Germanic strong verb

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

In the Germanic languages, a strong verb is one which marks its past tense by means of changes to the stem vowel (ablaut). The majority of the remaining verbs form the past tense by means of a dental suffix (e.g. -ed in English), and are known as weak verbs. A third, much smaller, class comprises the preterite-present verbs, which are continued in the English auxiliary verbs, e.g. can/could, shall/should, may/might, must. The "strong" vs. "weak" terminology was coined by the German linguist Jacob Grimm, and the terms "strong verb" and "weak verb" are direct translations of the original German terms "starkes Verb" and "schwaches Verb".

In modern English, strong verbs are verbs such as sing, sang, sung or drive, drove, driven, as opposed to weak verbs such as open, opened, opened or hit, hit, hit. Not all verbs with a change in the stem vowel are strong verbs, however; they may also be irregular weak verbs such as bring, brought, brought or keep, kept, kept. The key distinction is the presence or absence of the final dental (-d- or -t-), although there are strong verbs whose past tense ends in a dental as well (such as bit, got, hid and trod). Strong verbs often have the ending "-(e)n" in the past participle, but this also cannot be used as an absolute criterion.

In Proto-Germanic, strong and weak verbs were clearly distinguished from each other in their conjugation, and the strong verbs were grouped into seven coherent classes. Originally, the strong verbs were largely regular, and in most cases all of the principal parts of a strong verb of a given class could be reliably predicted from the infinitive. This system was continued largely intact in Old English and the other older historical Germanic languages, e.g. Gothic, Old High German and Old Norse. The coherency of this system is still present in modern German and Dutch and some of the other conservative modern Germanic languages. For example, in German and Dutch, strong verbs are consistently marked with a past participle in -en, while weak verbs in German have a past participle in -t and in Dutch in -t or -d. In English, however, the original regular strong conjugations have largely disintegrated, with the result that in modern English grammar, a distinction between strong and weak verbs is less useful than a distinction between "regular" and "irregular" verbs.

Origin and development[edit]

Strong verbs have their origin in the ancestral Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language. In PIE, vowel alternations called ablaut were frequent and occurred in many types of word, not only in verbs. The vowel that appeared in any given syllable is called its "grade". In many words, the basic vowel was *e (e-grade) and could change to *o (o-grade), or disappear altogether (zero grade). The e-grade and zero grade were the most common, and the o-grade also occurred frequently. For example, *méntis "thought" (first syllable in e-grade, second in zero grade) versus *mn̥téys "of (a/the) thought" (first syllable in zero grade, second in e-grade). In some words the long vowels *ē (lengthened e-grade) and rarely *ō (lengthened o-grade) could also appear. This system of vowel alternations was often simplified in the later descendants of PIE, and also in Germanic. Alternations had disappeared in almost all Germanic nouns, and had been simplified somewhat in verbs as well.

Proto-Indo-European verbs had no tense, but could occur in three distinct "aspects": the present, aorist and perfect aspect. The aorist originally denoted events without any attention to the specifics or ongoing nature of the event ("ate", perfective aspect), while the present implied some attention to such details and was thus used for ongoing actions ("is eating", imperfective aspect). The perfect was a stative verb, and referred not to the event itself, but to the state that resulted from the event ("has eaten" or "is/has been eaten"). In Germanic, the aorist eventually disappeared and merged with the present, while the perfect took on a past tense meaning and became a general past tense.

The Germanic present thus descends from the PIE present, while the Germanic past descends from the PIE perfect. At least, this is the case for strong verbs. Weak verbs were originally derived from other types of word in PIE and originally occurred only in the present aspect. They did not have a perfect aspect, meaning that they came to lack a past tense in Germanic once the perfect had become the past. Not having a past tense at all, they obviously also had no vowel alternations between present and past. To compensate for this, a new type of past tense was eventually created for these verbs by adding a -d- or -t- suffix to the stem. This is why only strong verbs have vowel alternations: their past tense forms descend from the original PIE perfect aspect, while the past tense forms of weak verbs were created later.

The development of weak verbs in Germanic meant that the strong verb system ceased to be productive. Practically all new verbs were weak, and few new strong verbs were created. Over time, strong verbs tended to become weak in some languages, so that the total number of strong verbs in the languages was constantly decreasing. In English, this process has gone further than it has in German or Dutch; one example is the verb to help which used to be conjugated holp-holpen. The reverse phenomenon, whereby a weak verb becomes strong by analogy, is rather rare (one example in American English, considered informal by some authorities, is sneak, snuck, snuck). Some verbs, which might be termed "semi-strong", have formed a weak preterite but retained the strong participle, or rarely vice versa. This type of verb is most common in Dutch:

  • lachen lachte (formerly loech) gelachen ("to laugh")
  • vragen vroeg (formerly vraagde) gevraagd ("to ask")

Examples in English are swell, swelled, swollen and (only in American dialect) dive, dove, dived.


As an example of the conjugation of a strong verb, we may take the Old English class 2 verb bēodan, "to command" (cf. English "bid").

This has the following forms:

Infinitive Supine Present Indicative Present Subjunctive Past Indicative Past Subjunctive Imperative mood Past participle
bēodan tō bēodenne

ic bēode
þū bīetst
hē bīett
wē bēodað
gē bēodað
hīe bēodað

ic bēode
þū bēode
hē bēode
wē bēoden
gē bēoden
hīe bēoden

ic bēad
þū bude
hē bēad
wē budon
gē budon
hīe budon

ic bude
þū bude
hē bude
wē buden
gē buden
hīe buden


bēodað!, bēode gē!


While the inflections are more or less regular, the vowel changes in the stem are not predictable without an understanding of the Indo-European ablaut system, and students have to learn four or five "principal parts" by heart – the number depends on whether one considers the third-person singular present tense as a principle part. If we choose to use all five, then for this verb they are bēodan, bīett, bēad, budon, boden. The list of five principal parts includes:

  1. The infinitive: bēodan. The same vowel is used through most of the present tense.
  2. The present tense 3rd singular: bīett. The same vowel is used in the 2nd singular.
  3. The preterite 1st singular (from the PIE perfect): bēad, which is identical to the 3rd singular.
  4. The preterite plural: budon. The same vowel is used in the 2nd singular.
  5. The past participle (from the PIE verbal noun): boden. This vowel is used only in the participle.

