Sound Changes II

Before we can understand the variations in Class III Strong Verbs, we must cover three different sound changes that affect them.


The first of the is known as "breaking", and is where vowels followed by certain consonants effectively become a dipthong due to the way the mouth changes shape as it moves from voicing the vowel sound to voicing the consonant sound. You can see the effect in Modern English by saying the word "Help!" very slowly and loudly. If you try this (probably somewhere private), you'll notice that your tongue starts at the front of your mouth when pronouncing the "e" and moves backwards to pronounce the "lp". As it does this, the "e" sound becomes more like a "u". The same effect can be heard with other words like "bell", "fell", etc. More technically, this effect occurs when a front vowel is followed a consonant (or group of consonants) produced at the back of the mouth.

In Old English, these changes in sound are mirrored in the written form of the words, and there are three main cases we must consider:

1. front vowel before h, h + cons, r + cons
æ becomes ea
e becomes eo
2. front vowel before h, h + cons
æ becomes ea
3. front vowel before l + cons
i becomes io (and often eo)

So how does this related to Class III Strong Verbs? I didn't give a gradation sequence or a recognition symbol for Classes III or VII, but here they are for Class III:

Class Recognition Symbol  Infinitive  1st Preterite  2nd Preterite  Past Participle
III e + two consonants  -e-  -æ-  -u-  -o-

The verbs weorpan (to throw) and feohtan (to fight) are both Class III Strong Verbs and their characteristics are shown below:

Infinitive  1st Preterite  2nd Preterite  Past Participle
 weorpan  wearp  wurpon  worpen
 feohtan  feaht  fuhton  fohten

Without breaking, the infinitive and 1st preterite of "to throw" would be *werpan and *wærp but, following the first rule above, these have become the forms we see in the table. Following the same rule for "to fight" changes *fehtan and *fæhtan to feohtan and feaht.

Influence of Initial Palatals

When the verb starts with a palatal consonant -- ġ, sc and ċ -- which is followed by an e or an æ, these become "ie" and "ea" respectively.

<to do: add examples and Modern English parallel (yes, yet)>

Influence of Nasals

When the first of the two medial consonants of a Class III verb is a nasal -- m or n -- the preceding vowel is modified: e becomes i, æ becomes a and o becomes u. The effect can be seen in the verb drincan "to drink" below:

Infinitive  1st Preterite  2nd Preterite  Past Participle
 drincan  dranc  druncon  druncen

Without taking the palatal into account the infinitive form would be *drencan, the 1st preterite would be *drænc and the past participle *droncen.

<to do: further examples>


When the influence of all these sound changes is considered, we get the following gradation series for Class III strong verbs:


Class             Recognition Symbol     Inf.   1st Pret. 2nd Pret. Past Ptc.

Basic Series e + two consonants e æ u o Breaking Before r + cons. eo + r + consonant eo ea u o h + cons. eo + h + consonant eo ea u o Breaking Before l + cons. e + l + consonant e ea u o Palatal diphong- palatal + ie + ie ea u o isation two consonants Nasal i + nasal + cons i a u u


<to do: 10 exercises>


Tony Jebson <> 16th May 2001