. The history of Old English and its development

from the synthetic (or inflectional) stage to the analytic one. At least

for the latest 1,000 years this trend could be observed in all branches of

the family. The level of this analitization process in each single language

can be estimated by several features, their presence or absence in the

language. One of them is for sure the declension of the numerals. In Proto-

Indo-European all numerals, both cardinal and ordinal, were declined, as

they derived on a very ancient stage from nouns or adjectives, originally

being a declined part of speech. There are still language groups within the

family with decline their numerals: among them, Slavic and Baltic are the

most typical samples. They practically did not suffer any influence of the

analytic processes. But all other groups seem to have been influenced

somehow. Ancient Italic and Hellenic languages left the declension only for

the first four cardinal pronouns (from 1 to 4), the same with ancient


The Old English language preserves this system of declension only for

three numerals. It is therefore much easier to learn, though not for

English speakers I guess - Modern English lacks declension at all.

Here is the list of the cardinal numerals:


Ordinal numerals use the suffix -ta or -a, etymologically a common Indo-

European one (*-to-).


The Old English Adverb.

Adverbs can be either primary (original adverbs) or derive from the

adjectives. In fact, adverbs appeared in the language rather late, and

eraly Proto-Indo-European did not use them, but later some auxiliary nouns

and pronouns losing their declension started to play the role of adverbial

modifiers. That's how thew primary adverbs emerged.

In Old English the basic primary adverbs were the following ones:

a (then)

onne (then)

'r (there)

ider (thither)

n (now)

hr (here)

hider (hither)

heonan (hence)

sna (soon)

oft (often)

eft (again)

sw (so)

hwlum (sometimes).

Secondary adverbs originated from the instrumental singular of the

neuter adjectives of strong declension. They all add the suffix -e: wide

(widely), dope (deeply), fste (fast), hearde (hard). Another major

sugroup of them used the suffixes -lc, -lce from more complexed

adjectives: bealdlce (boldly), freondlce (in a friendly way).

Adverbs, as well as adjectives, had their degrees of comparison:

wde - wdor - wdost (widely - more widely - most widely)

long - leng (long - longer)

feorr (far) - fierr

sfte (softly) - sft

ae (easily) - e

wel (well) - betre - best

yfele (badly) - wiers, wyrs - wierst

micele (much) - mre - m'st

The Old English Verb.

Old English system had strong and weak verbs: the ones which used the

ancient Germanic type of conjugation (the Ablaut), and the ones which just

added endings to their past and participle forms. Strong verbs make the

clear majority. According to the traditional division, which is taken form

Gothic and is accepted by modern linguistics, all strong verbs are

distinguished between seven classes, each having its peculiarities in

conjugation and in the stem structure. It is easy to define which verb is

which class, so you will not swear trying to identify the type of

conjugation of this or that verb (unlike the situation with the


Here is the table which is composed for you to see the root vowels of all

strong verb classes. Except the VII class, they all have exact stem vowels

for all four main forms:


Now let us see what Old English strong verbs of all those seven

classes looked like and what were their main four forms. I should mention

that besides the vowel changes in the stem, verbal forms also changed stem

consonants very often. The rule of such changes is not mentioned

practically in any books on the Old English language, though there is some.

See for yourselves this little chart where the samples of strong verb

classes are given with their four forms:

Infinitive, Past singular, Past plural, Participle II (or Past Participle)

Class I

wrtan (to write), wrt, writon, writen

snpan (to cut), sn, snidon, sniden

Other examples: belfan (stay), clfan (cling), ygrpan (clutch), btan

(bite), sltan (slit), besmtan (dirty), gewtan (go), blcan (glitter),

scan (sigh), stgan (mount), scnan (shine), rsan (arise), lan (go).

Class II

bodan (to offer), bad, budon, boden

cosan (to choose), cas, curon, coren

Other examples: cropan (creep), clofan (cleave), flotan (fleet),

gotan (pour), grotan (weep), notan (enjoy), scotan (shoot), logan

(lie), browan (brew), drosan (fall), frosan (freeze), forlosan (lose).

Class III

III a) a nasal consonant

drincan (to drink), dranc, druncon, druncen

Other: swindan (vanish), onginnan (begin), sinnan (reflect), winnan

(work), gelimpan (happen), swimman (swim).

III b) l + a consonant

helpan (to help), healp, hulpon, holpen

Other: delfan (delve), swelgan (swallow), sweltan (die), bellan (bark),

melcan (milk).

