OK, so far we have only covered the present tense of verbs, however when we first looked at verbs I showed a large number of different forms:
GROUP I GROUP II GROUP III I sing. I sang. I have sung. I do sing. We sang. It was sung. I am singing. It will be sung. I will sing. I will have sung. I should be singing. I would sing. Sing. I want to sing.
From this, it is obvious that there is more to Modern English than just the present tense. So how do tenses work?
Let's pretend you're native French speakers learning Modern English and you want to look up the English equivalent of the French verbs voir, avoir, prendre, and regarder. Turn to your French-English dictionary and you find this:
voir: "to see", pret. "saw", pt. "seen" avoir: "to have", pret. "had", pt. "had" prendre: "to take", pret. "took", pt. "taken" regarder: "to look"
What's all this about? Why are there three entries for the first three verbs? Wouldn't it have been enough for the dictionary just to have listed the infinitive "to see" for voir, "to have" for avoir, etc.? Of course not; and why not? Consider our verb "to see"? What tenses of the verb are formed from the stem indicated in the infinitive "to see?" Let's list a few.
Present Simple: "I see" Present Progressive: "I am seeing" Present Emphatic: "I do see" Imperative: "See" Future Simple: "I will see" Future Progressive: "I will be seeing" Imperfect: "I was seeing" Present Conditional: "I may see"
You can see that if you know a few basic tricks, you can use the infinitive form "to see" as the basis for several tenses and moods in Modern English. "To see" provides the raw material. But there are tenses Modern English uses that are not formed from the infinitive "to see". How about the preterite (the simple past tense)? Can you form the simple past from "to see"? No, Modern English uses another form of the verb to form this tense, and unless you know what that form is, you can't use the verb "to see" in the preterite tense. Therefore, the dictionary must give you the form Modern English uses: "saw". So the second entry in the dictionary for the Modern English verb "to see" is the preterite form. Look at the second entries for "to have" and "to take". Their preterites are "had" and "took". Do we get any other tenses from this form of the verb? No, just one: the preterite tense.
Look at the third entry, "seen". For what tenses, voices and moods does Modern English use this form? A lot of them. Here are some:
Present Passive: "I am seen" Perfect Active: "I have seen" Pluperfect Active: "I had seen" Perfect Passive: "I have been seen" Future Perfect Active: "I will have seen" Future Perfect Passive: "I will have been seen" Past Conditional: "I might have seen"
With the three forms given in the dictionary, you have all the raw material from which you can build every possible tense, mood, voice and number of the verb "to see". Therefore, to know an Modern English verb thoroughly, and to be able to use it in all its possible applications, you must know all three of its basic forms. Once you know them, you simply apply the rules for the formation of the different tenses, voices, and moods. We call these three forms the principal parts of the verb. Modern English verbs have three principal parts: the infinitive, the preterite, and the past participle.
Fine, now look at the verb "to look". Why aren't there two more principal parts listed after the infinitive? Well, what are the next two principal parts? The verb goes: "to look", "looked", and "looked". As you can see, the second and third principal parts are derivable from the first principal part: you simply add "-ed" to the "look". There are hundreds of verbs in Modern English that work this way. Their second and third principal parts are simply the first principal part with the suffix "-ed". Verbs which operate like this are called weak (or "regular"). If a verb is weak, you don't need to be given the second and third entries separately. That is, once you know the first principal part, you know the next two, and thus have all the basic material you need to form all the possible tenses, moods and voices of the verb. On the other hand, verbs whose principal parts are not readily derivable from the first principal part are called strong (or "irregular") verbs.
So what have I convinced you of so far? All possible tenses, voices and moods of an Modern English verb are reducible to three different principal parts. If a verb is strong (irregular), you must learn the principal parts by memory, but if it is weak (regular), you can easily derive the second two principal parts from the first.
I'll go even further. The verb systems of all languages operate this way. To work with the verb, to know it completely, you must know its principal parts. Then you have to know what to do with them; you have to know the rules and the laws of the grammar of the language. But first you have to have the basic materials laid out in front of you, and that means knowing the principal parts of the verb you're working with.
Before we move on to discuss how verbs and tenses work in Old English, let's summarise what we know about Modern English tenses.
