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Old English grammar. General survey of finite and non-finite forms of the verb. Grammatical categories of the finite forms of the verb. Person. Number. Tense. Mood.

General survey of finite and non-finite forms of the verb.

The verb-system in Old English was represented by two sets of forms: the finite forms of the verb and the non-finite forms of the verb, or verbals (Infinitive, Participle). Those two types of forms — the finite and the non-finite — differed more than they do today from the point of view of their respective grammatical categories, as the verbals at that historical period were not conjugated like the verb proper, but were declined like nouns or adjectives. Thus the infinitive could have two case-forms which may conventionally be called the "Common" case and the "Dative" case.

Common case Dative case

Writan (to write) to writenne (so that I shall write)

drincan (to drink) to drincenne (so that 1 shall drink)

The so-called Common case form of the Infinitive was widely used in different syntactical functions, the Dative case was used on a limited scale and mainly when the Infinitive functioned as an adverbial modifier of purpose, i.e.

The participle had a well-developed system of forms, the declension of the Participle resembling greatly the declension of adjectives. The one typically "verbal" grammatical category of the participle was the category of tense, for example:

Present tense Past tense

drincende druncen

Grammatical categoriesof the finite forms of the verb.

As we have already said the system of conjugation mainly embraced the finite forms of the verb as the non-finite forms were not conjugated but declined. The system of conjugation of the Old English verb was built up by four grammatical categories, those of person, number, tense and mood.


There were three person forms in Old English: first, second and third. For example:

First person — Ic write

Second person — pu writes

Third person — he writeᶞ

But we have distinct person forms only in the Indicative mood, the Imperative and the Oblique mood forms reflecting no person differences and even the Indicative mood forms changing for person only in the Singular, the plural forms being the same irrespective of person.


The grammatical category of number was built up by the opposition of two number forms — Singular and Plural

Ic write (singular)

we writaᶞ (plural)


The grammatical category of tense was represented by two forms: Present tense and Past terise, for example:

Present Past

Indicative Ic write Ic wrat

Oblique Ic write Ic write

There was no Future tense in Old English, future events were expressed with the help of a present tense verb + an adverb denoting futurity or by a combination of a modal verb (generally sculan (shall) or willan (will) + an Infinitive.


There were three mood forms in Old English: Indicative,

Imperative and Oblique, for example:

Indicative Imperative Oblique

pu cepst ρεπ ρεπε

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 Old English differed greatly from the corresponding mood in New English. There was only one mood form in Old English that was used both to express events that are thought of as unreal or as problematic — today there are two mood forms to denote those two different kinds of events, conventionally called the Subjunctive and the Conjunctive!

The forms of the Oblique Mood were also sometimes used in contexts for which now the Indicative mood would be more suitable — to present events in the so-called "Indirect speech":

Date: 2015-01-29; view: 1986

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Old English grammar. Declensions in Old English. Vowel-Stems. Declension of a-stem nouns. Consonant stems. Declension of n-stem nouns. Declension of root-stem nouns. | Old English grammar. Morphological classification of verbs. Strong verbs. Weak verbs.
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