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Germanic strong verb

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


In the Germanic languages, strong verbs are those which mark their past tenses by means of ablaut. In English, these are verbs like sing, sang, sung. The term "strong verb" is a translation of German "starkes Verb", which was coined by the linguist Jakob Grimm and contrasts with the so-called "weak verb".

This article discusses the history of the forms of these verbs in the West Germanic languages, i.e. English, German and Dutch, and the historical forms Old English, Old High German and Old Dutch. For other aspects of these verbs, see the overview article Germanic verb.


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:

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 the principal parts by heart: bēodan, bīett, bēad, budon, boden. The five principal parts are:

  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 only used in the participle.

Strictly speaking, in this verb ablaut only causes a three-fold 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.

Verb classes

Six different ablaut sequences (German: Ablautreihe) exist in the Germanic languages. We refer to these as the six classes of the strong verb.

In PIE there were already several ablaut sequences possible in the conjugation of the verb. The Germanic verb is based on the following four patterns. (For orientation, the numbers of the Germanic principal parts and verb classes are included in this table, but the vowels are those of PIE.)

The standard pattern of PIE is best represented in Germanic by class 3. Classes 1 & 2 have also developed out of this pattern, but here the ablaut vowel was followed by a semivowel (i/j and u/v respectively) which later combined with it to form a diphthong. The PIE variations from which Germanic classes 4 & 5 developed contain consonant structures which were partly or wholly incompatible with the zero grade, and thus the e-grade and lengthened e-grade were substituted in one or both of the zero grade positions. Thus classes 1-5 are all easily explicable as having developed logically from a single basic pattern.

Class 6 is more problematic. It is a controversial question whether the earlier phases of PIE had an a-vowel at all. At any rate, most occurrences of an /a/ in late PIE are associated with an earlier laryngeal h2. Opinions still vary about how exactly this worked, but it is conceivable, for example, that the present stem could have experienced the shift h2e→a. If this is so, then class 6 may also be a variation on the standard pattern.

In addition to the six classes, Germanic originally had reduplicating verbs, which in the West and North Germanic languages have lost their reduplication and simplified into a relatively coherent group which may be thought of as a seventh class. In Gothic, on the other hand, there are six classes, each of which has a reduplicating sub-class.

The Anglo-Saxon scholar Henry Sweet gave names to the seven classes (the "drive conjugation", the "choose conjugation" etc), but normally they are simply referred to by numbers.

General developments

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 are relevant for the discussion of the ablaut system:

From PIE to Germanic

  • General sound shifts: o > a ; ei > ī ; oi > ai ; ou > au.
  • Elimination of the zero grade before liquids by insertion of u.
  • The development of grammatischer Wechsel (variations in the consonant following the ablaut vowel) caused by Verner's law.

Within Germanic

  • Umlaut - the fronting of the ablaut vowel caused by i, ī or j in the following syllable. This affects the 2nd and 3rd persons singular of the present tense in classes 2, 3b, 4, 5 and 6.
  • Wandel - the same effect as Umlaut, but caused by a nasal or other front consonant in post-vocalic position. This affects the whole of the present stem (including the infinitive) of some verbs in class 3a, and of a few verbs in class 2.
  • a-mutation (sometimes wrongly called a-umlaut) - the movement of the ablaut vowel towards the back of the mouth caused by an a in the following syllable. This affects the participle, which had the suffix -an. An intervening nasal + consonant blocked this.

From Germanic to Old English

  • General sound shifts: ai > ā ; eu > ēo ; au > ēa
  • Breaking before certain consonants: a > ea ; e > eo
  • "West Saxon Palatalisation": i > ie after g

From Old English to Modern English

  • Tudor vowel shift: ī > ai (spelled <i> as in shine)

From Germanic to Old High German

  • General sound shifts: ai > ei ; au > ou
  • Sound shift e > i before u
  • Old High German monophthongization: ei > ē ; ou > ō before certain consonants

From Old High German to Modern German

  • General sound shifts: io > ī (spelled <ie>) ; ou > au
  • MHG diphthongisation: ī > ai (spelled <ei>)
  • vowel lengthening in early modern times: i > ī (spelled <ie>) before a single consonant.