III c) r, h + a consonant

steorfan (to die), stearf, sturfon, storfen

weoran (to become), wear, wurdon, worden

feohtan (to fight), feaht, fuhton, fohten

More: ceorfan (carve), hweorfan (turn), weorpan (throw), beorgan

(conceal), beorcan (bark).

Class IV

stelan (to steal), st'l, st'lon, stolen

beran (to bear), b'r, b'ron, boren

More: cwelan (die), helan (conceal), teran (tear), brecan (break).

Class V

tredan (to tread), tr'd, tr'don, treden

cwean (to say), cw', cw'don, cweden

More: metan (measure), swefan (sleep), wefan (weave), sprecan (to

speak), wrecan (persecute), lesan (gather), etan (eat), wesan (be).

Class VI

faran (to go), fr, fron, faren

More: galan (sing), grafan (dig), hladan (lade), wadan (walk), dragan

(drag), gnagan (gnaw), bacan (bake), scacan (shake), wascan (wash).

Class VII

htan (to call), ht, hton, hten

feallan (to fall), feoll, feollon, feallen

cnawan (to know), cnow, cnowon, cnwen

More: blondan (blend), ondr'dan (fear), lcan (jump), scadan (divide),

fealdan (fold), healdan (hold), sponnan (span), batan (beat), blwan

(flourish), hlwan (low), spwan (flourish), mwan (mow), swan (sow),

rwan (turn).

So the rule from the table above is observed carefully. The VII class was

made especially for those verbs which did not fit into any of the six

classes. In fact the verbs of the VII class are irregular and cannot be

explained by a certain exact rule, though they are quite numerous in the


Examining verbs of Old English comparing to those of Modern English it

is easy to catch the point of transformation. Not only the ending -an in

the infinitive has dropped, but the stems were subject to many changes some

of which are not hard to find. For example, the long in the stem gives i

with an open syllable in the modern language (wrtan > write, scnan >

shine). The same can be said about a, which nowadays is a in open syllables

pronounced [] (hladan > lade). The initial combination sc turns to sh; the

open e was transformed into ea practically everywhere (sprecan > speak,

tredan > tread, etc.). Such laws of transformation which you can gather

into a small table help to recreate the Old word from a Modern English one

in case you do not have a dictionary in hand, and therefore are important

for reconstruction of the languages.

Weak verbs in Old English (today's English regular verbs) were conjugated

in a simpler way than the strong ones, and did not use the ablaut

interchanges of the vowel stems. Weak verbs are divided into three classes

which had only slight differences though. They did have the three forms -

the infinitive, the past tense, the participle II. Here is the table.

Class I

Regular verbs

Inf. Past PP

dman (to judge), dmde, dmed

heran (to hear), herde, hered

nerian (to save), nerede, nered

styrian (to stir), styrede, styred

fremman (to commit), fremede, fremed

cnyssan (to push), cnysede, cnysed

When the suffix is preceded by a voiceless consonant the ending changes a

little bit:

cpan (to keep), cpte, cpt / cped

grtan (to greet), grtte, grt / grted

If the verb stem ends in consonant plus d or t:

sendan (to send), sende, send / sended

restan (to rest), reste, rest / rested


sellan (to give), sealde, seald

tellan (to tell), tealde, teald

cwellan (to kill), cwealde, cweald

t'can (to teach), thte, tht

r'can (to reach), rhte, rht

bycgan (to buy), bohte, boht

scan (to seek), shte, sht

wyrcan (to work), worhte, worht

encan (to think), hte, ht

bringan (to bring), brhte, brht

Other examples of the I class weak verbs just for your interest: berian

(beat), derian (harm), erian (plough), ferian (go), herian (praise),

gremman (be angry), wennan (accustom), clynnan (sound), dynnan (resound),

hlynnan (roar), hrissan (tremble), scean (harm), wecgean (move), fran

(go), l'ran (teach), drfan (drive), fsan (hurry), drgean (dry), hepan

(heap), mtan (to meet), wscean (wish), byldan (build), wendan (turn),

efstan (hurry). All these are regular.

Class II

macian (to make), macode, macod

lufian (to love), lufode, lufod

hopian (to hope), hopode, hopod

Tis class makes quite a small group of verbs, all of them having -o- before

the past endings. Other samples: lofian (praise), stician (pierce), eardian

(dwell), scawian (look), weorian (honour), wundrian (wonder), fstnian

(fasten), mrsian (glorify).

