Chapter 13: Strong Verbs

Strong Verbs are verbs in which the vowel in the stem is changed to indicate tense, person, and mood.

Some strong verbs remain in Modern English:

Ring ==> Rang ==> Rung

is an example of a strong verb; the vowel changes from "i" to "a" to "u" depending upon the verb tense.

 

Conjugating Strong Verbs

To conjugate a Strong Verb you need to know four pieces of information:

  1. The infinitive: translated as "to xxxx". "To read" is the infinitive in the sentence "Alfred liked to read vernacular books." In Old English the infinitive will end with "-an".
  2. The 3rd Person Singular in the Past Tense -- for example, "rang" in the sentence: "He rang the bell."
  3. The Past Tense Plural -- for example, "sang" in the sentence "They sang the song" (it's the same for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Persons).
  4. The Past Participle -- for example, "tired" in "Alfred's tired eyes forced him to stop reading."

 

Note: for probably 80% or more of the Strong Verbs you'll be translating, you won't need the past participle, but it's a good idea to learn it anyway, since it's the principle part from which Modern English forms of Old English strong verbs are drawn.

 

There are seven classes of strong verbs.

You can use the following poem to help place a verb in its proper class:

 

The cat will bite the bird that will not fly

and spring upon the mouse when he comes by.

He gives no quarter, and he takes no guff.

A fool he holds him who falls for such stuff.

-- by Patrick W. Conner (minor improvements by David Howlett)

 

Mnemonic Tip: Memorize the poem.

Taking the Modern English verbs from the sentence in order gives us examples from the seven Old English Strong Verb classes:

Class I: bite = bitan

Class II: fly = fleon

Class III: spring = springan

Class IV: come = cuman

Class V: give = giefan

Class VI: take = tacan

Class VII: hold = healdan

If you learn the principle parts of each of these verbs, you'll have the Strong Verb system.

Since strong verb classes are based upon a word's vowel or diphthong, you'll be able to match new words with the patterns you've memorized. For example, if you encounter the word "dreogan" ("to endure"), you'll notice that the diphthong "eo" is the same as the diphthong in "fleon." You'll then know that "dreogan" is a class 2 strong verb and follows that particular paradigm.

 

Infinitive 3rd Person Singular Past All Plurals Past Past Participle
bitan bat biton biten
fleon fleah flugon flogen
springan sprang sprungon sprungen
cuman cam camon cumen
giefan geaf geafon giefen
tacan toc tocon tacen
healdan heold heoldon healden

 

You can use these principle parts to construct a complete conjugation. Simply use the basic Weak Verb endings, but plug the appropriate Strong Verb stems into the paradigm.

Just as in a Weak Verb, the stem plus an ending creates the present tense forms for the various persons.

First find the stem of the verb by removing "an" from the infinitive.

We'll use bitan as an example.

Subtract "an" from the infinitive "bitan." We see that the stem is bit.

Strong Verbs, Indicative Mood

Present Tense

Singular  
1st Person bite
2nd Person bitest
3rd Person bit
Plural
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons bit

For the Past Tense we use the 3rd Person Singular Past for the singulars (you just need to add "e" to the 2nd person), and the All Plurals Past for the plurals.

Past Tense

Singular  
1st Person bat
2nd Person bate
3rd Person bat
Plural
1st, 2ndand 3rd Persons biton

Strong Verbs, Subjunctive Mood

The Subjunctive Mood uses the stem for the present tense and the 3rd Person Singular Past for the past tense, adding "e" in the singular and "en" in the plural.

 

Present Tense

Singular  
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons bite
Plural
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons biten

 

Past Tense

Singular  
1st, 2nd, 3rd Person bate
Plural
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons baten

Strong Verbs, Imperative Mood

(can only be in the 2nd person and only in present tense)

The Imperative Mood uses just the stem for the singular and the stem plus "að" for the plural.

 

Singular  
2nd Person bit
Plural
2nd Person bit

 

Inflected Infinitive: to (stem+anne)

to bitanne

 

Present Participle: stem + ende

bitende

 

Past Participle: comes from the Strong Verb Paradigm above:

biten

 

 

Chapter 13 Vocabulary Words

Some exercises to practice translating Strong Verbs

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