Introduction to Weak Verbs

There are two main types of verbs in Old English: Strong verbs, and Weak verbs. Verbs must agree with their subject, but do not decline the way nouns do as they are not affected by case. They instead follow regular patterns called conjugation, and are inflected by person, number, tense and mood. For now, we will only be concerned with the indicative mood.

There are only two tenses in Old English, present and past, and grammatical strength is related to how verbs change depending on tense.

Strong verbs form their preterite by means of a change in the stem-vowel. For example, in modern English, sing becomes sang and run becomes ran because these are descended from strong verbs.

Weak verbs, on the other hand, form their preterite by adding -de in the singular and -don in the plural. This is illustrated below using the verb lufian - to love. Modern English verbs which form their preterite using ed, like painted, waited, needed, are descended from these weak verbs.

Ic
Personal
Pronoun
lufie
Present
Tense
þe
Direct
Object

Hie
Personal
Pronoun
lufiaþ
Present
Tense
þe
Direct
Object
Ic
Personal
Pronoun
lufode
Past
Tense
þe
Direct
Object

Hie
Personal
Pronoun
lufodon
Past
Tense
þe
Direct
Object

There are three classes of weak verbs, and which class a verb is in depends on the ending of its infinitive:

Class I weak verbs have an infinitive ending in -an or -rian.
Class II weak verbs have an infinitive ending in -ian (except -rian, which is Class I).
Class III weak verbs are more unpredictable, and often combine features of the first two weak classes. There are four Class 3 verbs: habban - to have, libban - to live, secgan - to say and hycgan - to think.

If you want to look up a verb in a dictionary, you need to use the infinitive of the verb. In Modern English this would be 'to love', 'to go', 'to drink'. In Old English, the infinitive generally ends in 'an': hieran - to hear, feran - to go, lufian - to love. Verbs conjugate through a mixture of inflectional suffixes or stem-modifications, which will be explained in the coming topics.

Before we dive into Weak Verbs, though, it is necessary to take a look at the personal pronouns that are used with them.

Return to Cases Overview Continue to Intro to Personal Pronouns