Other changes in the general shape of the verbs:

  • Between PIE and Germanic the verbal noun was adapted as a past participle for the new Germanic synthetic tenses. The emphatic prefix ge- 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 development of weak verbs in Germanic meant that the strong verb system ceased to be productive. All new verbs were weak. Gradually, strong verbs became weak, so that the total number of strong verbs in the languages was constantly decreasing. In English this process has gone further than in German or Dutch. The reverse phenomenon, whereby a weak verb becomes strong by analogy, is exceptional. Some verbs, which might be termed "semi-strong", have formed a weak preterite but retained the strong participle, or (rarely) vice versa. These are commonest in Dutch:
vouwen vouwde gevouwen ("to fold")
vragen vroeg gevraagd ("to ask")
  • Idiosyncrasies of the phonological changes lead 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 leads to anomalous forms. Thus the six big classes lost their cohesion. Again, this process is furthest advanced in English. 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, all three languages eliminated the 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.

Class 1

Class 1, Sweet's "drive conjugation", represents all verbs in which the IE Ablaut-vowel was followed by an i. This combination is effectively a diphthong in PIE, or in the zero-grade, a simple i. Regular vowel shifts in Germanic change ei>ī and oi>ai. Metaphony does not affect class 1.

In Old English, Germanic ai becomes ā.

  • rīdan rītt rād ridon riden ("to ride")
  • wrītan wrītt wrāt writon writen ("to write")
  • scīnan scīnt scān scinon scinen ("to shine")

Modern English has experienced a diphthongisation of ī (though it is still spelled with an i) and a shift ā>ō. The modern preterite is taken from the old preterite singular, and in the case of "shine", the past participle has also assimilated to the preterite singular.

  • ride rode ridden
  • write wrote written
  • shine shone shone

Class 1 verbs in modern English are bite, drive, ride, rise, shine, shite, slide, smite, stride, write. The French loan-word strive is class 1 by analogy with drive etc.
For the principal parts of all English strong verbs see: List of English irregular verbs.

In Old High German, Germanic ai becomes ei, and then by OHG monophthogisation it becomes ē before a velar consonant. Thus Old High German has two subclasses, depending on the vowel in the preterite singular:

  • 1a rītan rītu reit ritum giritan ("to ride")
  • 1b līhan līhu lēh ligum giligan ("to loan" - note grammatischer Wechsel.)

Like English, Modern German diphthongises the ī (spelling it ei). The modern language takes its preterite from the old preterite plural, so the distinction between the two subclasses disappears. However a new subdivision arises because the i of the past tense forms is lengthened to ie before a single consonant. As it happens, reiten and leihen serve as examples of this too, but many OHG 1a verbs are in the modern long vowel group.

  • (short vowel) reiten ritt geritten ("to ride")
  • (long vowel) 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, 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 Dutch, class 1 has remained very regular, and follows the pattern:

  • grijpen greep gegrepen

Class 1 verbs in Dutch are bezwijken, bijten, blijken, blijven, drijven, glijden, grijpen, hijsen, kijken, knijpen, krijgen, lijden, lijken, prijzen, rijden, rijzen, schijnen, schrijden, schrijven, slijpen, slijten, smijten, spijten, splijten, stijgen, strijden, strijken, verdwijnen, vermijden, wijken, wijzen, wrijven, zwijgen.

Class 2

Class 2, Sweet's "choose conjugation", represents all verbs in which the IE Ablaut-vowel was followed by a u. In PIE it is therefore very similar to class 1. A regular vowel shift in Germanic changes ou>au. In two separate metaphony processes, the present singular is umlauted because of an i in the inflection and the u in the past participle is assimilated to the a in the inflection.

