladōda laþode lathade
Past 3sg. laðaði
Past 2sg. laþōdēs laðaðir ladōtōs(t), lathōtōs(t) lathōdōs, ladōdōs laþodest *lathadest
Past 1du. laþōdēdu
Past 2du. laþōdēduts
Past 1pl. laþōdēdum lǫðuðum ladōtum (-un, -umēs), lathōtum (-un, -umēs) lathōdun, ladōdun laþodon lathadon
Past 2pl. laþōdēduþ lǫðuðuð ladōtut, lathōtut
Past 3pl. laþōdēdun lǫðuðu ladōtun, lathōtun
Past subj. 1sg. laþōdēdjáu laðaða ladōti (-ī), lathōti (-ī) lathōda, ladōda laþode *lathade
Past subj. 3sg. laþōdēdi laðaði
Past subj. 2sg. laþōdēdeis laðaðir ladōtīs(t), lathōtīs(t) lathōdōs, ladōdōs
Past subj. 1du. laþōdēdeiwa
Past subj. 2du. laþōdēdeits
Past subj. 1pl. laþōdēdeima laðaðim ladōtīm (-īn, -īmēs), lathōtīm (-īn, -īmēs) lathōdun, ladōdun laþoden lathade
Past subj. 2pl. laþōdēdeiþ laðaðið ladōtīt, lathōtīt
Past subj. 3pl. laþōdēdeina laðaði ladōtīn, lathōtīn
Imper. 2sg. laþō laða lado, latho lathō, ladō laþa *latha
Imper. 3sg. laþōdáu
Imper. 2du. laþōts
Imper. 1pl. laþōm lǫðum ladōmēs (-ōn), lathōmēs (-ōn)
Imper. 2pl. laþōþ laðið ladōt, lathōt lathōd, ladōd laþiaþ *lathiath
Imper. 3pl. laþōndáu
Pres. participle laþōnds laðandi ladōnti, lathōnti lathōnd (-ōjand), ladōnd (-ōjand) laþiende lath(i)ande
Past participle laþōþs laðaðr ladōt, lathōt lathōd, ladōd laþod lathad

Class III Verbs edit

What is known as "Class III" was actually two separate classes in Proto-Germanic:

  • A class of verbs with stative semantics (i.e., denoting a state rather than an action), formed with a present suffix that was either *-ai- or *-ja-, and no suffix in the past.
  • A class of verbs with factitive semantics (i.e., with the meaning "make X" where X is an adjective or noun, e.g., "renew, enslave"), formed with a suffix that was either *-ai- or *-ā-, and a suffix *-a- in the past.

The histories of this class in the various Germanic languages are quite varied:

  • Old High German combined both into a single class and generalized *-ai- (appearing as -ē- through regular sound change) to all forms of the present and past.
  • Gothic combined both into a single class, keeping the *-ai-/-ā- alternation of the factitives in the present, generalizing the alternation to the statives as well, and borrowing *-ai- as the past suffix.
  • Old Norse for the most part combined both into a single class in the same fashion as Gothic; however, two relic stative verbs (segja "to say" and þegja "to be silent") preserve the stative suffixes in both present and past, and a third verb (hafa "to have") is a mixture of the two, with factitive suffixes in the present indicative plural and imperative and stative suffixes in the present indicative singular and past participle (elsewhere, the two types have fallen together).
  • The other (i.e., northern) West Germanic languages have only small numbers of Class III verbs—but they consistently follow the stative paradigm, unlike the three languages above.

An example is the stative verb reconstructed as Proto-Germanic **habjaną "to have", past indicative third-person singular *habdē:

  • Old English hebban < *habjan, past, third-person singular hæfde — derived entirely through regular sound changes.
  • Old High German habēn, past, third person singular habēta — derived through analogical spread of suffix -ē-.
  • Gothic haban, past, third-person singular habáida — derived through various analogical changes.
  • Old Norse hafa, past, third-person hafði — partly regular, partly analogical.