Strictly speaking, in this verb ablaut causes only a threefold distinction: parts 1 and 2 are from the e-grade, part 3 from the o-grade, and parts 4 and 5 from the zero grade. The other two distinctions are caused by different kinds of regressive metaphony: part 2, when it is distinct at all, is always derived from part 1 by Umlaut. In some verbs, part 5 is a discrete ablaut grade, but in this class 2 verb it is derived from part 4 by an a-mutation.

Strong verb classes[edit]

Germanic strong verbs are commonly divided into 7 classes, based on the type of vowel alternation. This is in turn based mostly on the type of consonants that follow the vowel. The Anglo-Saxon scholar Henry Sweet gave names to the seven classes:

I. The "drive" conjugation

II. The "choose" conjugation

III. The "bind" conjugation

IV. The "bear" conjugation

V. The "give" conjugation

VI. The "shake" conjugation

VII. The "fall" conjugation

But normally they are simply referred to by numbers.

In Proto-Germanic, the common ancestor of the Germanic languages, the strong verbs were still mostly regular. The classes continued largely intact in Old English and the other older historical Germanic languages, e.g. Gothic, Old High German and Old Norse. However, idiosyncrasies of the phonological changes led to a growing number of subgroups. Also, once the ablaut system ceased to be productive, there was a decline in the speakers' awareness of the regularity of the system. This led to anomalous forms and the six big classes lost their cohesion. This process has advanced furthest in English, while in some other modern Germanic languages (such as German), the 7 classes are still fairly well preserved and recognisable.

The reverse process, whereby anomalies are eliminated and subgroups reunited by the force of analogy, is called "levelling", and can be seen at various points in the history of the verb classes.

In the later Middle Ages, German, Dutch and English eliminated a great part of the old distinction between the vowels of the singular and plural preterite forms. The new uniform preterite could be based on the vowel of the old preterite singular, or on the old plural, or sometimes on the participle. In English, the distinction remains in the verb "to be": I was, we were. In Dutch, it remains in the verbs of classes 4 & 5 but only in vowel length: ik brak (I broke - short a), wij braken (we broke - long ā). In German and Dutch it also remains in the present tense of the preterite presents. In Limburgish there is a little more left. E.g. the preterite of to help is (weer) hólpe for the plural but either (ich) halp or (ich) hólp for the singular.

In the process of development of English, numerous sound changes and analogical developments have fragmented the classes to the extent that most of them no longer have any coherence—only classes 1, 3 and 4 still have significant subclasses that follow uniform patterns.

For a treatment of the classes one at a time showing how the forms evolved in the various Germanic languages, see this older version of this Wikipedia article:[1]

Before looking at the seven classes individually it is helpful to consider first the general developments which affected all of them. The following phonological changes that occurred between Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Germanic are relevant for the discussion of the ablaut system.

  • The development of grammatischer Wechsel as a result of Verner's law (the voicing of fricatives after an unstressed vowel). This created variations in the consonant following the ablaut vowel.
  • When the zero grade appears before l, r, m or n, the vowel u was inserted, effectively creating a new "u-grade".
  • o > a (also oy > ai, ow > au).
  • e > i when i, ī or j followed in the next syllable. This change is known as umlaut, and was extended to affect other vowels in most later languages.
  • ey > ī as a result of the above.
  • e > i before m or n followed by another consonant. This had the effect of splitting class 3 into 3a and 3b.

For the purpose of explanation, the different verb forms can be grouped by the vowel they receive, and given a "principal part" number:

  1. All forms of the present tense, including the indicative mood, subjunctive mood, imperative mood, the infinitive and present participle.
  2. The 1st person and 3rd person singular forms of the past tense in the indicative mood.
  3. All other past tense forms, which includes the past dual and plural in the indicative mood, and all forms of the past subjunctive mood.
  4. The past participle, alone.

Classes 1 to 6[edit]

The first 5 classes appear to continue the following PIE ablaut grades:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
1, 2, 3 e o zero zero
4 e o ē zero
5 e o ē e

Except for the apparent ē-grade in part 3 of classes 4 and 5, these are in fact straightforward survivals of the PIE situation.

The standard pattern of PIE is represented in Germanic by classes 1, 2 and 3, with the present (part 1) in the e-grade, past indicative singular (part 2) in the o-grade, and remaining past (part 3) and past participle (part 4) in the zero grade. The differences between classes 1, 2, and 3 arise from semivowels coming after the root vowel, as shown in the table below.

As can be seen, the e-grade in part 1 and o-grade in part 2 are shared by all of these five classes. The difference between them is in parts 3 and 4:

  • In classes 1 and 2, the semivowel following the vowel was converted in the zero grade into a full vowel.
  • In class 3 and the past participle of class 4, there was no semivowel but there were PIE syllabic resonants which developed in Germanic to u plus resonant; thus u became the Germanic sign of these parts. There is some evidence that this may have been the original behaviour of the past nonsingular / nonindicative of class 4 as well: to wit, preterite-presents whose roots have the class 4 shape show u outside the present indicative singular, such as *man- ~ *mun- "to remember", *skal- ~ *skul- "to owe".
  • In class 5, the zero grade of the past participle had probably been changed to e-grade already in PIE, because these verbs had combinations of consonants that were phonotactically illicit as a word-initial cluster, as they would be in the zero grade.
  • The *ē in part 3 of classes 4 and 5 is not in fact a PIE lengthened grade but arose in Germanic. Ringe suggests that it was analogically generalised from the inherited part 3 of the verb *etaną "to eat" before it had lost its reduplicant syllable, PIE *h1eh1d- regularly becoming Germanic *ēt-.

