Weak Verbs Overview

To recap what we've covered, weak verbs are the largest category of Old English verbs. They are considered grammatically weak as they form their preterite by adding a dental suffix ('d' or 't') to the stem of the word. Weak verbs are subdivided into three sub-classes depending on the ending of their infinitive.

Class I

Class I weak verbs have an infinitive ending in 'an' or 'rian'. When conjugated, the third-person present singular ends in '', and the present plural ends in '', while the past is formed using 'd', or 't' to the end of the stem. Examine the below sentences, 'He commits crimes' and 'She saved his life'.

He
Subject
fremeþ
Present Tense
firene
Direct Object
Heo
Subject
nerede
Past Tense
his
Pronoun
feorh
Genitive

While the endings of Class I verbs are the same, there are slight modifications to the stem which occur depending on if the stem has a double consonant, a short vowel sound, or a long vowel sound. These are exemplified by fremman - to do, nerian - to save and hieran - to hear.

Fremman - to do
1st fremme fremede
2nd fremest fremedest
3rd fremeþ fremede
Plural fremmaþ fremedon
Nerian - to save
1st nerie nerede
2nd nerest neredest
3rd nereþ nerede
Plural neriaþ neredon
Hieran - to hear
1st hiere hierde
2nd hierst hierdest
3rd hierþ hierde
Plural hieraþ hierdon

The changes in the stem can be summarised as follows:

  • Verbs with a short vowel sound and a double consonant, like cnyssan or trymman, conjugate like fremman.
  • Verbs which end in 'rian', like derian or werian, conjugate like nerian.
  • Verbs with a long vowel and a single consonant, like deman or feran, conjugate like hieran.

It should be noted that verbs with a short vowel and two consonants which are not the same, such as sendan, conjugate like hieran, though the ‘dd’ which would appear in the preterite is simplified to 'd'. See A note on double d’s for more information.

Class II

Class II weak verbs have an infinitive ending in 'ian' (except when preceded by ‘r’ as 'rian' verbs are generally Class I, like nerian). There are three 'rian' verbs which conjugate like lufian instead of nerian. These are andswarian - to answer, gadrian - to gather, and timbrian - to build.

The main difference between Class I and Class II verbs are the present plurals end in 'iaþ' and the preterite suffix is preceded by an 'o'. Examine 'He reigns forever' and 'He preached in Judea':

He
Subject
ricsaþ
Present Tense
on
Prep.
ecnesse
Indirect Object
He
Subject
bodode
Past Tense
on
Prep.
Iudea
Indirect Object

Examining the table below, you’ll notice the 'i' disappears in the 2nd and 3rd singular present, and all preterite forms. This is the same place where fremman drops its second 'm', nerian its 'i', and hieran its 'e'.

Fremman - to do
1st fremme fremede
2nd fremest fremedest
3rd fremeþ fremede
Plural fremmaþ fremedon
Nerian - to save
1st nerie nerede
2nd nerest neredest
3rd nereþ nerede
Plural neriaþ neredon
Hieran - to hear
1st hiere hierde
2nd hierst hierdest
3rd hierþ hierde
Plural hieraþ hierdon

Class III

Class III weak verbs have an infinitive ending in 'an' and no vowel before the dental suffix. They are more unpredictable in their conjugation and often combine features of the first two weak classes. There are only four Class III verbs: habban - to have, libban - to live, secgan - to say and hycgan - to think/intend. How they conjugate is irregular so they just have to be learned individually. Two examples, 'They have much power' and 'She lived virtuously', are included below.

Hie
Subject
habbaþ
Present Tense
micel
Quantifier
weald
Direct Object
Heo
Subject
lifde
Past Tense
þeawum
Adjective
Habban - To have
1st hæbbe hæfde
2nd hæfst hæfdest
3rd hæfþ hæfde
Plural habbaþ hæfdon
Libban - to live
1st libbe lifde
2nd leofast lifdest
3rd leofaþ lifde
Plural libbaþ lifdon
Secgan - to say
1st secge secgde
2nd sægst sægdest
3rd sægþ sægde
Plural secgaþ sægdon
Hycgan - to think
1st hycge hogde
2nd hygst hogdest
3rd hygþ hogde
Plural hycgaþ hogdon

Understanding which suffix goes with which person, number or tense is vital for understanding which subject a verb is connected to in a sentence. Old English does not rely on word order as strictly as modern English, so the subject can come after the verb, or sometimes even be dropped from a long sentence. Always remember that in Old English, verbs agree with their subject, so even if a word comes slightly earlier or later in a sentence than you might expect, it can generally be paired to the correct noun by comparing the endings.

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 II
Present Tense Past Tense
1st Person Singular Ic lufie Ic lufode
2nd Person Singular Þu lufast Þu lufodest
3rd Person Singular He/Hit/Heo lufaþ He/Hit/Heo lufode
1st Person Plural We lufiaþ We lufodon
2nd Person Plural Ge lufiaþ Ge lufodon
3rd Person Plural Hie lufiaþ Hie lufodon

You can download a pdf of this module using the link below. The pdfs also contain a glossary of all verbs used in the module, as well as additional paradigms. Otherwise, feel free to continue on to the next module.


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