Present Simple: "I see" Present Progressive: "I am seeing" Present Emphatic: "I do see" Imperative: "See" Future Simple: "I will see" Future Progressive: "I will be seeing" Imperfect: "I was seeing" Present Conditional: "I may see" Present Passive: "I am seen" Preterite (simple past): "I saw" Preterite Passive: "I was seen" Perfect Active: "I have seen" Pluperfect Active: "I had seen" Perfect Passive: "I have been seen" Future Perfect Active: "I will have seen" Future Perfect Passive: "I will have been seen" Past Conditional: "I might have seen"
As can be seen from the example above, the tenses in Modern English are formed from the three principal parts of the verb -- the infinitive, the preterite and the past participle -- and a number of "helper" words, known as "auxilliaries". In fact, if you look at the example, you will see that the preterite form "saw" is only used in the simple past tense. All the other tenses use the infinitive or the past participle. Old English works in a similar way, and like Modern English has strong and weak verbs, but the way the priniciple parts are used and the number of principle parts is different.
In Modern English, strong verbs are considered "irregular", and their principal parts must be learned by rote. However, in Old English there are many, many more of them than there are in Modern English. When these verbs are examined in more detail, it can be seen that their principal parts follow some rules, so that only one part, and the class that a verb belongs to need to be memorised. So what are these rules?
Consider the Modern English verb "to sing". This has principal parts "síng, sáng, súng". Similarly the verb "to drive" has principal parts "drí-ve, dró-ve, drí-ven". Notice that the vowel in the stressed syllable (marked by the accent) has changed.
This change in the vowel is known as gradation. The sequence of changed vowels is known as a gradation series. That is, the gradation series for the verb "to drive" is the vowels ī, ō, i.
In Modern English no strong verb has more than three vowels in its gradation series. However, in OE, the gradation series may have four vowels: for the infinitive, two preterites, and the past participal. For example the verb crēopan "to creep", has principal parts crēopan, crēap, crupon, cropen. Thus, its gradation series is ēo, ēa, u, o. The two preterite forms crēap and crupon are called the "1st preterite" and the "2nd preterite" respectively.
So why does Old English have two preterites? To answer this, let's consider the preterite (simple past) tense of "sing". In Old English, the principle parts of singan "to sing" are singan, sang, sungon, sungen and the preterite tense is conjugated below:
MODERN ENGLISH OLD ENGLISH I sang. iċ sang You sang. þu sunge He/She sang. hē/hēo sang We sang. wē sungon You sang. ge sungon They sang. hīe sungon
Only one form of preterite is needed in the Modern English preterite tense. However you can see that there are three different forms -- sang, sunge, sungon -- in the Old English preterite tense. Two of these forms correspond exactly to the 1st and 2nd preterite forms (sang and sungon). The third form (sunge) is just the 2nd preterite with a different ending (-e instead of -on). So how do you know which form to use? Well, the 1st preterite form (sang in this example) is always used for the 1st and 3rd person singular and the 2nd preterite form (sungon in this example) is used for all the rest but for the 2nd person singular, the ending of the 2nd preterite form is changed from -on to -e .
In Old English strong verbs, there are nine different gradation series. An example of each series is shown below:
Class Infinitive 1st Pret. 2nd Pret. Past Ptc.
I scīnan "to shine" scān scinon scinen II crēopan "to creep" crēap crupon cropen brūcan "to enjoy" brēac brucon brocen III breġdan "to weave" bræġd brugdon brogden IV beran "to bear" bær bǽron boren V tredan "to tread" træd trǽdon treden VI faran "to go" fōr fōron faren VII healdan "to hold" hēold hēoldon healden hātan "to command" hēt hēton hāten
These nine gradation series are used to distinguish the seven classes of Strong Verb (as shown in the table above). In fact, the class of a strong verb can be determined purely by looking at its infinitive form.
The infinitive of a strong verb contains what is known as a recognition symbol or uniform. The recognition symbols for the five of the seven classes of strong verb are shown below:
Class Recognition Symbol Inf. 1st Pret. 2nd Pret. Past Ptc.
I ī + one consonant ī ā i i II ēo + one consonant ēo ēa u o ū + one consonant ū ēa u o IV e + one consonant e æ ǽ o (usually l or r) V e + one consonant e æ ǽ e (usually p,t,c,d,g,f,þ,s) VI a + one consonant a o ō a
The recognition symbols for classes III and VII were not given because they are too complex for the present and require some more terminology. So before we go on to cover these classes, lets try to identify the class and principal parts of a few strong verbs:
Verb Class 1st Preterite 2nd Preterite Past Participal
cwelan "to die" IV cwæl cwǽlon cweden brēotan "to break" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ sprecan "to speak" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ hrīnan "to touch" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ dragan "to draw" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ dūfan "to dive" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ niman "to take" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ scacan "to shake" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ flēogan "to fly" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ wrītan "to write" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ metan "to measure" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ beran "to bear" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________ lūcan "to lock" _____ _____________ _____________ _______________
Before I go on to characterise Class III and Class VII strong verbs, I need to discuss a number of sound changes that affect them.
mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org 12th May 2001