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simplification of verb paradigms in eME

some complexity falls from the OE verbal system

The changes in eME verb paradigms, from their OE WS predecessors, can be summarised in these six points:

  1. the OE infinitive ending ~(i)an becomes ~en;
  2. the OE present tense plural ending ~(i)at` becomes ~en;
  3. weak classes are reduced to one;
  4. in weak verbs, in the present tense, the 1st person and plural forms (as well as the infinitive), are assimilated to the 2nd and 3rd person singular forms;
  5. in strong verbs, in the present tense, the 2nd and 3rd person singular forms, assume the vowel of the 1st person and plural forms;
  6. in strong contracted verbs, <h> falls from 2nd and 3rd person singular present tense forms (or alternatively, <h> is restored to the infinitive and 1st person and plural present tense forms, and in classes 1 and 6, the infinitive and present tense forms assume the standard present tense vowel of that class);
  7. in weak contracted verbs, <g> is restored throughout the paradigm, i.e. to 2nd and 3rd person singular present tense forms, as well as all preterite forms and the past participle.

Note: unless specified otherwise, eME denotes the normalised early East Midland used in this site.

assimilation of present tense forms

The assimilation of the present tense forms works in different directions for strong and weak verbs. In both cases, a single stem emerges:

Assimilation in contracted verbs, entails the following:

It should also be noted that the levelling of unaccented vowels to schwa /@`/, observed in other parts of speech, also affects verbs, so that:

extending the pattern in verbs

East Midland sources are fairly conclusive on the loss of <i> in the stem of class 2 weak verbs. Thus we have Orm lufenn and Ch love(n). We also see assimilation in verbs from the OE's class 3 weak verbs - PC2 saein and Orm sey`y`enn sey`y`t`, where OE had secgan saeg`th. However, the evidence for the concurrent loss of gemination in class 1 verbs is thin. There aren't any examples of verbs like fremen in Orm or PC2 or Ch. In any case, even if Orm had instances of fremmen or ic fremme, it would be difficult to draw any conclusion, since Orm uses a double consonant to indicate a preceding short vowel.

Nevertheless, I think it's reasonable to assume that the assimilation we see in class 2 and class 3 verbs, also existed to some degree, in class 1 verbs, in the East Midlands around the year 1200. In short, I've applied the last of the five basic principles. That is - I've extended a pattern evident in two clasess of verbs, to a very closely related class of verbs, in order to simplify the verb paradigms of eME.

Simplification of present tense forms in strong verbs

In OE, the vowel of the second- and third-person singular forms of the present tense of strong verbs often differed from that in the infinitive. Most OE grammars list strong verb paradigms which show only forms with i-mutation: lu_can sv2 ly_ct`, helpan sv3 hilpt`, stelan sv4 stilt`, sprecan sv5 sprict`, flo_wan sv7 fle_wt`.

However, i-mutation of the second- and third-person singular of strong verbs was by no means universal. Boswell cites the following examples, (in addition to mutated forms): D`u__ monegum helpst...He__ helpet` t`earfan parcet...d`u__ bru__cest... he bru__cet`... Gif frigman fre__um stelt`... sprecet`... flo__west... flo__wet`. The extent of the confusion is perhaps most starkly illustrated by sle__an: slehst slieht` sliht` slaeht` are all recorded in Boswell.

This complexity disappears altogether in ME, but can still be seen here and there in the early 13th century in the West Midlands and Southern dialects. Thus, while AW still has kimet`, Ch has only cometh.

eME opts for the simpler paradigm and brings the vowels of all present tense forms in line with their respective infinitives.

OE contracted verbs ("h-less")

OE contracted verbs are those strong verbs which once had an <h> in the infinitive form, in Primitive Old English, but which had lost this by the 8th century, the era of our earliest surviving records of the written language. That <h> survived in the 2nd and 3rd person singular preterite form, right up to Chaucer's time. These "h-less" infinitives can be found in 5 different strong classes as well as 1 weak class:

As stated above, my goal is to simplify verb paradigms within a related group of eME verbs, wherever a levelling pattern is evident in pre-1300 MED sources. With that in mind, the options for dealing with strong contracted verbs in eME are the following:

  1. drop the <h> from all 2nd and 3rd person present tense forms;
  2. restore the dropped <h> to the 1st person and plural present tense forms, as well as the infinitive;

The question is - to what extent are these two options supported in OE and ME?

