Weak Verbs I

Class I weak verbs have an infinitive ending in -an or -rian. For example, fremman - to do, nerian - to save, hieran - to hear, feran - to go, sendan - to send, læran - to teach. When conjugated, the third-person present singular ends in or -eþ, and present plural ends in -aþ.

Examine the form of the verb in the first sentence 'the king goes to the mountain' vs the second: 'the kings go to the mountain':

Se cyning
3rd Person Singular Subject
ferþ
3rd Sg. Verb
to
Prep.
þæm beorgum
Indirect Object

Þa cyningas
3rd Person Plural Subject
feraþ
3rd pl. Verb
to
Prep.
þæm beorgum
Indirect Object

All weak verbs form their preterite by adding -de in the singular and -don in the plural. Examine the sentence 'I go to the mountains' vs 'I went to the mountains'

Ic
Subject 
fere
Present Verb
to
Prep.
þæm beorgum
Indirect Object

Ic
Subject
ferde
Past Verb
to
Prep.
þæm beorgum
Indirect Object

Since Modern English verbs do not conjugate as heavily, it can be difficult for speakers get used to the variety of suffixes in Old English. However, due to the flexibility of word order in Old English, often the conjugation of the verb is the only way to tell what subject the verb is linked to, as the subject may come after the verb, or may even not be present. For example, in the sample below, the subject only appears in the first part of the sentence: I heard the Lord and went to him.

Ic
Subject
hierde
Past Verb
þone drihten
Direct Object
ond
Conjunction
to
Prep.
Him
Indirect Object
ferde
Verb

You will notice that while all Class I weak verbs are similar and have the same endings, there are some minor variations in the letter before the stem. How a word changes depends on whether there is a long vowel or a short vowel, and whether or not there is a double consonant. As a result, Class I verbs are traditionally divided into two subclasses.

Subclass A are verbs like fremman and nerian:

  1. Fremman has a short vowel followed by two consonants
  2. Nerian has a short vowel followed by an 'ri'

Subclass B are verbs are like hieran:

  1. Hieran has a long vowel followed by a single consonant.

Note the changes before the suffix in the examples below. Fremman loses its second 'm' and berian loses its 'i' in the second and third person singular present, and every preterite form. You'll notice hieran loses its inflectional 'e' in the same places.

Weak Verbs Class I
Present Tense Past Tense
1st Person Singular Ic fremme Ic fremede
2nd Person Singular Þu fremest Þu fremedest
3rd Person Singular He/Hit/Heo fremeþ He/Hit/Heo fremede
1st Person Plural We fremmaþ We fremedon
2nd Person Plural Ge fremmaþ Ge fremedon
3rd Person Plural Hie fremmaþ Hie fremedon
Weak Verbs Class I
Present Tense Past Tense
1st Person Singular Ic nerie Ic nerede
2nd Person Singular Þu nerest Þu neredest
3rd Person Singular He/Hit/Heo nereþ He/Hit/Heo nerede
1st Person Plural We neriaþ We neredon
2nd Person Plural Ge neriaþ Ge neredon
3rd Person Plural Hie neriaþ Hie neredon
Weak Verbs Class I
Present Tense Past Tense
1st Person Singular Ic hiere Ic hierde
2nd Person Singular Þu hierst Þu hierdest
3rd Person Singular He/Hit/Heo hierþ He/Hit/Heo hierde
1st Person Plural We hieraþ We hierdon
2nd Person Plural Ge hieraþ Ge hierdon
3rd Person Plural Hie hieraþ Hie hierdon
Weak Verbs Class I
Present Tense Past Tense
1st Person Singular Ic sende Ic sende
2nd Person Singular Þu sendest Þu sendest
3rd Person Singular He/Hit/Heo   sendeþ He/Hit/Heo sende
1st Person Plural We sendaþ We sendon
2nd Person Plural Ge sendaþ Ge sendon
3rd Person Plural Hie sendaþ Hie sendon
Weak Verbs Class I
Present Tense Past Tense
1st Person Singular Ic fere Ic ferde
2nd Person Singular Þu ferest Þu ferdest
3rd Person Singular He/Hit/Heo   ferþ He/Hit/Heo ferde
1st Person Plural We feraþ We ferdon
2nd Person Plural Ge feraþ Ge ferdon
3rd Person Plural Hie feraþ Hie ferdon


Sometimes conjugation produces consonant groups that are hard to pronounce. Obviously, if a word is difficult to pronounce, simplifications occur to make it easier to say. For example, if a d comes after an unvoiced consonant (c, f, h, p, s, t), it becomes a t. For example, the present and past 1st person singular of lettan - to hinder are both ‘lette’. Similarly, metan - to meet is 'mete' and 'mette'. If the unvoiced consonant is a c, it will become an h. For example, ic tæce - I teach but ic tæhte - I taught. When conjugation produces , it is changed to tt.

While double consonants are fairly common, for example in lædde (the past tense of lædan - to lead or take), if another consonant would precede the double, the double is reduced to single. The past tense of sendan should be sendde but it is written as sende, which is identical to the present 1st person singular form. These simplifications can obscure the consonant difference between the present and past singular, so tense will need to be inferred by context.

Now that you know the basics of Class I Weak Verbs, the next thing to do is practice what you have learned. Feel free to use the table to help you with the first batch of questions. You can hide the table at any point by clicking the orange 'Hide Table' button. Otherwise you can continue on to the next topic.

Return to Personal Prounouns Continue to Class II Weak Verbs

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