Class III

habban (to have), hfde, hfd

libban (to live), lifde, lifd

secgan (to say), sgde, sgd

hycgan (to think), hogde, hogod

ragan (to threaten), rade, rad

smagan (to think), smade, smad

frogan (to free), frode, frod

fogan (to hate), fode, fod

Old English verbs are conjugated having two tenses - the Present tense

and the Past tense, and three moods - indicative, subjunctive, and

imperative. Of these, only the subjunctive mood has disappeared in the

English language, acquiring an analytic construction instead of

inflections; and the imperative mood has coincided with the infinitive form

(to write - write!). In the Old English period they all looked different.

The common table of the verb conjugation is given below. Here you

should notice that the Present tense has the conjugation for all three

moods, while the Past tense - for only two moods (no imperative in the Past

tense, naturally). Some more explanation should be given about the stem


In fact all verbal forms were generated in Old English from three verb

stems, and each verb had its own three ones: the Infinitive stem, the Past

Singular stem, the Past Plural stem. For the verb wrtan, for example,

those three stems are: wrt- (infinitive without the ending -an), wrt-

(the Past singular), writ- (the Past plural without the ending -on). The

table below explains where to use this or that stem.


Additionally, the participles (Participle I and Participle II) are

formed by the suffix -ende to the Infinitive stem (participle I), or the

prefix ge- + the Past Plural stem + the ending -en (Participle II).

Tired of the theory? Here is the preactice. We give several examples of the

typical verbs - first strong, then weak, then irregular.

Class I strong - wrtan (to write)

Pres. Past

Ind. Subj. Imper. Ind. Subj.

Sg. 1 wrte - wrt

2 wrtest wrte wrt write } wrte

3 wrte - wrt

Pl. wrta wrten 2 wrta writon writen

Infinitive Participle

wrtan I wrtende II gewriten

Class II weak - lufian (to love)

Pres. Past

Ind. Subj. Imp. Ind. Subj.

Sg. 1 lufie - lufode

2 lufast }lufie lufa lufodest } lufode

3 lufa - lufode

Pl. lufia lufien 2 lufia lufodon lufoden


I lufiende II gelufod

Class III strong - bindan (to bind)

Pres. Past

Ind. Subj. Imp. Ind. Subj.

Sg. 1 binde - band, bond

2 bindest } binde bind bunde } bunde

3 binde - band, bond

Pl. binda binden binda bundon bunden

Inf. Part.

bindan I bindende II gebunden

Class V strong - son (to see)

Pres. Past

Ind. Subj. Imp. Ind. Subj.

Sg.1 so - seah

2 sehst } so seoh swe } swe,

3 seh - seah sge

Pl. so son 2 so sawon swen


I sonde II gesewen, gesegen

Class VII strong - fn (to catch)

Pres. Past

Ind. Subj. Imp. Ind. Subj.

Sg. 1 f - feng

2 fhst } f fh fenge } fenge

3 fh - feng

Pl. f fn 2 f fengon fengen


I fnde II gefangen, gefongen

Class III weak - secgan (to say)

Pres. Past

Ind. Subj. Imp. Ind. Subj.

Sg.1 secge - sgde

2 sgst }secge sge sgdest }sgde

3 sg - sgde

Pl. secga secgen 2 secga sgdon sgden


I secgende II gesgd

Class III weak - libban (to live)

Pres. Past

Ind. Subj. Imp. Ind. Subj.

Sg.1 libbe - lifde

2 liofast }libbe liofa lifdest } lifde

3 liofa - lifde

Pl. libba libben 2 libba lifdon lifden


I libbende II gelifd

A special group is made by the so-called Present-Preterite verbs, which

are conjugated combining two varieties of the usual verb conjugation:

strong and weak. These verbs, at all not more than seven, are nowadays

called modal verbs in English.

Present-Preterite verbs have their Present tense forms generated from the

Strong Past, and the Past tense, instead, looks like the Present Tense of

the Weak verbs. The verbs we present here are the following: witan (to

know), cunnan (can), urfan (to need), dearan (to dare), munan (to

remember), sculan (shall), magan (may).

Present of witan (= strong Past)

Ind. Subj. Imp.

Sg. 1 wt -

2 wast } wite wite

3 wt -

Pl. witon 2 witen wita

Past (= Weak)

Ind. Subj.

Sg.1 wisse, wiste

2 wissest, wistest } wisse, wiste

3 wisse, wiste

Pl. wisson, wiston wissen, wisten

Participles: I witende, II witen, gewiten

cunnan (can)

Pres. Past

Ind. Subj. Ind. Subj.