As it turns out, both options are supported rather well. Already in OE (perhaps more so in the Anglian dialects), <h> is dropped at times from 2nd and 3rd person present tense forms. That is increasingly evident in ME. On the other hand, <h> (or <g>) is occasionally restored to infinitives and to 1st person and plural present tense forms, in ME.

In the following list, I'll deal with the infinitive and present tense forms in each of the fourteen verbs individually.

The verbs affected are OE le_on te_on t`e_on wre_on (wri_gan) s1 fle_on te_on s2 g`efe_on se_on s5 fle_an sle_an thwe_an s6 fo_n ho_n s7 sme_agan (sme_an) w.

li_hen s1
to lend, grant
OE le_on inf li_h imp sg la_h pt sg3 ligen p ptc;
The MED has lenen v w inf from lae_nan v w inf, but not le_n/li_en/li_hen v s1 inf.
OS far-li_han, OHG li_han, Goth leihwan
ti_hen s1
to accuse
OE te_on/ti_on inf ty_hst ti_ht` te_ot` pr te_o sbj pr sg te_ah tugon pt tuge sbj pt sg tygen pt pl;
MED te_n (tegen/teo) inf tyxste pr sg2 tiy`th pr sg3;
Note - the form tyxste is from 1450; the infinitive with <g> is from 1250; in OE this verb seems to have largely shifted to the conjugation of te_on s2 from te_ohan
OS af-ti_han, OHG zi_han, Goth teihan
t`i_hen s1
to thrive, flourish, prosper
OE t`e_on inf t`i_hd` pr sg3 t`e_ot`/t`i_gat` pr pl t`e_o sbj pr sg t`e_onde pr ptc t`a_h/t`e_ah t`igon/t`ugon pt t`igen/t`ogen p ptc;
MED the_n (thein) inf d`ihd` pr sg3; Ch then inf theech pr sg1; TH t`ied` pr sg3;
OLG/OS thi_han.
Note - this verb has a foot in at least two camps. Forms consistent with classes 1, 2 and class 3 are recorded. For more detail, see class-hopping strong verbs. The normalised eME in this site uses only class 1 forms with t`i_hen.
wri_hen s1
to wrap, cover
OE wre_on (wri_gan) inf wre_o wri_hst wri_gd` pr sg wre_od` pr pl wre_ah (a_) wrigon pt g`ewrigen p ptc;
Lmn wriy`en inf, AW wrihen inf wrihed` pr pl; MED wri_en (wriy`en wrihen) inf wrieth writh wriy`th wrihd` pr sg3 wreth pr pl;
OHG int-ri_han
fle_hen s2
to flee
OE fle_on (fli_on) inf fli_onde pr ptc fle_o fli_hst/fly_hst fli_ht`/fly_ht` pr sg fle_ot`/fli_ot`/fly_t` pr pl fle_ah fluge flugon pt flogen p ptc
Orm fle_(o)n inf fleot` pr sg3 Lmn fle_on inf flict` pr sg3 MED fle_n (fleiy`en/fliy`e/flie) inf fle_nde/fleonde pr ptc fle_th/fleith/fliy`t/vliy`t`/fli_t` pr sg3 flē/fleo/fli_y`/fli_h imp sg fle_/fleo/flei/fli_y`e/fli_e sbj sg
OS fliohan, OHG fliuhan, Goth t`liuhan
te_hen s2
to draw, tow, tug; draw near, approach
OE te_on inf te_o ty_hst tieht` (ti_ht`/te_ht`) te_ot` pr te_oh imp sg te_onde pr ptc te_ah tugon pt g`etogen p ptc