Class 6 appears in Germanic with the vowels a and ō. PIE sources of the a vowel included *h2e, *o, and a laryngeal between consonants;[2] possibly in some cases the a may be an example of the a-grade of ablaut, though the existence of such a grade is controversial. It is not clear exactly how the ō is to be derived from an earlier ablaut alternant in PIE, but believable sources include contraction of the reduplicant syllable in PIE *h2-initial verbs, or o-grades of verbs with interconsonantal laryngeal. In any event, within Germanic the resulting a ~ ō behaved as just another type of vowel alternation.

In Proto-Germanic, this resulted in the following vowel patterns:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning Usual PIE origin
1 *rīdaną *raid *ridun *ridanaz to ride Vowel + y/i.
2a *freusaną *fraus *fruzun *fruzanaz to freeze Vowel + w/u.
2b *lūkaną *lauk *lukun *lukanaz to close, to shut Unknown.
3a *bindaną *band *bundun *bundanaz to bind Vowel + m or n + another consonant.
3b *werþaną *wa *wurdun *wurdanaz to become Vowel + l or r + another consonant.
4 *beraną *bar *bērun *buranaz to bear Vowel + l, r, m or n + no other consonant.
5 *lesaną *las *lēzun *lezanaz to gather Vowel + any consonant other than y, w, l, r, m or n.
6 *alaną *ōl *ōlun *alanaz to grow, to mature Vowel + a single consonant, if the present stem had a or o in late PIE.
  • Class 2b is of unknown origin, and does not seem to reflect any PIE ablaut pattern.
  • In class 3, there are also a few cases where the vowel is followed, at least in Proto-Germanic, by two consonants, neither of which is a nasal or a liquid.[3] Examples: *brestaną "to burst", *þreskaną "to thresh" *fehtaną "to fight". All but one have a nasal or a liquid in front of the vowel. This will have became syllabic and resulted regularly in u before the nasal or liquid, which was then metathesised on the analogy of the remaining principle parts. E.g. part 3 of *brestaną will have been *bʰr̥st- > *burst-, reformed to *brust-.
  • Similarly, class 6 includes some cases where the vowel is followed by two obstruents, like *wahsijaną "to grow".
  • In classes 5, 6 and 7, there is also a small subgroup called "j-presents". These form their present tense with an extra -j-, which causes umlaut in the present where possible. In West Germanic, it also causes the West Germanic gemination.

Class 7[edit]

The forms of class 7 were very different and did not neatly reflect the standard ablaut grades found in the first 5 classes. Instead of (or in addition to) vowel alternations, this class displayed reduplication of the first consonants of the stem in the past tense.

It is generally believed that reduplication was once a feature of all Proto-Indo-European perfect-aspect forms. It was then lost in most verbs by Proto-Germanic times due to haplology. However, verbs with vowels that did not fit in the existing pattern of alternation retained their reduplication. Class 7 is thus not really one class, but can be split into several subclasses based on the original structure of the root, much like the first 5 classes. The first three subclasses are parallel with classes 1 to 3 but with e replaced with a: 7a is parallel to class 1, class 7b to class 2, and class 7c to class 3.

The following is a general picture of the Proto-Germanic situation as reconstructed by Jay Jasanoff.[4] Earlier reconstructions of the 7th class were generally based mostly on Gothic evidence.

Subclass Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning Root pattern
7a *haitaną *hegait *hegitun *haitanaz to call a + i
7b *hlaupaną
to leap
to push, to bump
a + u
7c *haldaną
to hold
to catch
a + l, r, m or n + another consonant (if no other consonant follows, the verb belongs to class 6)
7d *lētaną
to allow, to let
to sow
7e *blōtaną
to sacrifice
to grow

The situation sketched above did not survive intact into any of the Germanic languages. It was changed significantly, but rather differently in Gothic on one hand, and in the Northwest Germanic languages on the other.


Reduplication was retained in Gothic, with the vowel ai inserted. However, as in all other strong verbs, consonant alternations were almost entirely eliminated in favour of the voiceless alternants. The present and past singular stem was extended to the plural, leaving the reduplication as the only change in the stem between the two tenses. The vowel alternation was retained in a few class 7d verbs, but eliminated otherwise by generalising the present tense stem throughout the paradigm. The verb lētan "to allow" retained the past form lailōt with ablaut, while slēpan "to sleep" had the past tense form saislēp without it. The form saizlēp, with Verner-law alternation, is occasionally found as well, but it was apparently a relic formation with no other examples of alternation elsewhere.

Northwest Germanic[edit]

In the Northwest Germanic languages, which include all modern surviving Germanic languages, class 7 was drastically remodelled. Reduplication was almost eliminated, except for a few relics, and new ablaut patterns were introduced. Many attempts were made to explain this development. Jasanoff posits the following series of events within the history of Northwest Germanic:[4]