Only four stative verbs survive as Class III verbs in the northern West Germanic languages (i.e., Old English, Old Saxon, Old Frisian and Old Low Franconian):

  • **sagjaną "to say"
  • **libjaną "to live"
  • **habjaną "to hold, have"
  • **hugjaną "to think"

However, there are five more verbs that appear as Class III verbs in Old High German, Gothic, and/or Old Norse that also have remnants of the stative conjugation in one or more northern West Germanic languages:

  • **þagjaną "to be silent"
  • **siljaną "to be silent"
  • **þuljaną "to endure" (normally Class II þolian in Old English, but compare archaic umlauted infinitive -þoelġe; Class III in Old Norse þola)
  • **fijaną "to hate"
  • **hatjaną "to hate" (normally Class II hatian in Old English, but compare umlauted nominalized present participle hettend "enemy"; Class III in Gothic hatan)

Class IV Verbs edit

Class IV verbs were formed with a suffix -nan, e.g., Gothic fullnan "to become full". The present tense was conjugated as a strong verb, for example, Gothic fullna, fullnis, fullniþ, etc. The past tense was conjugated with suffix -nō-, e.g., Gothic fullnōda, fullnōdēs, etc. This class vanished in other Germanic languages; however, a significant number of cognate verbs appear as Class II verbs in Old Norse and as Class III verbs in Old High German. This class has fientive semantics, that is, "become X," where X is an adjective or a past participle of a verb.

  • Examples of deadjectival Class IV verbs in Gothic are ga-blindnan "to become blind" (blinds "blind"), ga-háilnan "to become whole" (háils "whole").
  • Examples of deverbal Class IV verbs in Gothic are fra-lusnan "to perish" (fra-liusan "to destroy"), ga-þaúrsnan "to dry up, wither away" (ga-þaírsan "to wither"), mikilnan "to be magnified" (mikiljan "to magnify"), us-háuhnan "to be exalted" (us-háuhjan "to exalt").

Note that the last two are deverbal even though the underlying root is adjectival because they are formed to other verbs (which are in turn formed from adjectives).

The vast majority of Class IV verbs appear to be deverbal. Class IV verbs derived from weak verbs keep the same stem form as the underlying weak verb. However, class IV verbs derived from strong verbs adopt the ablaut of the past participle, for example:

  • dis-skritnan "to be torn to pieces" (Class I dis-skreitan "to tear to pieces")
  • us-gutnan "to be poured out" (Class II giutan "to pour")
  • and-bundnan "to become unbound" (Class III and-bindan "to unbind")
  • dis-taúrnan "to be torn asunder, burst asunder" (Class IV dis-taíran "to tear asunder, burst")
  • ufar-hafnan "to be exalted" (Class VI ufar-hafjan "to exalt")
  • bi-auknan "to abound, become larger" (Class VII bi-aukan "to increase, add to").

Modern languages edit

In the modern languages, the various classes have mostly been leveled into a single productive class. Icelandic, Norwegian and Frisian have retained two productive classes of weak verbs. (In Frisian, in addition to the class with -de, there is a class of je- verbs, where the dental suffix has dropped, i.e., -je < -iad.) Swiss German also has two types of weak verbs, descended from Class I and Classes II and III, respectively, of Old High German weak verbs and marked with -t and -et, respectively, in the past participle.[1]

In the history of English, the following changes happened:

  1. Most Class III verbs were moved into Class II prior to the historical period of Old English.
  2. The remaining four Class III verbs moved into Class I or Class II late in Old English.
  3. Throughout the Middle English period, Class I verbs gradually moved into Class II.

In modern English, only one productive weak paradigm remains, derived from Class II. A number of Class I verbs still persist, for example:

  • From Old English subclass (i): bring (brought)
  • From Old English subclass (ii) or analogously: buy (bought); catch (caught); seek (sought); sell (sold); teach (taught); tell (told); think (thought); work (wrought) [obsolescent]
  • From Old English subclass (iii) or analogously: bend (bent); bet (bet); breed (bred); build (built); cast (cast); cost (cost); creep (crept); cut (cut); deal (dealt); dream (dreamt); feed (fed); flee (fled); hear (heard); hit (hit); hurt (hurt); keep (kept); kneel (knelt); knit (knit); lay (laid); lead (led); leap (leapt); leave (left); lend (lent); light (lit); lose (lost); mean (meant); meet (met); put (put); read (read); rend (rent) [obsolescent]; send (sent); set (set); shed (shed); shoot (shot); shut (shut); sleep (slept); speed (sped); spend (spent); spill (spilt); split (split); spread (spread); sweep (swept); thrust (thrust); wed (wed); weep (wept); as well as a few others
  • From Old English Class III verbs: have (had); say (said)

As the previous list shows, although there is only one productive class of weak verbs, there are plenty of "irregular" weak verbs that do not follow the paradigm of this class. Furthermore, the regular paradigm in English is not unitary, but in fact is divided into subclasses in both the written and spoken language, although in different ways:

  • In the written language, before the past-tense suffix -ed, short-stem verbs double the final consonant (e.g., dip [dipped]), while a -y following a consonant becomes -i- (e.g., carry [carried]).
  • In the spoken language, the past-tense suffix -ed is variously pronounced /t/, /d/, or /ɪd, əd/ depending on the preceding consonant.