There was also a sub-class with present stem in ū, an anomalous form which seems to originate in PIE.

In Old English, Germanic eu becomes ēo.

  • scēotan scīett scēat scuton scoten ("to shoot")
  • bēodan bīett bēad budon boden ("to command")
  • flēogan flīehþ flēag flugon flogen ("to fly")
  • cēosan cīest cēas curon coren ("to choose" - note grammatischer Wechsel)

An Old English example with the present stem in ū:

  • scūfan scŷfþ scēaf scufon scofen ("to shove")

In Modern English, this is a small group characterised by the o vowel of the participle being assimilated to the preterite:

  • shoot shot shot
  • fly flew flown

Class 2 verbs in Modern English: choose, cleave, dive (AE), fly, freeze, shoot.

In Old High German, the usual pattern is:

  • biogan biugu boug bugum gibogan ("to bend")

An Old High German example with present stem in ū:

  • sūfan siufu souf sufum gisofan ("to drink")

An example with wandel affecting the whole of the present stem.

  • briuwan briuwu brou brūwum gibrūwan ("to brew")

A small group sometimes called class 2b has Old High German monophthongisation in the preterite singular:

  • biotan biutu bōt butum gibotan ("to offer")

Regular shifts on the way to Modern German change io>ie and ou>o. The modern preterite is based on the OHG preterite singular:

  • biegen bog gebogen ("to bend")
  • schieben schob geschoben ("to shove")
  • saugen sog gesogen ("to suck")

Class 2 verbs in Modern German 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 in Early Modern German. Trügen would have followed in its wake, because the two words form a common rhyming collocation.

In Dutch, class 2 follows the patterns

  • bedriegen bedroog bedrogen ("to deceive")
  • sluiten sloot gesloten ("to shut")

The present stem in ui represents the old ū-present, but interestingly this subgroup has grown, as a number of class 2 verbs which originally did not have ū-presents have taken the ui by analogy. Class 2 verbs in modern Dutch are: bieden, genieten, gieten, kiezen, liegen, schieten, verliezen, vliegen, vriezen; with ū-present: buigen, druipen, duiken, fluiten, kruipen, ruiken, schuilen, schuiven, snuiven, spuiten, stuiven, zuigen, zuipen.

Class 3

Class 3, Sweet's "bind conjugation", represents all verbs in which the IE Ablaut-vowel was followed by a nasal (n) or a liquid (r/l) and another consonant. Also possible is h plus another consonant. So the combinations are:

  • With nasals (class 3a): CVnC, CVnn, CVmC, CVmm
  • With liquids (class 3b): CVlC, CVll, CVrC, CVhC

In the zero-grade forms, the nasal or liquid became a syllabic sonorant in PIE, transcribed as a circle below the letter. [Provisional transcription here ol etc.] In Germanic, these syllabic nasals and liquids were not used, so a u vowel was added in compensation: ol>ul. Umlaut causes a shift e>i in the present singular, but in the case of the nasals, this shift takes place throughout the present stem: this is referred to as wandel - the same effect as umlaut, but triggered by the nasal consonant. The preterite singular shows the standard Germanic vowel shift o>a. In the participle, ul becomes ol through metaphony, but only with the liquid, as the metaphony is blocked by the nasal.

In Old English, class 3a is little changed from Germanic.

  • drincan drinceþ dranc druncon druncen
  • bindan bindeþ band bundon bunden

Class 3b experiences a diphthongisation called "Brechung" in preterite singular (a>ea); before r and h this also affects the present stem (e>eo).

  • helpan hilpþ healp hulpon holpen ("to help")
  • delfan dilfþ dealf dulfon dolfen ("to dig")
  • sweltan swilt swealt swulton swolten ("to die")
  • ceorfan cierfþ cearf curfon corfen ("to cut")
  • feohtan fieht feaht fuhton fohten ("to fight")

West Saxon palatal diphthongization causes i>ie after g:

  • gieldan gieldeþ geald guldon golden ("to pay")

Three verbs have an anomalous æ in preterite singular: berstan ("to burst"), bregdan ("to pull"), frignan ("to ask").