  1. Root-initial consonant clusters were transferred to the beginning of the reduplicating syllable, to preserve the same word onset across the paradigm. The clusters were simplified and reduced medially. (Compare Latin scindō ~ scicidī and spondeō ~ spopondī, which show the same development)
    *hlaupaną: *hehlaup, *hehlupun > *hlelaup, *hlelupun
    *stautaną: *stestaut, *stestutun > *stezaut, *stezutun
    *blōtaną: *beblōt, *beblutun > *blelōt, *blelutun
    *grōaną: *gegrō, *gegrōun > *grerō, *grerōun
    *swōganą: *sezwōg, *sezwōgun > *swewōg, *sweugun (English sough)
  2. Root compression:
    1. Based on the pattern of verbs such as singular *lelōt, *rerōd ~ plural *leltun, *rerdun, as well as verbs like singular *swewōg ~ plural *sweugun, the root vowel or diphthong was deleted in the past plural stem. The Germanic spirant law caused devoicing in certain consonants where applicable.
      *haitaną: *hegait, *hegitun > *hegait, *hehtun
      *bautaną: *bebaut, *bebutun > *bebaut, *beftun ("to beat")
      *hlaupaną: *hlelaup, *hlelupun > *hlelaup, *hlelpun
      *stautaną: *stezaut, *stezutun > *stezaut, *stestun
      *blōtaną: *blelōt, *blelutun > *blelōt, *bleltun
    2. In class 7c verbs, this resulted in consonant clusters that were not permissible (e.g. **hegldun); these clusters were simplified by dropping the root-initial consonant(s).
      *haldaną: *hegald, *heguldun > *hegald, *heldun
      *fanhaną: *febanh, *febungun > *febanh, *fengun
  3. The present plural stem of class 7c verbs no longer appeared to be reduplicated because of the above change, and was extended to the singular. This created what appeared to be a new form of ablaut, with a in the present and e in the past plural.
    *haldaną: *hegald, *heldun > *held, *heldun
    *fanhaną: *febanh, *fengun > *feng, *fengun
  4. This new form of ablaut was then extended to other classes, by alternating *a with *e in classes 7a and 7b, and *ā with *ē in class 7d (after Proto-Germanic *ē had become *ā in Northwest Germanic). In class 7a, this resulted in the vowel *ei, which soon merged with *ē (from Germanic *ē2).
    *haitaną: *hegait, *hehtun > *heit, *heitun > *hēt, *hētun
    *hlaupaną: *hlelaup, *hlelpun > *hleup, *hleupun
    *lātaną: *lelōt, *leltun > *lēt, *lētun
  5. It is at this point that North and West Germanic begin to diverge.
    • In West Germanic, class 7e took *eu as the past stem vowel, by analogy with existing verbs with initial *(s)w- such as *wōpijaną, *weup(un) and *swōganą, *swewg(un).
      *blōtaną: *blelōt(un) > *bleut(un)
      *hrōpaną: *hrerōp(un) > *hreup(un) ("to cry, roop")
      *grōaną: *grerō(un) > *greu, *gre(u)wun
    • In North Germanic, class 7e instead took *ē as the past stem vowel, probably by analogy with class 7c which also had a long stem vowel.
      *blōtaną: *blelōt(un) > *blēt(un)

Stages 4 and 5 were not quite complete by the time of the earliest written records. While most class 7 verbs had replaced reduplication with ablaut entirely, several vestigial remains of reduplication are found throughout the North and West Germanic languages. Various other changes occurred later in the individual languages. *e in class 7c was replaced by *ē (> ia) in Old High German and Old Dutch, but by *eu (> ēo) in Old English.

The following "Late Proto-Northwest-Germanic" can be reconstructed as descendants of the earlier Proto-Germanic forms given above. Note that ē became ā in Northwest Germanic.

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
7a *haitaną *hēt *hētun *haitanaz
7b *hlaupaną *hleup *hleupun *hlaupanaz
7c *haldaną *held *heldun *haldanaz
7d *rādaną *rēd *rēdun *rādanaz
7e *blōtaną *bleut (West), *blēt (North) *bleutun (West), *blētun (North) *blōtanaz


Being the oldest Germanic language with any significant literature, it is not surprising that it preserves the strong verbs best. However, some changes did occur:

  • e > i, eliminating the distinction between the two vowels.
  • i > e (spelled <ai>) and u > o (spelled <au>) when followed by r, h or ƕ.
  • Consonant alternations are almost entirely eliminated, by generalising the voiceless alternant across all forms.

Note also that long ī was spelled <ei> in Gothic.

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 dreiban draif dribun dribans to drive
2a liugan laug lugun lugans to lie (tell untruth)
2b lūkan lauk lukun lukans to close, to shut
3a bindan band bundun bundans to bind
3b hilpan
to help
to become
4 qiman
to come
to bear
5 lisan
to gather
to see
6 alan ōl ōlun alans to grow, to mature
7a haitan haihait haihaitun haitans to call
7b hlaupan haihlaup haihlaupun hlaupans to leap
7c haldan
to hold
to catch
7d lētan
to allow
to sow
7e ƕōpjan ƕaiƕōp ƕaiƕōp ƕōpans to boast

Note: The letter transliterated as q was probably a voiceless labiovelar stop, /kʷ/ ([kʷʰ]), comparable to the Latin qu.

West Germanic[edit]

Changes that occurred in the West Germanic languages:

  • ē > ā
  • a-mutation: u > o when a follows in the next syllable. This affected the past participles of classes 2-4. However, an intervening m or n + consonant blocked this, so the past participle of class 3a kept u.
  • Extension of umlaut to back vowels, causing it to apply also to verbs of class 6.
  • The perfective prefix ga- came to be used (but neither exclusively nor invariably) as a marker of the participle. In English this prefix disappeared again in the Middle Ages.


The following changes occurred from West Germanic to Old English:

  • ai > ā
  • eu > ēo
  • au > ēa
  • a > æ except when a back vowel followed in the next syllable
  • ā > ǣ
  • Breaking before certain consonants: æ > ea and e > eo
  • West Saxon Palatalisation: i > ie after g
Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rīdan rād ridon ġeriden to ride
2a frēosan frēas fruron ġefroren to freeze
2b lūcan lēac lucon ġelocen to lock
3a bindan band bundon ġebunden to bind
3b weorþan wea wurdon ġeworden to become
4 beran bær bǣron ġeboren to bear
5 lesan læs lǣron ġeleren to gather
6 alan ōl ōlon ġealen to nourish, to grow
7a hātan hēt hēton ġehāten to call, to be called
7b hlēapan hlēop hlēopon ġehlēapen to leap
7c healdan hēold hēoldon ġehealden to hold
7d rǣdan rēd rēdon ġerǣden to advise, to interpret
7e blōtan blēot blēoton ġeblōten to sacrifice

With j-presents (and other anomalies):

  • hebban hōf hōfon hafen ("to raise, heave")
  • scieppan scōp scōpon scapen ("to create, shape")
  • swerian swōr swōron sworen ("to swear")

The verb "to stand" follows class 6, but has an anomalous loss of its -n- in the past:

Some relics of class 7 reduplication remain in Old English, mostly in texts from Anglia (infinitive and past singular shown):

  • bēatan beoft ("to beat")
  • hātan hēht ("to call")
  • lācan leolc ("to move about, leap")
  • lǣtan leort ("to let")
  • on-drǣdan on-dreord ("to dread")
  • rēdan reord ("to advise")
  • spātan speoft ("to spit")

Changes that occurred from Old English to Modern English:

  • ā > ō
  • Great Vowel Shift
  • The old second-person singular ("thou") form acquires the ending "-st" in the past, but the second-person singular falls out of common use and is replaced with the second-person plural.
  • Elimination of almost all verb inflection in strong verbs, except for the third-person singular present ending -s (and the second-person ending "-(e)st", when used).
  • Either the past singular form or the past plural form is generalised to the other number. As a result, only one form exists for all past tense forms and parts 2 and 3 are no longer distinguished.
  • Combined with the above, all consonant alternations are eliminated by generalising the consonant of the present. Only be preserves the alternation: was versus were.

