The History of weak verbs in Middle New English.

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The History of weak verbs in Middle New English.

There were three classes of weak verbs in OE. The first class formed its preterite in –(e)de ar, after a voiceless consonant, in –te, and its past participle in -ed.

The second class formed its preterite in –ode and its past participle in –od.

The trird class formed its preterite in –de and its past participle in –d.

All verbs of the second class and a few verbs of the first class (styrian “ster”) had the ending -ian in the infinitive; the jther weak verbs had -an. Regular examples (with the exception of “styrian”) are:



  Inf Preterite Past Part
I dēman “to judge setlan “to set”” dēmde sette dēmed seted
  styrian styrede styr -ed
II lufian lufode lufod
III habban hæfde hæfd


The OE verbs of Class III, either joined the other classes of weak verbs as, e.g. OE libban, ME Class I liven, NE live or became irregular, e.g.

E.g. OE habban, ME haven, NE have;

OE seczan, ME seyen, NE say.


ME verbs of Class I took the ending -de in the past without an intermediate vowel before the dental suffix and the ending –ed in the Past Participle. They had descended from OE verbs of Class I with long root syllable (containing a long vowel or a short vowel plus 2 consonant – OE deman “to judge”, OE temman “to tame”)

The verbs of Class II which were marked by –ode, -od in OE, had weakened these endings to –ede, -ed in ME. Since a few OE verbs of Class I had –ede. –ed, they are included in ME Class II.

Consequently, the only difference between the two classes of weak verbs in ME was the presence or absence of the element –e- before the dental suffix in the Past tense stem (-e- was in Class II).

In late ME the vowel [e] in unstressed medial and final syllables became very unstable and was lost. This change dominated the differences between the 2nd and 3rd principal forms, thus reducing the number of stems in weak verbs from three to two. Late ME weak verbs are the immediate source of modern standard (regular) verbs.



Class I


Inf. deem-en deem

Past tense deem-de deemed

Part. II deem-ed deemed


Class II


Inf. stir-en stir

Past tense stir-ede stirred

Part. II stir-ed stirred


Inf. Look-en look

Past tense look-ede looked

Part. II look-ed looked


The development of the inflection –(e)de.

The development of the inflection –(e)de in Early NE shows the origins of the modern variants of the forms of the Past tense and Participle II in standard verbs:

Phonetic condition Late ME ENE NE
After a voiced consonant or a vowel deemde [`de:mdə] pleyede [`pleidə] Ø [di:m] Ø [pleid] deemed played
After a voiceless consonant Lookede [`lo:kədə] > [lu:kəd] > [lukt] looked
After [t] or [d] wantede [`wantədə] endede [`endədə] Ø [`wontid] Ø [`endid] Wanted ended


As mentioned above, many former strong verbs begun to build weak forms alongside strong ones, the strong forms intimately falling into disuse. The reverse process – weak verbs changing into strong ones – was of rare occurrence. And nevertheless a few weak verbs adopted strong forms. These changes account for the forms of NE wear (OE WV I), but acquired new forms by analogy with bear or tear (SV IV), NE hide (OE WV I hydan) which fell under the influence of rise, ride - Class I of strong verbs ring, fling and string which came to be associated with Class 3 (sing) due to the obvious phonetic resemblance, and also dig, chide, stave. In some verbs we find a mixture of the 2 types, weak and strong,

E.g. OE scēawian weak verb of class II has adopted the suffix –n from the strong conjugnation, though its past tense has remained weak, NE show, showed, showen.


Lecture 14

Simplifying Changes in the verb system in Middle English and New EnglishMinor groups of verbs.

Minor groups of verbs: preterite- present verbs, anomalous verbs.



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Minor groups of Verbs.

The verbs included in the minor groups underwent multiple changes in M.E. and Early N.E: phonetic and analogical changes, which affected their forms, and semantic changes which affected their functions. Originally the present tense forms of these verbs were past tense forms. Later these forms acquired a present meaning but preserved many features of the Past Tense.

Several preterite-present verbs died out. (in O.E. there were 12 preterite-present verbs: witan – знать, a an(to own, to posess ), du an (годиться),unnan (относиться благожелательно),cunnan (мочь), ur fan (нуждаться), durran (сметь-dare), sculan (должен), munan (помнить), ma an (мочь), eneah (достаточно, наст.вр, ед.ч,3 л),mŏt (may, to be allowed)

The surviving verb lost some of their old forms and grammatical distinctions but retained many specific peculiarities. They lost the forms of the verbals which had sprung up in O.E and the distinctions between the forms of numbers and mood in the Present tense. In NE their paradigms have been reduced to two forms or even to one.

Can is regularly developed from the OE present indicative singular ( 1st and 3rd p) cann, but could is not regularly developed from the OE preterite, which was cu e (1st 3rd The usual Middle English forms of the preterite were coude and couthe. The forms with d were due to the analogy of other weak preterites ending in -de, and the Modern English form could shows a further analogy in the l, which is due to the influence of should and would, where the lis etimologically justified. The vowel of could, according to J.L.Brook ‘A History of the English Language,1958’, has been shortened because of lack of stress. The adjective cunning is derived from this verb, the infinitive of which in OE was cunnan, and uncouth (неуклюжий,неловкий,rude/badly brought up) is from the OE participial adjictive cu “known”.

Dare has almost ceased to be a preterite-present verb. The two traces of its origin that it still keeps are the third person singular present indicative dare (OE diarr), beside analogical dares, and the preterite durst(OE dorste), which is now old fashioned and is gradually giving way to the analogical form dared, a form which has been in existence since the 16th century. The u of durst is due to the analogy of such forms as the OE present indicative plural durron, which have not survived in Modern English.

Shallis from OE sceal . In strongly stressed positions the OE form became [∫o:l] in early Modern English, just as OE eall has given Modern English [o:l]. The pronunciation [∫o:l] became obsolete during the eighteenth century, and the modern pronunciation [∫ǽl] is from a Middle English lightly stressed form.

OE eall > ME all >XV в aul > 2-ая пол XVI [o:l] all.

We now have new lightly stressed forms [∫ l] and [∫l] , in which the vowel has been still further reduced.

In the negative form shan’tthe l disappeared in the 17th century. The lengthening of the vowel is probably due to the loss of the following orather than to the loss of the l, since a similar lengthening has taken place in can’t. In the preterite OE had sceolde, and in Middle English this form gave rise to a strongly stressed form sholde beside a lightly stressed form shŏlde. The strongly stressed form became [∫u:ld] in early Modern English, and the Modern English [∫ud] is derived from this.

May is regularly developed from the OE first and in third person singular present indicative . In the preterite OE ma an had milite, which gave Modern English might: OE mihte > ME XI[mi:t] > NE[mait].

One of the OE preterite-present verbs was mŏt “I may”, and it yad a preterite mŏste. The present forms of this verb became obsolute during the 16th century, and were replased by the preterite must, derived from OE mŏste by the 15th century raising of [o:] to [u:], with subsequent shortening of the vowel resulting from lack of stress. In the 17th century [u] changed into [ Λ]: [mΛst]. There is a survival of the old preterite use of must in indirect speech, as may be seen by comparing : he said that he must go (where must is preterite) with I must go (where must is used in the present tense).

Another OE preterite- present verb ā an “to possess”, had the preterite ahte. The infinitive has given ME owe, which now has the analogical preterite owed.

The OE preterite āhte has given ought, which is used with both present and preterite meaning.

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