OE verbs have two tenses (present and past) and three moods (indicative, subjunctive and imperative). There are also the verbals the infinitive, the first (present) and the second (past) participles. The verbs agree with the subject in person and number.
Germanic is distinguished among the branches of the Indo-European family by several unique features which were developed by internal progress of the Common Germanic language. One of such features was the formation of the weak verbs, which did not exist in the Proto-Indo-European language.
Modern English makes a distinction between regular and irregular verbs. This distinction goes back to the Old English system of strong and weak verbs. Strong verbs use the Germanic form of conjugation (known as Ablaut). In this form of conjugation, the stem of the word changes to indicate the tense. Verbs like this persist in modern English, for example "sing, sang, sung" is a strong verb, as are swim/swam/swum and choose/chose/chosen. The root portion of the word changes rather than its ending. In Old English, there were seven major classes of strong verb; each class has its own pattern of stem changes.
OE strong verbs are traditionally divided into seven classes, each having a distinct pattern of the root vowels in its principal parts, different from any other class. There were four basic forms of strong verbs in OE: the Infinitive, the Past singular, the Past plural, Participle II.
(a) before nasal + consonant
(b) before l + consonant
(c) before r + consonant, h + consonant
The classes had the following distinguishing features to their infinitive stems:
1. ī + one consonant.
2. ēo or ū + one consonant.
3. Originally e + two consonants (This was no longer the case by the time of written Old English).
4. e + one consonant (usually l or r, plus the verb brecan 'to break').
5. e + one consonant (usually a stop or a fricative).
6. a + one consonant.
7. No specific rule first and second have identical stems (ē or ēo), and the infinitive and the past participle also have the same stem.
Weak verbs are formed principally by adding dental endings (containing d- or t-) to past and participles. Ever weak verb is characterized by three forms: infinitive, past tense and second participle. There are three major classes of weak verbs.
The first class displays i-mutation in the root. It also includes several subdivisions.
Class I Weak Verbs
Class II verbs did not undergo any mutation, as the replacement of the original suffix *-ōja- was reduced to i- at the time when the process of mutation was over. The infinitive of these verbs ends in ian.
Class II Weak Verbs
During the Old English period the third class was significantly reduced; only few verbs belonged to this group. Each of these verbs is distinctly irregular, though share some commonalities.
Class III Weak Verbs
Class I strong verb wrītan (write)
2d pers. wrītaÞ
Dat. tō wrītenne
Every infinitive can have a dative case used with the preposition tō.
Class I weak verb styrian (stir)
2d pers. styriaÞ
The preterite-present verbs are a class of verbs which form the present like the past of a strong verb, and the past like the past of a weak verb. These verbs derive from perfect tense verbs that have accuired a present meaning. For example, witan, "to know" comes from verb which originally meant "to have seen." As a result of this history, the present singular is formed from the first preterite stem, and the present plural from the second preterite stem.
sculan (shall, should)
Irregular (anomalous) verbs.
These verbs differ from all other verbs in that their forms are derived from different root, i.e. their system is based on suppletivity. For example, forms of the verb be are derived from three roots: wes-, es-, and be-. It is possible that these elements originally had different meanings, which were more concrete than the abstract meaning of be.
Conjugation / Infinitive
wesan, bēon (be)
gān, gangan (go)
sind(on), bēoÞ, sīen, sīn, bēon, sint
sīe, sī, bēo, sú
sind(on), bēoÞ, sīen, sīn, bēon, sint
Past Participle II
Singular 2d person
Plural 2d person
Analytical verb formation in OE
The OE was a synthetical language, though some analytical forms already started to come into use. There existed the following prototypes of future analytical formations:
(1) sculan + infinitive, willan + infinitive
These constructions were occasionally used to convey future meaning. As you remember, there was no special future tense in OE, the hypothetical future meaning could be expressed by lexical means (context, adverbs etc.) or by compound modal predicate. Sculon and willan used to be pure modal verbs, sculan expressed obligation and willan volition, for example:
Þonne sculan hīe Þās helle sēcan (they must seek that hell).
By the end of OE period these verbs started to lose their modal meaning.
(2) habban + Participle II (with transitive verbs), bēon + Participle II (with intransitive verbs)
These combinations mean that the subject had some thing or quality as a result of some action, for example:
hīe hæfdon hiera cyning āworpenne (they had their king deposed).
The Participle II usually agrees with the object in gender, number and case.
Later such constructions started to convey the meaning of completion and result of the action, which could be viewed as beginning of analytical perfective aspect. Occasionally completion of an action was expressed by means of ge- prefix. It also approaches in a way the meaning of he perfective aspect, dōn gedōn.
(3) wesan/ bēon/weorÞan + Participle II.
This construction had a passive meaning and showed, that the subject aquired a feature as a result of an action performed, for example:
hē wearÞ ofslægen (he became a killed one).
Indo-European had three voices: active, passive and middle (reflexive); Germanic languages lost inflected passive and middle. The above construction could not be considered as expressing passive as it exists now, as the verbs wesan/ bēon/weorÞan retained their full meaning yet.