  • berstan birst bærst burston borsten

In Modern English, this class is fairly large. This class is still relatively regular: the preterite is mostly formed from the OE preterite singular, occasionally from the preterite plural.

  • drink drank drunk(en)
  • sing sang sung

However, there are some anomalies. The class 3 verbs in modern English are:

  • With nasal or r: begin, bind, burst, cling, drink, find, run, shrink, sing, sink, sling, slink, spin, spring, sting, stink, 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.

In Old High German, class 3 has its vowels unchanged from Germanic:

  • bindan bindu band bundum gibundan
  • helfan hilfu half hulfum giholfan

Modern German takes the preterite from the OHG preterite singular.

  • binden band gebunden
  • helfen (hilf) half geholfen

However, the o of the 3b participle has been passed by analogy to some 3a verbs, and also to the preterite of some verbs of both groups:

  • beginnen begann begonnen
  • bergen barg geborgen ("to rescue")
  • quellen quoll gequollen ("to well up")

Class 3 verbs in modern German

  • 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, werden, werfen
  • 3b with substitution of o in preterite (e-o-o): dreschen, fechten, flechten, quellen, schmelzen, schwellen

In Dutch, class 3a and the bulk of 3b have taken the vowel of the participle for the preterite. However, a small group of 3b verbs have developed a preterite in ie, perhaps by analogy with class 7. This gives the patterns:

  • binden bond gebonden
  • bergen borg geborgen ("to store")
  • helpen hielp geholpen

A small number of verbs of other classes have taken the forms of class 3b by analogy. Class 3 verbs in modern Dutch are:

  • 3a: beginnen, binden, blinken, dringen, drinken, dwingen, glimmen, klimmen, klinken, schrikken, springen, stinken, verzinnen, vinden, winnen, wringen, zingen, zinken.
  • original 3b: bergen, gelden, schelden, smelten, vechten, zwellen.
  • 3b by analogy (original class in brackets): schenken, scheren (4), treffen(4), trekken (6), wegen, zenden (3a), zwemmen (3a).
  • 3b with preterite in ie: bederven, helpen, sterven, werpen, zwerven.

Class 4

Class 4, Sweet's "Bear conjugation", represents all verbs in which the ablaut vowel was followed by a single nasal or liquid. The zero-grade in the participle becomes a u in Germanic, but then changes to o by a-mutation; as a single nasal is not enough to block this mutation, subgroups do not form in the Germanic class 4 as they do in class 3.

In Old English, the general pattern is:

  • beran bierþ bær bǣron boren ("to bear")
  • brecan bricþ bræc brǣcon brocen ("to break")

With West Saxon palatal diphthongization (after c, g):

  • scieran scear scēaron scoren ("to shear")

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 nōm nōmon numen ("to take")

In Modern English, class 4 verbs have mostly kept the –n in the participle:

  • break broke broken

Class 4 verbs in English are bear, break, steal, tear; and without the -n: come.

Although the verb to be is suppletive and highly irregular, its preterite follows the pattern of a class 4 strong verb, with grammatischer Wechsel, and in English and Dutch this verb has 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.

In Old High German, the pattern is:

  • neman nimu nam nāmum ginoman ("to take")

In Modern German the preterite is based on the preterite singular. As the only difference between the historical classes 3b and 4 was the preterite plural, these two classes are now identical.

  • nehmen nahm genommen ("to take")

Kommen still has the anomalous o in the present stem.

  • kommen kam gekommen ("to come")

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.

In Dutch, class 4 and 5 verbs still show the distinction in vowel between the preterite singular and plural: 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' [a] 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 w is retained in the preterite.

  • komen kwam (kwamen) gekomen ("to come")

Class 4 verbs in Dutch are: breken, nemen, spreken, steken, stelen; and anomalous: komen.