In Modern English, generally speaking, the verb classes have disintegrated and are not easily recognisable.

Class 1[edit]

Class 1 is still recognisable, as in most other Germanic languages. The modern past is taken from either the old past singular (ride rode ridden) or the old past plural (bite bit bitten). In the case of shine shone shone, the past participle has also assimilated to the past singular.

Class 1 verbs in modern English (excluding derived verbs such as abide and override) are bide, bite, chide, drive, hide, ride, rise, shine, shrive, smite, stride, strike, strive, thrive, write. Slide can be considered a class 1 strong verb, although its past participle now no longer has the -en ending.

However, note that, although these verbs have uniformity in their infinitive vowel, they no longer form a coherent class in further inflected forms – for example, bite (bit, bitten), ride (rode, ridden), shine (shone, shone), and strike (struck, struck/stricken, with struck and stricken used in different meanings) all show different patterns from one another – but bide, drive, ride, rise, smite, stride, strive, write do form a (more or less) coherent subclass. Most of these verbs are descended from Old English class 1 verbs. However:

  • The French loan-word strive (albeit descended from a Frankish class 1 verb) is class 1 by analogy to drive.
  • Similarly, thrive is a class 1 verb formed by analogy to drive, its Old English ancestor being weak and descended from Old Norse þrífa (itself a class 1 strong verb, meaning "to grasp").
  • hide is a class 1 verb whose Old English ancestor, hȳdan, was weak.

In addition, writhe is an English class 1 verb that has class 1 forms (wrothe, writhen) only in archaic usage.

For the principal parts of all English strong verbs see: Wiktionary appendix: Irregular English verbs.

Class 2[edit]

Class 2 has become a small group and has become rather irregular. It includes choose, cleave, fly, freeze. It does not form a coherent class, as each verb has different irregularities from each other verb. In American English, the past tense of the verb dive is usually dove, as though it is in Class 2, but the past participle is still dived.

Class 3[edit]

Class 3 in English is still fairly large and regular. The past is mostly formed from the old past singular, occasionally from the past plural. Many of the verbs have two past forms, one of which may be dialectal or archaic (begin, drink, ring, shrink, sing, spring, stink, swing, swim and wring). However, there are some anomalies. The class 3 verbs in modern English are:

  • With nasal: begin, bind, cling, drink, find, fling, grind, ring, run, shrink, sing, sink, sling, slink, spin, spring, sting, stink, string, swing, swim, win, wind, wring
  • With ll: swell
  • With original "Germanic h": fight

English fling does not go back to Old English, and may be a loan-word from Norse. It seems to have adopted class 3 forms by analogy with cling etc. Similarly ring, string.

Class 4[edit]

The verb come is anomalous in all the West Germanic languages because it originally began with qu-, and the subsequent loss of the w sound coloured the vowel of the present stem.

  • cuman cymþ cōm cōmon cumen ("to come")

Also anomalous:

  • niman nimþ nōm nōmon numen ("to take")

In Modern English, regular class 4 verbs have all kept the –n in the participle, though eliminating the medial e after r, this class exhibits near homogeneity of vowel pattern:

  • break broke broken

but several verbs have archaic preterites that preserve the "a" of Middle English (bare, brake, gat, sware, tare, and spake or Scots spak). The preterite of Middle English comen was either cam or com (or with -en in the plural).

Class 4 verbs in English (not including derivatives such as beget) are bear, break, get, shear, speak, steal, swear, tear, tread, wake, weave; and without the -n and of irregular vowel progression: come. Get, speak, tread and weave were originally of class 5, whereas swear was originally class 6. Wake was also originally class 6, and in fact retains the "a" of the present tense – the preterite woke (Middle English wook) only conforms to the modern class 4 preterite, not to the historic class 4 preterite in "a".

Class 5[edit]

In Modern English this group has lost all group cohesion.

  • eat ate eaten
  • give gave given
  • lie lay lain
  • see saw seen
  • sit sat sat

Class 5 verbs in Modern English: bid, eat, give, lie (= lie down), see, sit. The verb quethe is only used poetically now. Get, speak, tread, weave are now class 4.

The preterite of the verb forbid can be forbad or forbade, and the preterite ate is pronounced "et" in some British dialects.

Although the verb to be is suppletive and highly irregular, its past follows the pattern of a class 5 strong verb, with grammatischer Wechsel (the alternation of "s" and "r" in "was" versus "were"), and has uniquely retained the singular/plural distinction of both ablaut grade and consonant in the modern languages. Old English: wæs/wǣron, English: was/were. For full paradigms and historical explanations see Indo-European copula.

Class 6[edit]

Class 6 has disintegrated as well. The verbs shake, take and forsake come closest to the original vowel sequence. The consonant anomaly in stand is still visible, and is extended to the participle.

  • shake shook shaken
  • stand stood stood

Class 6 verbs in modern English: draw, forsake, lade, shake, shape, shave, slay, stand, take. The verb heave is in this class when used in a nautical context. Like most other classes in Modern English, this class has lost cohesion and now forms principal parts according to many different patterns. Two preterites (drew and slew) are now spelled with "ew", which is similar in sound to the "oo" of the others that still use a strong form. Swear is now class 4. The adjective graven was originally a past participle of the now obsolete verb grave. Note that lade, shape, shave are now weak outside of their optionally strong past participle forms (laden, shapen, and shaven, respectively). Fare has archaic past tense fore and rare past participle faren, but is normally weak now.

