Additional Verb Forms Overview

In this module you've gained a more complete picture of Old English verbs, as well as their relationship to modern English. Modern English may not have an inflected infinitive any more, but the present and past participles can be mapped onto their Old English ancestors which were used in some of the same ways. Modern English modal verbs are directly descended from Old English forms, and many prefixed verbs can be seen to have evolved from Old English prefixed verbs.

Modal Auxiliaries

Modal Auxiliaires are a particular class of verb that are used with another verb to express necessity (Ic mot gan - I must go), possibility (Ic mæg gan - I might go), intention (Ic wille gan - I will go), permission (Þu meaht gan - You may go), or ability (Ic cann gan - I can go).

They are mostly preterite-present verbs. Preterite-present verbs have an -on ending in the present plural, they form their past tense using a dental suffix (-d or -t), and the vowel in the stem changes often changes even in the present tense. For example, 'sculan - shall' becomes 'ic sceal - I shall' and 'ic scolde - I should'. Finally, the verb that modal auxiliaries 'help' often goes to the end of the sentence, as in 'Ic can eow stæfcræft læran - I can teach you grammar'.

Ic
Subject
Pronoun
cann
Modal
Verb
eow
Dative
Pronoun
stæfcræft
Direct
Object
læran
Infinitive
Verb

Inflected Infinitive

The inflected infinitive is a form of the infinitive following the preposition 'to' and ending in -enne. The inflected infinitive is often used for emphasis, and in these cases it is often best translated as 'in order to' or 'for the purpose of'. If it follows the verb 'to be' is usually best translated with a verb of obligation such as 'must', 'should', or 'ought' to. Examine the sentences, 'Hie hraðe comon hom to fultumigenne - They quickly came in order to help' and 'For þæm hit nis ne to metanne - Because one ought not to compare '.

Hie
Subject
Pronoun
hraðe
Adverb
 
comon
Strong
Verb
hom
Indirect
Object
to
Prep.
 
fultumigenne
Inflected
Infinitive

For þæm
Conjunction
 
hit
Adverb
 
nis
Negated
Verb
ne
Negation
 
to
Prep.
 
metanne
Inflected
Infinitive

Participles

Participles are verb forms that are defined by their use as adjectives, but that are also used frequently in the formation of verbal constructions such as auixilliary + participle, or 'to be' + participle. Old English did not have as complex a tense system as modern English, but we still find constructions such as 'fered hæfþ - have travelled' and 'wæs getimbrod - was built'. An example of this is 'Ierico wæs mid seofon weallum getimbrod - Jericho was built with seven walls '.

Ierico
Subject
Noun
wæs
Modal
Verb
mid
Prep.
 
seofon
Numeral
 
weallum
Indirect
Object
getimbrod
Participle
Verb

In Old English the present participle is usually formed with the addition of -ende to the root of the verb, and the past participle is usually formed with the addition of -ed or -od and sometimes with the addition of the prefix ge-. There are some exceptions, as there are in modern English - so the past participle of 'gan - to go' is '(ge)gan', and strong verbs usually have an further vowel change to signal the past participle. This will be covered in more detail in the next module.

Prefixes

Commonly recognised prefixes are used in both modern and Old English to alter the meaning of a base verb in regular ways. So, un- is used in modern English in much the same way as on- was used in Old English - to reverse the meaning of the verb it is attached to.

Some important prefixes to look out for are ge- which intensifies or perfects (emphasises completion of) the action; be- which means 'around' or 'about'; and to- which often carries the meaning 'break apart'. For example, dælan means 'to divide', but todælan means 'to divide up/out'. For example, 'Todælað hie his feoh - They divided up his wealth'. Similarly, examine the sentence 'Ða he beseah, ða geseah he olfendas - When he looked around, then he saw camels'.

Todælað
Prefixed
Verb
hie
Subject
Pronoun
his
Possessive
Pronoun
feoh
Direct
Object

Ða
Adverb
 
he
Subject
Pronoun
beseah
Prefixed
Verb
ða
Adverb
 
geseah
Prefixed
Verb
he
Subject
Pronoun
olfendas
Direct
Object

Whilst some of these verb forms may seem alien, they often underpin the English we use today. Test your grasp of verbals using the quiz below.

Return to Prefixes Continue to Introduction to Strong Verbs

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