The preterite of zijn ("to be") still shows both (quantitative) ablaut and grammatischer Wechsel between the singular and plural: was/waren.

Class 5

Class 5, Sweet's "give conjugation", represents all verbs in which the IE Ablaut-vowel was followed by a single consonant other than a nasal or a liquid. This class is originally similar to class 4 except in the participle. There is also a small subgroup called "j-presents" which show umlaut throughout the whole of the present stem.

In Old English the preterite is in æ/ǣ, as in class 4.

  • sprecan spricþ spræc sprǣcon sprecen ("to speak")
  • cweþan cwiþþ cwæþ cwǣdon cweden ("to say")

With West Saxon palatal diphthongization (after c, g)

  • giefan geaf gēafon giefen ("to give")

With j-presents

  • biddan bæd bǣdon beden

Contracted, anomalous:

  • sēon sihþ seah sāwon sewen

In Modern English this group has lost all group cohesion.

  • give gave given
  • speak spoke spoken
  • lie lay lain
  • meet met met

Class 5 verbs in Modern English: bid, eat, forget, get, give, lie (= lie down), meet, speak, see, sit, weave.

In Old High German this group is relatively uniform. The model is geban, or for the j-presents, bitten.

  • geban gibu gab gābum gigeban ("to give")
  • bitten bat bātum gibetan ("to ask")

In Modern German this group is little changed from Old High German:

  • geben (gib) gab gegeben
  • bitten bat gebeten

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:

  • essen (iss) aß gegessen

Class 5 verbs in modern German: essen, geben, genesen, geschehen, lesen, messen, sehen, treten, vergessen; with j-presents, bitten, liegen, sitzen.

In Dutch, class 5 is much as in German, except that the preterite retains the vowel length distinction which we also observed in class 4 above.

  • geven gaf (gaven) gegeven
  • bidden bad (baden) gebeden
  • eten at (aten) gegeten

zien ("to see") has experienced a loss of the original /h/, with a resutling assimilation of the stem vowel to the vowel of the inflection, and shows Grammatischer Wechsel between this original /h/ and a /g/ in the preterite:

  • zien, zag (zagen), gezien

Class 5 verbs in Dutch: eten, geven, genezen, lezen, meten, treden; anomalous: zien; with j-presents: bidden, liggen, zitten.

Class 6

Class 6, Sweet's "shake conjugation", represents all verbs in which the IE Ablaut-vowel was adjacent to a laryngeal h2 and thus in later PIE had an a colouring. Possibly in some cases the a may be an example of the a-grade of ablaut, though this is controversial. Like class 5, this class too has j-presents.

In Old English

  • scacan scæcþs scōc scōcon scacen ("to shake")
  • faran færþ fōr fōron faren ("to travel")
  • sacan scæcþ sōc sōcon sacen ("to quarrel")


  • slēan sliehþ slōg slōgon slægen ("to strike")

With j-presents (and other anomalies)

  • hebban hōf hōfon hafen
  • scieppan scōp scōpon scapen
  • swerian swōr swōron sworen

The verb "to stand" has an anomalous loss of its -n- in the preterite:

  • standan stent stōd stōdon standen

In Modern English, shake and wake 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, shake, slay, stand, swear, take, wake.

In Old High German the preterite is marked by the diphthong uo:

  • graban grebit gruob gruobum gigraban ("to dig")

With j-present:

  • heffen huob huobum gihaban ("to heave")

In Modern German the uo is monophthongised to a u.

  • graben gräbt grub gegraben

However, the j-presents have instead taken an o in the preterite and participle, perhaps by analogy with class 2.

  • heben hob gehoben

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 Dutch, the regular class 6 verbs are close to German:

  • graven groef gegraven

However the three j-presents have taken the vowel ie in the preterite, and have chosen three separate paths in the participle:

  • scheppen schiep geschapen
  • heffen hief geheven
  • zweren zwoer gezworen ("to swear")

Class 6 verbs in Dutch are: dragen, varen, graven, slaan, and with j-present: scheppen, heffen, zweren; also "semi-strong" (i.e. with a weak participle) vragen, jagen.