Class 7[edit]

In Modern English this class has lost its homogeneity:

  • fall fell fallen
  • hang hung hung (Note that, in the transitive sense of hanging someone by the neck, hang usually has regular weak conjugation)
  • hold held held (the original past participle is preserved in the adjective beholden)
  • throw threw thrown

The following modern English verbs descend from class 7 verbs, and still retain strong-verb endings: beat, blow, fall, hew, grow, hang, hold, know, throw. (Hew can be a preterite or present, although the usual preterite is hewed.) The verbs mow and sow retain the strong-verb participles mown and sown but the preterites are now mowed and sowed. (The verb sew was always weak, even though one can say sewn for the past participle.) Archaic English still retains the reduplicated form hight ("called"). The verb crow was also in class 7, as in the King James Version "while he yet spake, the cock crew".


Old Dutch is attested only fragmentarily, so it is not easy to give forms for all classes. Hence, Middle Dutch is shown here in that role instead. The situation of Old Dutch generally resembled that of Old Saxon and Old High German in any case.

Changes from West Germanic to Old Dutch:

  • ai > ē (but sometimes ei is preserved)
  • au > ō
  • eu > io > (later) ie
  • ē > ie
  • ō > uo (later becomes /uə/, spelled <oe> in Middle Dutch)

From Old Dutch to Middle Dutch:

  • u > o
  • ū > ȳ (spelled <uu>)
  • Lengthening of vowels in open syllables: e > ē, o > ō, a > ā, although it continues to be written with a single vowel. i is lengthened to ē, and short y (from umlaut of u) to ue /øː/.
  • Unlike most other languages, umlaut does not affect long vowels or diphthongs except in the eastern dialects.
  • Because of the combined effect of the two above points, umlaut is eliminated as a factor in verb conjugation.

From Middle Dutch to Modern Dutch:

  • Diphthongisation of long high vowels: /iː/ > /ɛi/, /yː/ > /œy/ (spelled <ij> and <ui>)
  • Monophthongisation of opening diphthongs: /iə/ > /i/, /uə/ > /u/ (still spelled <ie> and <oe>)
Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rijden reed reden gereden to drive, to ride
2a vriezen vroor vroren gevroren to freeze
2b sluiten sloot sloten gesloten to close
3a binden bond bonden gebonden to bind, to tie
3b bergen borg borgen geborgen to protect, to store away
4 stelen stal stalen gestolen to steal
5 geven gaf gaven gegeven to give
6 graven groef groeven gegraven to dig
7b lopen liep liepen gelopen to walk, to run
7c vallen viel vielen gevallen to fall
7d slapen sliep sliepen geslapen to sleep
7e roepen riep riepen geroepen to call

Most classes are still well preserved, although the cohesion of some has been lost substantially or even entirely.

  • Class 1 verbs in Dutch are bezwijken, bijten, blijken, blijven, drijven, glijden, grijpen, hijsen, kijken, knijpen, krijgen, lijden, lijken, mijden, prijzen, rijden, rijzen, schijnen, schijten, schrijden, schrijven, slijpen, slijten, smijten, spijten, splijten, stijgen, strijden, strijken, verdwijnen, vermijden, wijken, wijzen, wrijven, zwijgen.
  • Class 2b has grown by moving older class 2a verbs into it. Thus, these verbs have -ui- in the present where etymologically they should have -ie-.
Class 2 verbs in modern Dutch are: bedriegen, bieden, genieten, gieten, kiezen, liegen, schieten, verliezen, vliegen, vriezen; with ū-present: buigen, druipen, duiken, fluiten, kruipen, ruiken, schuilen, schuiven, sluiten, snuiven, spuiten, stuiven, zuigen, zuipen.
  • Class 3a verbs are: beginnen, binden, blinken, dringen, drinken, dwingen, glimmen, klimmen, klinken, schrikken, springen, stinken, verzinnen, vinden, winnen, wringen, zingen, zinken.
Class 3a and 3b have generalised part 3 to part 2, eliminating the -a- from this class. Some 3b verbs have a past in -ie- like class 7: helpen hielp geholpen. This can be considered a new "class 3+7", and includes also bederven, sterven, werpen, zwerven.
Original 3b verbs: bergen, gelden, schelden, smelten, vechten, zwellen.
A small number of verbs of other classes have taken the forms of class 3b by analogy (original class in brackets): schenken, scheren (4), treffen(4), trekken (6), wegen, zwemmen (3a). A few such as zenden are historically weak, but became strong by reinterpreting the Rückumlaut that was present in some Old and Middle Dutch weak verbs as a strong vowel alternation.
Class 3b with preterite in ie: bederven, helpen, sterven, werpen, zwerven.
  • Class 4 and 5 verbs still show the distinction in vowel between the past singular and plural, although this is not obvious due to the rules of Dutch orthography: ik nam ("I took") has the plural wij namen (not *nammen), that is, the 'short' vowel [ɑ] of the singular is replaced by the 'long' [aː] in the plural. (Note the relationship of consonant doubling to vowel length, which is explained at Dutch orthography). The pattern is therefore:
    • breken brak (braken) gebroken ("to break")
In the case of komen, the etymological w is retained in the past, unlike English or German: komen kwam kwamen gekomen.
Class 4 verbs in Dutch are: bevelen, breken, nemen, spreken, steken, stelen; and anomalous: komen.
The preterite of wezen/zijn ("to be") still shows both (quantitative) ablaut and grammatischer Wechsel between the singular and plural: was/waren.
  • In class 5, zien ("to see") has experienced a loss of the original /h/, with a resulting assimilation of the stem vowel to the vowel of the inflection, and shows Grammatischer Wechsel between this original /h/ and a /g/ in the past: zien, zag zagen gezien. The past of zijn ("to be") still shows both length changes and grammatischer Wechsel between the singular and plural: was waren. Old j-presents are preserved: bidden, liggen, zitten.
Class 5 verbs in Dutch: eten, geven, genezen, lezen, meten, treden, vergeten; anomalous: zien; with j-presents: bidden, liggen, zitten.
  • Class 6 has become very small, because many of its verbs now have a weak past or weak past participle and are thus "semi-strong". The three inherited j-presents have taken the vowel ie in the past, and have chosen three separate paths in the participle: scheppen schiep geschapen ("to create"), heffen hief geheven ("to lift, raise"), zweren zwoer gezworen ("to swear an oath").
Class 6 verbs in Dutch are: dragen, graven, slaan, varen, and with j-present: heffen, scheppen, zweren; also "semi-strong" (i.e. with a strong preterite but a weak participle) jagen, klagen (in archaic or regional usage, modern usage is mostly weak), vragen.
  • Class 7a has disappeared. The verb heten ("to call") has become weak, but retains its strong past participle geheten. One relic still remains, but it the strong past is no longer used:
uitscheiden - scheed uit - uitgescheiden ("to secrete")
Class 7b:
lopen liep gelopen ("to walk, to run")
Class 7c has disintegrated due to several sound changes. A "regular" example is:
vallen viel gevallen ("to fall")
As in German, two anomalous class 7c verbs have formed new present stems, and shortened the vowel in the past tense:
vangen ving gevangen ("to catch")
hangen hing gehangen ("to hang")
One verbs displays L-vocalization:
houden hield gehouden ("to hold")
Class 7d:
blazen blies geblazen ("to blow")
slapen sliep geslapen ("to sleep")
Class 7e:
roepen riep geroepen ("to call")
Other class 7 verbs in Dutch are: blazen, laten, raden*, slapen, stoten*, vallen; anomalous: hangen, vangen, gaan, houden, vouwen*. (The verbs with * are nowadays mostly semi-strong)