Lmn teon inf tid` pr sg3, AW teon inf teod` pr pl, Owl tiht` pr sg3 teo pr sbj sg, MED te_n (tegh) inf te_d`/tihd` pr sg3 tgen pr pl togen p ptc
OS tiohan, OHG ziohan, Goth tiuhan
(i)fehen s5
to rejoice
OE (g`e)fe_on inf fe_ogad` pr pl feah fae_gon pt (g`e)fegen/faegen p ptc
not found in MED
sehen s5
to see
OE se_on inf se_o siehst sieht` (si_t`) se_od` (si_ot`) pr seh (i/io) imp sg seah sa_won/sae_gon pt sewen/seg`en/segen p ptc
Orm sen (eo) seo sest (eo) set` (eo) pr seo sbj pr sg, Lmn sehste pr sg2, Owl iso(n) inf iso pr sg1 sichst pr sg2 sut` pr sg3 so sbj pr sg sewi imp sg, PC1 sed` (eo) pr sg3, MED se_n (seiy`en/sey`e) inf se_/se_ghe pr sg1 se_xt/sixt/sikst/sicst/sixst/sichst pr sg2 se_th/se_y`t/sihd`/sicd`/sikt`/siy`th pr sg3 se_n/se_th/zyey`/soey` pr pl
OS sehan, OHG sehan, Goth saihwan
flahen s6
to flay
OE fle_an inf *flo_h *flo_gon pt be-flagen p ptc
Lmn flan (flean) inf, StJ flea sbj pr sg, StM flo inf, MED flen (flein) inf flay`st pr sg2 fle_th/fleis pr sg3
ON fla_, MDu vla`en vla`eghen, ProtoG *flahana
slahen s6
to slay, strike
OE (g`e)sle_an (sla_n) inf slehst (sle_s) pr sg2 slieht`/slae_ht`/sle_t` (i/y) pr sg3 sleah imp sg sle_ande pr ptc slo_h slo_gon pt g`eslaeg`en/slagen p ptc
Orm slaen/slan inf slast pr sg2 slaet`/slat` pr sg3, Lmn slaen inf slaed` pr sg3, AW to sleanne inf dat slead` pr sg3, SO slo inf, Ch slee(n) inf, MED sle_n (slay`en/slay`e) inf sle_st/slecst/slas/scalst pr sg2 sle_th/slekth/slay`th/sslay`t/sleihd` pr sg3 sleen/sleiy`/sley`th/slehth/slexth/slage pr pl
ON sla_, OS/OHG/Goth slahan
t`wahen s6
to wash, cleanse
OE t`we_an inf t`we_a d`wehst/t`wyhst d`weht` pr t`weh/d`uah t`we_ad` imp t`we_a t`we_an sbj pr t`wo_h t`wo_gon/d`wo_gan pt g`et`wagen/t`waeg`en (e/o) p ptc
MED thwen inf t`weh imp sg d`weah pt sg3 it`wey`en p ptc
ON t`va_, OS thwahan, OHG dwahan, Goth t`wahan
fangen s6
to seize, grasp
OE fo_n inf fo_ fe_hst fe_(h)th/fo_hth fo_th pr fe_ng fe_nge fe_ngon pt fo_h fo_t` imp fo_ fo_n sbj pr fe_nge fe_ngen sbj pt g`efangen/fongen p ptc
Orm fon (on)fanngenn inf fot` pr sg3, Lmn (i)fon inf, AW underued` pr sg3, Owl ifot` pr sg3 fo on pr pl sbj, PH3 foangen inf, Ch fonge inf, MED fo_n/fongen (fangen) inf fo_th/fo_ht`/fe_t`/fongeth/fanges/fengeth pr sg3
ON fa__/fanga, OS fahan/fangan, OHG fa__han, Goth fahan
hangen s6
to hang
OE ho_n inf ho_t` pr pl ho_h imp sg he_ng he_ngon pt hangen p ptc
Lmn hon inf hangest pr sg2, AW hon/hongin inf honged` pr sg3 hongi sbj pr sg2, Owl hongi inf hot` pr sg3, SO honget` pr sg3, Ch honge inf, MED hongen (ho_n) inf hongeth pr sg3
ON hanga, OHG hahan, Goth hahan

