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Old English grammar. Morphological classification of verbs. Strong verbs. Weak verbs.

Morphological classificationof verbs.

All Old English verbs may be subdivided into a number of groups in accordance with the grammatical means with the help of which they built their principal stems.

There were two principal means for forming verb-stems in Old English: (1) by means of vowel interchange of the root vowel and (2) by means of suffixation.

In accordance with these two methods of the formation of the verb-stems all the verbs in Old English formed two main groups the strong verbs and the weak verbs. There were other means of the formation of verb-stems in Old English as well, but the number of verbs belonging to those groups was not large.

Strong verbs.

The strong verbs are verbs which use vowel-interchange as the principal means of expressing different grammatical categories. They differ from weak'ones not only in the manner of the building of their forms but also in the number of these principal forms. The strong verbs have four principal forms, the weak ones three principal forms.

Classes of the strong verbs.

There were seven principal gradation series in Old English and there were seven classes of the strong verbs from I to VII. As we have already said, the seventh class of the strong verbs stands apart from the rest of the classes, because it was the only class formed by verbs which originally used reduplication of the root-vowel as their principal grammatical means; the sixth class of the strong verbs shows a peculiarity that is also typical only of one class within the system of the strong verbs original quantitative gradation; the rest-of the classes from I to VII are characterised by a certain similarity in their original grammatical means as all of them originally used the same type of qualitative ablaut, i.e. the interchange of a front vowel back vowel zero in the form of

i a - ᴓ .

The root of the verbs of the sixth class consisted only of consonants, and the purely quantitative vowel interchange of prehistoric times developed into a quantitative and qualitative one. The verbs of the seventh class show traces of the original reduplication (addition of an extra syllable including the initial consonant of the infinitive and having the vowels -e- or -eo- in the past singular and plural).

Weak verbs

The Old English weak verbs are relatively younger than the strong verbs. They reflect a later stage in the development of Germanic languages.

They were an open class in Old English, as new verbs that entered the language generally formed their forms on analogy with the weak verbs.

Whereas the strong verbs used vowel-interchange as a means of differentiation among principal verb stems, the weak verbs used for that purpose suffixation, namely, suffixes -t or -d. For example:

cepan cepte cept (keep)

The strong verbs, as we remember, were "root-stem" verbs, i.e. they did not have any stem-forming suffix following the root, but they added their grammatical endings to the root directly. The weak verbs, however, had a stem-forming suffix that followed the root and preceded the grammatical ending. By way of an example we may use a Gothic verb where that original stem-forming suffix is better preserved than in English.

Classes of the weak verbs

Class I - the stem-suffix -i

The class includes many verbs formed from other nouns, adjectives or verbs. All of them have a front root vowel the result of the palatal mutation due to the -i- element of the stemsuffix.

e.g. deman <- dom

In the course of time this palatal stem-suffix was as a rule lost. It was preserved only in some participles in the form of -e-(after sonorous consonants):

deman demde demed.

Class II - the stem-suffix -oi

The ṑ-element of the suffix is preserved in the past tense and in the Past Participle.

If the first class of the weak verbs reflected the palatal mutation of the root-vowel due to the i-element of the stemsuffix, the root vowel of the weak verbs belonging to the second class remained unchanged (because of the preceding ṑ).

20. Old English grammar. Morphological classification of verbs. Irregular verbs. Irregular weak verbs. Irregular strong verbs. Suppletive verbs.

Irregular verbs

Regularity means conformity with some unique principle or pattern. It does not require any exact material marker. That is why it is said that most verbs in Old English were regular I in theor conjugation they followed one of the patterns typical of this or that class of strong or weak verbs. However, there were also a few irregular verbs, conjugated in some specific way.

Irregular weak verbs

The majority of the weak verbs belonging to the 1st and 2nd classes were regular. The weak verbs of the 3rd class are considered to be irregular, because the class consists of only three verbs, following their own individual patterns of form-building. However, among the Is1 class there were also some irregular verbs. This irregularity was inherent, but it was manifested in pre-historic times and in Old English differently. Here we may speak of such verbs as

tellan talde tald (to tell)

sellan salde sald (to sell)

The sign of irregularity of the weak verbs in Old English was vowel interchange, a feature not typical of this group of verbs. The cause of it was the original absence of the sterrwforming suffix -i- in Past Singular and Past Participle:

* talian talde tald

Under the influence of -i- only the form of the infinitive could change during the process of palatal mutation:

* talian > tellan;

the other two remaining unchanged, and as a result the verb acquired vowel interchange.

Irregular strong verbs

There was a group of strong verbs which in the pre-written period lost some of their forms and preserved the others, changing their lexical and grammatical meaning. Forms historically past changed so as to become present in meaning. These verbs are called preterite-present, for in the written period they build their present tense forms from the original past(preterite) ones. The new past tense forms of these verbs in Old English are built with the help of dental suffixation, like weak verbs. The majority of preterite-present verbs are defective verbs they do not have all the forms of regular verbs, which lost their connection with the other forms and were dropped.

Suppletive verbs

Supplition, as we know, is one of the oldest means of formbuilding. All Indo-European languages, and English among them, have suppletive verbs those building different forms from different roots. Each of them is a class in itself.

A similar phenomenon is observed in German: sein war ich bin, Russian: , . In fact, the forms of the verb cortresponding to the present-day be are derived from three different roots: wes~, es- and be.


21. Changes in the phonetic system in Middle English. Vowels in the unstressed position. Vowels under stress. Qualitative changes.

All vowels in the unstressed position underwent a qualitative change and became the vowel of the type of [] or [e] unstressed. This phonetic change had a far-reaching effect upon the system of the grammatical endings of the English words which now due to the process of reduction became homonymous. For example:

forms of strong verbs

Old English writan wrat writon writen

with the suffixes -an, -on, -en different only in the vowel component became homonymous in Middle English:

writen wrpt writen writen

forms of nouns

Old English Nominative Plural a-stem fiscas

Genitive Singular fisces

Middle English for both the forms is fisces;

Or Old English Dative Singular fisce

Genitive Plural fisca

Middle English form in both cases is fisce.

Vowels under stress

Qualitative changes

Changes of monophthongs

Three long monophthongs underwent changes in Middle English. the rest of the monophthongs presenting their original quality. Out of the seven principal Old English short monophthongsa,

e, o, i, u, a, two changed their quality in Middle English, thus [ae] became [a] and [y] became [i], the rest of the monophthongs remaining unchanged, for example:

Old English



Middle English




Changes of diphthongs .All Old English diphthongs were contracted (became monophthongs) at the end of the Old English period.

But instead of the former diphthongs that had undergone contraction at the end of the Old English period there appeared in Middle English new diphthongs. The new diphthongs sprang into being due to the vocalization of the consonant [j] after the front vowels [e] or [ae] or due to the vocalization of the consonant [y] or the semi-vowel [w] after the back vowels [o] and [a].


Date: 2015-01-29; view: 8254

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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. | Changes in the phonetic system in Middle English. Vowels in the unstressed position. Vowels under stress. Quantitative changes.
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