Both of these characteristics occur in a similar fashion in most or all the modern Germanic languages. In modern German, for example, descendants of the original subclass (ii) of Class I are still irregular (e.g., denken [dachte] "to think", brennen [brannte] "to burn"), and subclasses of the productive verb paradigm are formed by verbs ending in -eln or -ern and in -ten or -den, among others.

Modern paradigms edit

One of the regular weak verb conjugations is as follows.

West Germanic edit

English West Frisian Dutch Low German German
Infinitive work wurkje leare werken warken werken
Present I work
thou workest
he works
we work
you work
they work
ik wurkje
do wurkest
hy wurket
wy wurkje
jim wurkje
hja wurkje
ik lear
do learst
hy leart
wy leare
jim leare
hja leare
ik werk
jij werkt; werk jij?
hij werkt
wij werken
jullie werken
zij werken
ik wark
du warks(t)
he warkt
wi warkt
ji warkt
se warkt
ich werke
du werkst
er werkt
wir werken
ihr werkt
sie werken
Preterite I worked
thou workedst
he worked
we worked
you worked
they worked
ik wurke
do wurkest
hy wurke
wy wurken
jim wurken
hja wurken
ik learde
do leardest
hy learde
wy learden
jim learden
hij learden
ik werkte
jij werkte
hij werkte
wij werkten
jullie werkten
zij werkten
ik wark
du warks(t)
he warkt
wi warken
ji warken
se warken
ich werkte
du werktest
er werkte
wir werkten
ihr werktet
sie werkten
Past participle worked wurke leard gewerkt (ge)warkt gewerkt

North Germanic edit

Danish Norwegian Bokmål Swedish Norwegian Nynorsk Icelandic Faroese
Infinitive virke verka verka/verke verka virka 1
present jeg virker
du virker
han virker
vi virker
I virker
de virker
jag verkar
du verkar
han verkar
vi verkar
ni verkar
de verkar
ég verka
þú verkar
hann verkar
við verkum
þið verkið
þeir verka
eg virki
tú virkar
hann virkar
vit virka
tit virka
teir virka
Preterite jeg virkede
du virkede
han virkede
vi virkede
I virkede
de virkede
jeg virket/virka
du virket/virka
han virket/virka
vi virket/virka
dere virket/virka
de virket/virka
jag verkade
du verkade
han verkade
vi verkade
ni verkade
de verkade
eg verka
du verka
han verka
vi/me verka
de verka
dei verka
ég verkaði
þú verkaðir
hann verkaði
við verkuðum
þið verkuðuð
þeir verkuðu
eg virkaði
tú virkaði
hann virkaði
vit virkaðu
tit virkaðu
teir virkaðu
Past participle virket virket/virka verkat verka verkað virkaður
1. prepare, manufacture

Weak and strong verbs edit

Weak verbs should be contrasted with strong verbs, which form their past tenses by means of ablaut (vowel gradation: sing - sang - sung). Most verbs in the early stages of the Germanic languages were strong. However, as the ablaut system is no longer productive except in rare cases of analogy. Almost all new verbs in Germanic languages are weak, and the majority of the original strong verbs have become weak by analogy.

Strong to weak transformations edit

As an example of the rather common process of originally strong verbs becoming weak, we may consider the development from the Old English strong verb scūfan to modern English shove:

  • scūfan scēaf scofen (strong class 2)
  • shove shoved shoved

Many hundreds of weak verbs in contemporary English go back to Old English strong verbs.

In some cases, a verb has become weak in the preterite but not in the participle and may be thought of as "semi-strong" (not a technical term). Dutch has a number of examples:

  • wassen waste gewassen ("to wash")
  • lachen lachte gelachen ("to laugh")

An example in English is:

  • sow sowed sown (strong class 7 with weak preterite)

Often, the old strong participle may survive as an adjective long after it has been replaced with a weak form in verbal constructions. The English adjective molten is an old strong participle of melt, which is now a purely weak verb with the participle melted. The participle gebacken of the German verb backen (to bake), is gradually being replaced by gebackt, but the adjective is always gebacken (baked).