regularisation of strong contracted verbs in ME

In the verbs listed above, there are ten examples of an <h> (or <g>) restored to the infinitive, eight cases of <h> (or <g>) restored to plural present tense forms and one case of an <h> (<gh>) restored to a 1st person present tense form:

OE wrigan inf t`i_gat` fe_ogad` pr pl; MED tegen wrihen wriy`en fleiy`en/fliy`e tegh seiy`en/sey`e slay`en inf se_ghe pr sg1 tgen sleiy`/sley`th/slehth/slexth/slage pr pl

At the same time, we can see examples of the <h> dropped in 2nd and 3rd person present tense forms in OE. We also see that it is common for the <h> to be retained in 2nd and 3rd person present tense forms in ME.

Significantly, there are ten examples of the present tense stem vowel reverting to <a> in class 6 contracted verbs - flay`st slan/slo scalst/slast/slas slay`t`/sslay`t/slat` slage, four of which are in combination with <h> (or <g>). Restoration of <ng> to the infinitive and present tense forms is common in the class 7 verbs fangen hangen.

All of this leads us to three competing schemes for present tense forms in contracted strong verbs:

a scheme for present tense forms based on standard OE forms

  • s1 eME wre_n inf, wre_ wri_hst wri_ht` wre_n pr, wra_h wrigen iwrigen
  • s2 eME te_n inf, te_ te_hst te_ht` te_n pr, tae_h tugen itogen
  • s5 eME se_n inf, se_ sehst seht` se_n pr, sah sae_gen isegen
  • s6 eME slae_n inf, slae_ slehst sleht` slae_n pr, slo_h slo_gen islagen
  • s7 eME fo_n inf, fo_ fehst feht` fo_n pr, fe_ng fe_ngen ifangen
  • w2 eME smae_gen inf, smae_ge smae_gest smae_get` smae_gen pr, smae_de smae_den ismae_d

a scheme for present tense forms based on patterns evident in PC2/Orm

The relevant Orm forms recorded in the MED are: sen sest set` slan/slaen slast slat`/slaet` fon fot`

  • s1 eME wre_n inf, wre_ wre_st wre_t` wre_n pr, wra_h wrigen iwrigen
  • s2 eME te_n inf, te_ te_st te_t` te_n pr, tae_h tugen itogen
  • s5 eME se_n inf, se_ se_st se_t` se_n pr, sah sae_gen isegen
  • s6 eME sla_n (slae_n) inf, sla_ sla_st sla_t` sla_n (slae_ slae_st slae_t` slae_n) pr, slo_h slo_gen islagen
  • s7 eME fo_n inf, fo_ fo_st fo_t` fo_n pr, fe_ng fe_ngen ifangen
  • w2 eME smae_gen inf, smae_ge smae_gest smae_get` smae_gen pr, smae_gede smae_geden ismae_ged

a scheme for present tense forms based on regularisation patterns evident in MED

Key MED forms which indicate restoration of <h> (or <g>) to the infinitive and 1st person and plural present tense forms are AW wrihen, Lmn wriy`en, MED tegen:

  • s1 eME wri_hen inf, wri_he wri_hst wri_ht` wri_hen pr, wra_h wrigen iwrigen
  • s2 eME te_hen inf, te_he te_hst te_ht` te_hen pr, tae_h tugen itogen
  • s5 eME sehen inf, sehe sehst seht` sehen pr, sah sae_gen isegen
  • s6 eME slahen inf, slahe slahst slaht` slahen pr, slo_h slo_gen islagen
  • s7 eME fangen inf, fange fangst fangt` fangen pr, fe_ng fe_ngen ifangen
  • w2 eME smae_gen inf, smae_ge smae_gest smae_get` smae_gen pr, smae_gede smae_geden ismae_ged

Suggested scheme for the conjugation of OE contracted verbs in eME:

Leveling of a verb paradigm is good but leveling which reinstates the <h> is better because it regularises the conjugation, i.e. - brings it into line with the standard pattern, and thus removes both an impediment to the learner and an obstacle for the more experienced user.

So I'm interested not only in Orm/PC2 and ModE forms, but also leveling tendencies and/or regularisation indicated by any pre 1300 MED sources.

Regularisation trumps Orm/PC2. But Orm/PC2 plus ModE (with leveling) trumps regularisation. Given that, my preferred scheme is the following:

  • s1 eME wri_hen (wre_n) inf, wri_he wri_hst wri_ht` wri_hen (wre_ wre_st wre_t` wre_n) pr, wra_h wrigen iwrigen
  • s2 eME te_hen (te_n) inf, te_he te_hst te_ht` te_hen (te_ te_st te_t` te_n) pr, tae_h tugen itogen
  • s5 eME se_n (sehen) inf, se_ se_st se_t` se_n (sehe sehst seht` sehen) pr, sah sae_gen isegen
  • s6 eME slae_n (slahen) inf, slae_ slae_st slae_t` slae_n (slahe slahst slaht` slahen) pr, slo_h slo_gen islagen
  • s7 eME fangen (fo_n) inf, fange fangst fangt` fangen (fo_ fo_st fo_t` fo_n) pr, fe_ng fe_ngen ifangen
  • w2 eME smae_gen inf, smae_ge smae_gest smae_get` smae_gen pr, smae_gede smae_geden ismae_ged

Four of the thirteen contracted verbs listed above have survived to ModE without <h> - fle_n se_n flae_n slae_n. These are the same four verbs for which I prefer the <h>-less forms in eME. That said, flae_n and slae_n are a special case. For a start, there are no recorded forms of flae_n in PC2 or Orm. Then there's the fact that Orm's forms slan slast slat` support the restored <a> vowel in slahen slahst slaht`. With that in mind, some users may prefer forms with <h> in all cases except fle_n and se_n. On a separate note, forms with <h> may prevent confusion, for example - te_ht` pr sg3 (draws) vs te_t` n pl (teeth).