Class 7 (West Germanic)

Class 7, Sweet's "fall conjugation", is not based on an Indo-European ablaut sequence as such. Rather, it represents all verbs of classes 1 to 6 which were originally reduplicating. Reduplication can be seen operating in the East Germanic strong verb. Four examples from Gothic will illustrate this here. In each case we give just the infinitive and the preterite singular, and put the reduplication in bold print:

  • falþan faifalþ ("to fold")
  • slēpan saíslēp ("to sleep")
  • háitan haíháit ("to be called" - German "heißen")
  • lētan laílōt ("to let")

There are no examples of reduplication in German or Dutch, but the Mercian and Northumbrian dialects of Old English do have two remnants:

  • hātan ht ("to call")
  • rēdan reord ("to advise" - German "raten")

The collapse of this system in the West Germanic languages was accompanied by a general levelling, with the result that these verbs show only a limited variation of vowels, and have enough homogenity to make it useful to see them as a single class. The principal characteristics of class 7 in West Germanic are:

  • A variety of vowels are possible in the present stem, depending on the original reduplicating class.
  • The vowel of the present stem recurs in the participle.
  • There is no distinction between preterite singular and plural.
  • Only two vowels are possible in the preterite, and the class divides into two subclasses according to these.

In Old English the pattern is as follows:

Examples of class 7a:

  • feallan fielþ fēoll fēollon feallen ("to fall")
  • healdan hielt hēold hēoldon healden ("to hold")
  • cnāwan cnǣwþ cnēow cnēowon cnāwen ("to know")
  • grōwan grēwþ grēow grēowon grōwen ("to grow")
  • hlēapan hlīap hlēop hlēopon hlēapen ("to run, leap")

Examples of class 7b:

  • hātan hǣtt hēt hēton hāten ("to call")
  • slǣpan slēp slēpon slǣpen ("to sleep")

Two verbs of class 7b have contracted present stems and grammatischer Wechsel:

  • fōn fēhþ fēng fēngon fangen ("to seize")
  • hōn hēhþ hēng hēngon hangen ("to hang")

In Modern English this class has lost its homogenity:

  • fall fell fallen
  • let let let
  • throw threw thrown

Class 7 verbs in modern English: beat, blow, fall, grow, hang, hold, know, let, sleep, throw.

In Old High German we find the same two groups, though they do not correspond exactly to those of Old English:

Class 7a follows the pattern:

  • haltan hialt hialtum gihaltan ("to hold, halt")

Class 7b follows the pattern:

  • loufan liof liofum giloufan ("to run")

In Modern German this class follows the uniform pattern x-ie-x:

  • halten (hält) hielt gehalten ("to hold, halt")
  • laufen (läuft) lief gelaufen ("to run")

However the two anomalous verbs have formed new present stems, eliminated grammatischer Wechsel and shortened the vowel in the preterite:

  • fangen (fängt) fing gefangen ("to catch")
  • hängen (hängt) hing gehangen ("to hang")

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.

In Dutch this class is very similar to German

  • lopen liep gelopen
  • hangen hing gehangen

The verb "to hold" displays the Dutch phenomenon that in the letter combination -old- the l disappears and the vowel diphthongises in compensation:

  • houden hield gehouden

Class 7 verbs in Dutch are: blazen, laten, lopen, raden*, roepen, slapen, stoten*, vallen; anomalous: hangen, vangen, houden. (The verbs with * are nowadays mostly semi-strong: raden raadde geraden and stoten stootte gestoten)


  • Alfred Bammesberger, Der Aufbau des germanischen Verbalsystems, Heidelberg 1986.
  • Cornelius van Bree, Historische grammatica van het Nederlands, Dordrecht 1987.
  • 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.
  • Martin Krygier, The Disintigration 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.
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