Weak to strong transformations edit

The reverse process is very rare and can also be partial, producing "semi-strong" verbs as in show showed shown (originally a weak verb with its participle modelled on sown)

Weak verbs that develop strong forms are often unstable. A typical example is German fragen (to ask), which is historically weak and is still weak in standard German. However, for a time in the 18th century, the forms fragen, frug, gefragen by analogy with, for example, tragen (to carry) were also considered acceptable in the standard. They survive today (along with a present tense frägt) in the Rhinelandic regiolect and underlying dialects. In Dutch, the new strong past vroeg of the cognate vragen is standard today, but its past participle is weak gevraagd (though some dialects do have gevrogen).

Origins edit

The weak conjugation of verbs is an innovation of Proto-Germanic (unlike the older strong verbs, the basis of which goes back to Proto-Indo-European). While primary verbs (those inherited from PIE) already had an ablaut-based perfect form that was the basis of the Germanic strong preterite. Secondary verbs (those derived from other forms after the break-up of PIE) had to form a preterite otherwise, which necessitated the creation of the weak conjugation.

Denominative derivation edit

The vast majority of weak verbs are secondary, or derived. The two main types of derived verbs were denominative and deverbative. A denominative verb is one that has been created out of a noun. The denominative in Indo-European and early Germanic was formed by adding an ablauting thematic *-yéó- suffix to a noun or adjective. This created verbs such as Gothic namnjan 'to name'.

Causative verbs edit

A significant subclass of Class I weak verbs are (deverbal) causative verbs. They are formed in a way that reflects a direct inheritance from the PIE causative class of verbs. PIE causatives were formed by adding an accented affix -éy- to the o-grade of a non-derived verb. In Proto-Germanic, causatives are formed by adding a suffix -j/ij- (the reflex of PIE -éy-) to the past-tense ablaut (mostly with the reflex of PIE o-grade) of a strong verb (the reflex of PIE non-derived verbs), with Verner's Law voicing applied (the reflex of the PIE accent on the -éy- suffix):

  • *bītaną (I) "to bite" → *baitijaną "to bridle, yoke, restrain," i.e., "to make bite down"
  • *rīsaną (I) "to rise" → *raizijaną "to raise," i.e., "to cause to rise"
  • *beuganą (II) "to bend" → *baugijaną "to bend (transitive)"
  • *brinnaną (III) "to burn" → *brannijaną "to burn (transitive)"
  • *frawerþaną (III) "to perish" → *frawardijaną "to destroy," i.e., "to cause to perish"
  • *nesaną (V) "to survive" → *nazjaną "to save," i.e., "to cause to survive"
  • *ligjaną (V) "to lie down" → *lagjaną "to lay," i.e., "to cause to lie down"
  • *sitjaną (V) "to sit" → *satjaną "to set, seat," i.e., "to cause to sit"
  • *faraną (VI) "to travel, go" → *fōrijaną "to lead, bring," i.e., "to cause to go"
  • *faraną (VI) "to travel, go" → *farjaną "to carry across," i.e., "to cause to travel" (an archaic instance of the o-grade ablaut used despite the differing past-tense ablaut)
  • *grētaną (VII) "to weep" → *grōtijaną "to cause to weep"
  • *lais (I, preterite-present) "(s)he knows" → *laizijaną "to teach," i.e., "to cause to know"

Essentially, all verbs formed this way were conjugated as Class I weak verbs.

That method of forming causative verbs is no longer productive in the modern Germanic languages, but many relics remain. For example:

  • The original strong verb fall fell fallen has a related weak verb fell felled felled, which means "to cause (a tree) to fall"
  • Strong sit sat sat and lie lay lain are matched with weak set set set and lay laid laid, meaning "to cause something to sit" or "lie" respectively.

In some cases, phonological or semantic developments make the pairs difficult to recognise. For example:

  • Rear is the regular phonological development of Proto-Germanic *raizijaną given in the above list, but the connection between rise and rear is no longer obvious. The word raise also ultimately defines from *raizijaną, but only via borrowing from Old Norse. The connection is perhaps made more obvious by noting that to rear a child is essentially synonymous with to raise a child.
  • Drench was originally the causative of drink, but the modern meaning of "drench" ("to cause to get wet") is no longer similar to "cause to drink".
  • Similarly, German strong leiden litt gelitten ("to suffer") has the derived weak verb leiten ("to lead"), which makes sense when one realises that leiden originally meant "walk, go" and came to its present meaning through the idea of "undergoing" suffering.

Other types edit

There are primary verbs that date to Indo-European that took a weak conjugation because they were unable to take a perfect, including verbs that had zero grade of the root in the present and so were unable to show the ablaut distinction necessary for a strong preterite. That was the case with the Gothic verbs waurkjan "to work, create," bugjan "to buy," and sokjan "to seek."