The final choice regarding OE strong contracted verbs in eME, is left to the user.

For more detail and background notes, see alternative approaches to contracted verbs.

Class 7 strong verbs with short vowel in the infinitive

Should their preterite forms also have a short vowel in eME?

In regard to verb classes, I'm concerned with establishing broad patterns of development leading from Old English to Middle English and on to Modern English. (See the ModE test.) If the evidence for a change to a feature of an OE verb class is barely discernible in eME, or no stronger than the evidence for the retention of the feature in question, I have retained the OE feature in eME. However, in the examples above, there appears to be a case for changing a feature of an OE verb class, in eME. On looking at these examples, the question arises - was there a general move from long vowels to short vowels in the preterite forms of class 7 strong verbs which had short vowels in the infinitive? Orm has only one example to substantiate the adoption of a short vowel in the eME preterites - felle (the subjunctive mood), which had been fe_olle in OE. (Orm held, which at first glance supports the retention of long vowels, is perhaps not terribly helpful in this context, since any vowel preceding /ld/ is lengthened in Orm.) Chaucer however, has the form heeng (as well as heeld), which supports the case for retaining the long vowel in the preterite forms for all class 7 verbs in eME.

If I felt that it would be easier for a newcomer to pre-modern English to remember that all class 7 verbs with a short vowel in the infinitve also have a short vowel in the preterite forms, I would be tempted to normalise class 7 verbs accordingly, in eME. But I doubt that. I think it's just as easy to remember that all class 7 preterites have a long vowel, regardless of the length of the vowel in the infinitive. Certainly fell and held would be more familiar to modern English speakers than fe_ll and he_ld, but it's hardly a quantum leap. And I'm loath to pull fallen and he_lden aside to create exceptions to the normal class 7 pattern. Thus, eME uses the preterite forms: fe_ll, he_ld, he_ng and fe_ng.

Unstressed <e> in verbs

Elision of the unstressed <e> in the 3rd person singular present and both 3rd person preterite forms, is optional:

OE secgan lecgan licgan

Infinitive forms with diphthongs in /ai/,/ei/ (or contraction to /i:/) rather than /edZ`/,/idZ`/ are attested in PC2 - saein lien. Neither Orm or PC2 has a form similar to ley`y`enn or leien. However, Ch has leye as well as leggen. Without the last of the five basic principles, no additional form would qualify for eME, and leggen would be the only eME form (OE lecgan with eME spelling). Fortunately, the last of the five basic principles acknowledges the clear pattern here. We can be reasonably confident that if say`en and liy`en were spoken by East Midlanders around the year 1200, then ley`en was as well.

Thus, alongside the eME forms derived from OE - seggen leggen liggen, we have the additional eME forms say`en ley`en liy`en. eME tends to the latter forms, chiefly because they give us simpler verb paradigms.

ferien, herien (and birien)

We saw above that in ME, the infinitive and 1st person and plural present tense forms of class 2 weak verbs, are assimilated to the preterite and 2nd and 3rd person singular present tense forms. OE verbs with infinitives ending in ~ian, lose the i in ME. Their ME reflex has an infinitive ending in ~en, and all forms in the paradigm follow suit.

ferien and herien are the two exceptions to this rule. In their case, assimilation does take place, but in the reverse direction: the preterite and 2nd and 3rd person singular present tense forms are assimilated to the infinitive form. Since their infinitive ends in ~ien, all forms - preterite included, have the i in their stem.

In other words, where OE has herian inf herie herast herat` heriat` pr herode pt sg3 g`eherod p ptc heriende pr ptc, ME has herien inf herie heriest heriet` herien pr heriede pt sg3 iheried p ptc heriende pr ptc.

birien isn't strictly speaking the reflex of an OE class 2 weak verb in OE. It's OE infinitive is birg`an. Boswell-Toller records preterite forms birig`de and birg`de. Nevertheless, it appears to have been treated as a class 2 weak verb at times. In Lmn and other ME sources we find the preterites bibured and ybured, alongside Lmn biburiyede and AW iburiet. The important thing is that in eME, birien behaves the same way as ferien and herien.

The reason why these three verbs have i in their stems in ME, is that they have retained them in either Ch or ModE or both. Ch has herie inf heriest pr sg2 heryed pt sg3 iheryed p ptc buryen inf burieth pr sg3 yburyed p ptc, while ModE has bury buries buried and ferry ferries ferried.

  1. with two exceptions - ferien and herien (see last section above)