Sg. 1 cann ce

2 canst } cunne cest } ce

3 cann ce

Pl. cunnon cunnen con cen

urfan (need)

Sg. 1 earf orfte

2 earft } urfe orftest } orfte

3 earf orfte

Pl. urfon urfen orfton orften

magan (may)

Sg. 1 mg meahte mihte, mihten

2 meaht } mge meahtest

3 mg meahte

Pl. magon mgen meahton

The main difference of verbs of this type in modern English is their

expressing modality, i.e. possibility, obligation, necessity. They do not

require the particle to before the infinitive which follows them. In Old

English in general no verb requires this particle before the infinitive. In

fact, this to before the infinitive form meant the preposition of


And now finally a few irregular verbs, which used several different stems

for their tenses. These verbs are very important in Old English and are met

very often in the texts: wesan (to be), bon (to be), gn (to go), dn (to

do), willan (will). Mind that there was no Future tense in the Old English

language, and the future action was expressed by the Present forms, just

sometimes using verbs of modality, willan (lit. "to wish to do") or sculan

(lit. "to have to do").

wesan (to be) - has got only the Present tense forms, uses the verb bon in

the Past


Ind. Subj. Imp.

Sg.1 eom -

2 eart } se, s wes

3 is -

Pl. sind sen, sn 2 wesa

bon (to be)


Ind. Subj. Imp.

Sg. 1 bo -

2 bist }bo bo

3 bi -

Pl. bo bon 2 bo


Ind. Subj.

Sg. 1 ws

2 wre } wre

3 ws

Pl. wron wren

Participle I is bonde (being).

gn (to go)

Pres. Past

Ind. Subj. Imp. Ind. Subj.

Sg.1 g - ode

2 g'st } g g odest } ode

3 g' - ode

Pl. g 2 gn g odon oden


I gnde, gangende II gegn

So there were in fact two verbs meaning 'to be', and both were

colloquial. In Middle English, however, the verb wesan replaced fully the

forms of bon, and the words bo (I am), bist (thou art) fell out of use.

The Past tense forms was and were are also derivatives from wesan.

Syntactically, the language had only two main tenses - the Present and

the Past. No progressive (or Continuous) tenses were used, they were

invented only in the Early Middle English period. Such complex tenses as

modern Future in the Past, Future Perfect Continuous did not exist either.

However, some analytic construction were in use, and first of all the

perfective constructions. The example Hie geweorc geworhten hfdon 'they

have build a fortress' shows the exact Perfect tense, but at that time it

was not the tense really, just a participle construction showing that the

action has been done. Seldom you can also find such Past constructions,

which later became the Past Perfect Tense.

Verb syntax includes a number of suffices and prefixes which can be

met in Old English texts and especially in poetry:


1. -s- (from substantive or adjective stems) - m'rsian (to announce;

from m're - famous)

2. -lc- - nlcan (to approach)

3. -ett- - bliccettan (to sparkle)


1. - = out of, from - rsan (arise), wakan (awake), beran (sustain)

2. be- = over, around, by - begn (go around), beencan (think over),

behafdian (behead)

3. for- = destruction or loss - fordn (destroy), forweoran (perish)

4. mis- = negation or bad quality - mislcian (displease)

5. of- = reinfors - ofslan (kill), ofton (take away)

6. on- = change or separation - onbindan (unbind), onlcan (unlock)

7. t- = destruction - tbrecan (break)

The Old English Auxiliary Words.

These traditionally include prepositions, conjunctions, different

particles and

interjections. All Indo-European languages have this system of auxiliary

parts of speech, though there are languages which lack some of them.

Japanese, for example, has no prepositions, and the service function in the

sentence belongs to postpositive words which have cases, the same as nouns.

Korean does not use any conjunctions, replacing them by about 50 different

kinds of verbal adverbs. As for Chinese, it simply does not make any

distinction in the sentence between basic and auxiliary words.

Most of Old English prepositions are easily recognizable:

Primary: of (of, out of), t (to), fram (from), t (to), wi (against), in,

of, mid (with), on (on, at), be (by, near, to, because of, about), urh

(through), under, ofer (over), fter (after), bufan (above), t (out).

Secondary: beforan (before), btan (without), benoran (north of), etc.

t means 'to' and wi means 'against'. In Germanic all prepositions divided

into those who used nouns in dative, accusative or genitive. But in the Old

English period this distinction begins to disappear, and only some of the

prepositions use dative (mid, btan, sometimes on, in) or genitive (fram,

t, fter).

Conjunctions included the following:

Primary: and / ond (and) , ac (but), gif (if), or.

Secondary: ger ge... ge (both... and..., either ... or...), hwonne

(when), a (when), onne (when), h (though), tte (that), r (before),

sw... sw... (so... as...).

And a few interjections: i (yes), w (woe!, wow!), hwt (there! what!).

: 1, 2, 3