Preterite-present verbs are primary verbs in which the PIE present was lost, and the perfect was given a present meaning. They needed a new past tense, which followed the weak pattern.

Most borrowings from other languages into Germanic were weak. However, this was not always the case: for example, *skrībaną 'to write' from Latin scrībō.

Origin of dental suffix edit

The origin of the dental suffix is uncertain. Perhaps the most commonly held theory is that it evolved out of a periphrastic construction with the verb to do: Germanic **lubō-dē- ("love-did") > *lubōdē- > Old English lufode > loved or **salbō-dē- ("salve-did", i.e., "put salve") > **salbōdē- > Old English sealfode > salved. That would be analogous to the way that in modern English one can form an emphatic past tense with "did": I did love, I did salve.

The common PIE root *dʰeh₁- meaning 'do' was a root aorist and so did not take a perfect. However, it took a reduplicating present. The imperfect of the root is probably the origin of the dental suffix.

Periphrastic origin of dental suffix PIE imperfect of "do" Proto-Germanic imperfect of "do" Gothic weak preterite ending
Singular *dʰe-dʰéh₁-m *dedǭ -da
*dʰe-dʰéh₁-s *dedēz -des
*dʰe-dʰéh₁-t *dedē -da
Plural *dʰe-dʰh₁-m̥é *dēdum -dēdum
*dʰe-dʰh₁-té *dédd → *dēdud (by analogy) -dēduþ
*dʰe-dʰh₁-n̥t *dēdun -dēdun

That view is not without objections:[citation needed]

  • Germanic has long -ē- in the plural, which cannot directly reflect the Proto-Indo-European situation.
  • Reduplication is only in the Gothic plural, not in the singular.

The objections are sometimes answered as follows:[citation needed]

  • There might have been a refashioning according to cases like *gēbun, namely, *gegbun > gēbun: *dedun → dēdun.
  • Reduplication only in the plural can easily be explained by haplology in Proto-Germanic (*dede- being reduced to *de-) for the singular, with a later development of haplology for the plural in non-East Germanic languages.

Another theory is that it came from a past participle ending, a final *-daz from PIE *-tos (compare Latin amatus), with personal endings added to it at a later stage. That theory, however, is also disputed because of its inability to explain all the facts.

According to Hill (2010), the endings, which in the singular do not show reduplication in any Germanic language, continue the PIE subjunctive of the root aorist.

Other meanings edit

The term "weak verb" was originally coined by Jacob Grimm, who only applied it to Germanic philology. However, the term is sometimes applied to other language groups to designate phenomena that are not really analogous. For example, Hebrew irregular verbs are sometimes called weak verbs because one of their radicals is weak. See weak inflection.

Notes edit

  1. ^ Rudolf Ernst Keller (1961). German dialects: phonology and morphology, with selected texts. Manchester University Press.
  1. ^ and often also somewhat irregular past tenses as well: make /mk/, made /md/ (from earlier maked); say /s/, said /sɛd/, (< Μid.Εngl. saie, saied); sleep /slp/, slept /slɛpt/, and so on.

References edit

  • Bennett, William Holmes (1980). An Introduction to the Gothic Language. New York: Modern Language Association of America.
  • Campbell, A. (1959). Old English Grammar. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Galleé, Johan Hendrik (1910). Altsächsische Grammatik. Halle: Max Niemeyer.
  • Gordon, E.V. (1927). An Introduction to Old Norse. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Heuser, Wilhelm (1903). Altfriesisches Lesebuch mit Grammatik und Glossar. Heidelberg: Carl Winter's Universitätsbuchhandlung.
  • Hill, Eugen (2010). "A case study in grammaticalized inflectional morphology: Origin and development of the Germanic weak preterite". Diachronica. 27 (3): 411–458. doi:10.1075/dia.27.3.02hil. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  • Kroonen, Guus (2013). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic. Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series, 11. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-18340-7.
  • Plotkin, Vulf (2008). The Evolution of Germanic Phonological Systems: Proto-Germanic, Gothic, West Germanic, and Scandinavian. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen.
  • Ringe, Don (2008). From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. Oxford: OUP. ISBN 978-0-19-955229-0.
  • Skeat, Walter William (1868). A Moeso-Gothic glossary. London: Asher & Co.
  • Voyles, Joseph B. (1992). Early Germanic Grammar. San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-728270-X.
  • Wright, Joseph (1906). An Old High German Primer (Second ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Wright, Joseph (1910). Grammar of the Gothic Language. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Wright, Joseph; Wright, Elizabeth Mary (1925). Old English Grammar (Third ed.). London: Oxford University Press.