The distinction between strong and weak verbs has been lost in Afrikaans, as the original past tense has fallen out of use almost entirely, being replaced with the old perfect tense using the past participle. For example the ancestral Dutch hij zong has become hy het gesing ("he sang/has sung/had sung). One relic of a strong verbs remains, however: wees was gewees ("to be").


From West Germanic to Old High German:

  • High German consonant shift
  • ai > ei, then ei > ē before r, h and w
  • au > ou, then ou > ō before dentals (þ, d, t, n, l, s, z, r) and h.
  • e > i before u
Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rītan reit ritun giritan to ride
2a friosan frōs frurun gifroran to freeze
2b sūfan souf sufun gisoffan to close
3a bintan bant buntun buntan to bind
3b werdan ward wurtun giwortan to become
4 beran bar bārun giboran to bear
5 lesan las lārun gileran to gather, to read
6 tragan truog truogun gitragan to carry
7a heizan hiaz hiazun giheizan to call, to be called
7b (h)loufan (h)liof (h)liofun gi(h)loufan to run
7c haltan hialt hialtun gihaltan to hold
7d rātan riat riatun girātan to advise
7e wuofan wiof wiofun giwuofan to weep
  • Class 1 has two subclasses, depending on the vowel in the past singular:
    • 1a rītan rītu reit ritum giritan ("to ride")
    • 1b līhan līhu lēh ligum giligan ("to loan" - note grammatischer Wechsel.)
  • Class 2b verbs are rare, unlike in the more northern languages.
  • A few relics of reduplication remain:
  • ana-stōzan ana-sterōz ("to strike")
  • pluozan pleruzzun ("to sacrifice"), in Upper German with the change b > p
  • ki-scrōtan ki-screrōt ("to cut"), in Upper German with the change g > k
  • būan biruun ("to dwell"); this was not a class 7 strong verb originally

Changes from Old High German to Modern German:

  • io, ia, ie > ī (spelled <ie>)
  • ou > au
  • ī > ai (spelled <ei>)
  • ū > au
  • ȳ > ɔy (spelled <eu> or <äu>)
  • i > ī (spelled <ie>) before a single consonant.
  • Alternations between past singular and plural are eliminated by generalising part 3 or part 2. If part 3 is generalised in verbs with alternations of the s-r type, it is not just generalised to the past singular but also to the present.
Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 reiten
to ride
to lend
2a bieten bot boten geboten to offer, to bid
2b saugen sog sogen gesogen to suck
3a binden
to bind
to flow
to shine, to glow
3b helfen
to help
to thresh
4 treffen traf trafen getroffen to hit
5 geben gab gaben gegeben to give
6 graben grub gruben gegraben to dig
7a heißen hieß hießen geheißen to be called
7b laufen lief liefen gelaufen to walk/run
7c halten hielt hielten gehalten to hold
7d schlafen schlief schliefen geschlafen to sleep
7e stoßen stieß stießen gestoßen to push, to knock

The classes are still well preserved in modern German.

  • In class 1, part 3 is generalised, eliminating the older -ei- or -e-. However, a new subdivision arises because the i of the past tense forms is lengthened to ie before a single consonant. reiten ritt geritten ("to ride") versus leihen lieh geliehen ("to loan"). Class 1 verbs in modern German are:
    • with short vowels: beißen, bleichen, gleichen, gleiten, greifen, leiden, pfeifen, reißen, reiten, scheißen, schleichen, schleifen, schleißen, schmeißen, schneiden, schreiten, spleißen, streichen, streiten, weichen (also the originally weak verb kneifen by analogy)
    • with vowel lengthening: bleiben, gedeihen, leihen, meiden, reiben, scheiden, scheinen, schreiben, schreien, schweigen, speien, steigen, treiben, verzeihen, weisen (also the originally weak verb preisen by analogy).
  • In class 2, part 2 is generalised, eliminating older -u-. Class 2b verbs are rare, as in Old High German. They are: biegen, bieten, fliegen, fliehen, fließen, frieren, genießen, gießen, klieben, kriechen, riechen, schieben, schießen, schließen, sprießen, stieben, verlieren, ziehen; with ū-present: saufen, saugen.
Two anomalous class 2 verbs in modern German are lügen ("to tell a lie") and trügen ("to deceive"). This no doubt arises from a desire to disambiguate Middle High German liegen from ligen (class 5), which would have sounded the same after vowel lengthening. Trügen would have followed in its wake, because the two words form a common rhyming collocation.
  • In class 3, part 2 is generalised. The o of the 3b participle has been passed by analogy to some 3a verbs, and also to the past of some verbs of both groups: beginnen begann begonnen, bergen barg geborgen ("to rescue"), quellen quoll gequollen ("to well up"). Thus, there are now 5 subgroups:
    • 3a regular (i-a-u): binden, dringen, finden, gelingen, klingen, ringen, schlingen, schwinden, schwingen, singen, sinken, springen, stinken, trinken, zwingen
    • 3a with substitution of o in participle (i-a-o): beginnen, gewinnen, rinnen, schwimmen
    • 3a with substitution of o in preterite and participle (i-o-o): glimmen, klimmen
    • 3b regular (e-a-o): befehlen, bergen; bersten, gelten, helfen, schelten, sterben, verderben, werben, werden, werfen
    • 3b with substitution of o in preterite (e-o-o): dreschen, fechten, flechten, quellen, schmelzen, schwellen
  • In class 4, part 2 is generalised, eliminating older -u- here also. As the only difference between the historical classes 3b and 4 was the preterite plural, these two classes are now identical. Example: nehmen nahm genommen ("to take"). Kommen ("to come") still has the anomalous o in the present stem (although some dialects have regularised it to kemmen): kommen kam gekommen
Class 4 verbs in modern German: brechen, gebären, nehmen, schrecken, sprechen, stechen, stehlen, treffen; anomalous: kommen.
The preterite of sein ("to be") is Old High German: was/wârum, but levelled in modern German: war/waren.
  • Class 5 is little changed from Old High German. Class 5 verbs in modern German: essen, geben, genesen, geschehen, lesen, messen, sehen, treten, vergessen; with j-presents, bitten, liegen, sitzen. The verb essen ("to eat") had a past participle giezzan in OHG; in MHG this became geezzen which was contracted to gezzen and then re-prefixed to gegezzen.
  • Class 6 is also preserved. However, the j-presents have instead taken an o in the preterite and participle, perhaps by analogy with class 2: heben hob gehoben. The verb schwören has changed e to ö.
In Modern German the uo is monophthongised to a u.
Class 6 verbs in modern German: fahren, graben, laden, schaffen, schlagen, tragen, waschen; also backen, fragen, though these are usually weak nowadays; with j-present: heben, schwören. The past tense and participle of stehen (stand, older stund, gestanden), which derive from a lost verb *standen, also belong to this class.
  • In class 7, the various past tense vowels have merged into a single uniform -ie-. Two verbs have back-formed new present stems from the past stem, and have eliminated grammatischer Wechsel and shortened the vowel in the past tense: fangen fing gefangen ("to catch"), hängen hing gehangen ("to hang")
Other class 7 verbs in modern German are: blasen, braten, fallen, halten, heißen, lassen, laufen, raten, rufen, schlafen, stoßen; anomalous: fangen, hängen.
The past tense and participle of German gehen, ging gegangen, derive from a lost verb *gangen which belongs to this class. (The verb still exists in other languages, such as the verb gang used in Scotland and northern England.)

North Germanic[edit]

Changes from Proto-Germanic to Old Norse:

  • ē > ā
  • a-mutation: u > o when a follows in the next syllable. This affected the past participles of classes 2-4. However, an intervening m or n + consonant blocked this, so the past participle of class 3a kept u.
  • Extension of umlaut to back vowels, causing it to apply also to verbs of class 6.
  • v- is lost before u or o.
  • -n is lost from the infinitive and many inflectional endings.
  • Voiced plosives (but not fricatives) are devoiced word-finally. In Old West Norse, this later causes loss of a preceding nasal.
  • Breaking of e to ja in most environments, and of eu to /.
Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 ríða reið riðu riðinn to ride
2a lúka lauk luku lokinn to finish
2b frsa fraus frusu frosinn to freeze
3a binda batt bundu bundinn to bind
3b verða va urðu orðinn to become
4 bera bar báru borinn to bear
5 lesa las lásu lesinn to gather, to read
6 ala ól ólu alinn to grow, to produce
7a heita hét hétu heitinn to be called
7b hlaupa hlp hlpu hlaupinn to leap
7c halda helt heldu haldinn to hold
7d ráða réð réðu ráðinn to advise
7e blóta blét blétu blótinn
  • In class 7, several reduplicated verbs are retained: róa reri ("to row"), sá seri ("to sow"), snúa sneri ("to turn").


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Examples: *aka- < *h2ego- ("to drive"), *mala- < *molh2o- ("to grind"), *habja- ("to lift") < *kh2pio- ("to seize"). See Ringe 2006, p. 188.
  3. ^ Ringe, Don. 2006. A Linguistic History of English. From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanlic. pp. 226, 243.
  4. ^ a b Jasanoff, Jay (2008). "From Reduplication to Ablaut: The Class VII Strong Verbs of Northwest Germanic". Retrieved 26 November 2012. 


  • Alfred Bammesberger, Der Aufbau des germanischen Verbalsystems, Heidelberg 1986.
  • Cornelius van Bree, Historische grammatica van het Nederlands, Dordrecht 1987.
  • W. G. Brill, Nederlandsche spraakleer; ten gebruike bij inrichtingen van hooger onderwijs, Leiden 1871
  • Frans van Coetsem, Ablaut and Reduplication in the Germanic Verb (=Indogermanische Bibliothek. vol 3), Heidelberg: Winter Verlag, 1993, ISBN 3-8253-4267-0.
  • Jerzy Kuryłowicz and Manfred Mayrhofer, Indogermanische Grammatik, Heidelberg 1968/9.
  • Marcin Krygier, The Disintegration of the English Strong Verb System, Frankfurt c.1994.
  • Richard Hogg, A Grammar of Old English, Oxford 1992.
  • Wilhelm Braune, revised by Walther Mitzka, Althochdeutsche Grammatik, Tübingen 1961.
  • Donald Ringe, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic, Oxford 2006.