Table of Contents

Chapter 17: Strong Verbs

Strong Verbs are verbs in which the vowel in the stem is changed to indicate tenses.

Ring ==> Rang ==> Rung

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

Although they are not in themselves particularly difficult to understand, strong verbs can cause problems for beginning Old English student translations because the form of a strong verb that you find in a sentence is very often not the form of the verb listed in the dictionary. For example, if you look up the word sungon in the dictionary, you will not find it (just as you will not find “sung” in a Modern English dictionary). To find the meaning of sungon you must convert the verb to its infinitive form, singan, which you can then easily find in the dictionary. In order to translate strong verbs, then, we need to be able to recognize the patterns of vowel changes and reconstruct the infinitive from whichever forms we find in sentences.

Conjugating Strong Verbs

To conjugate a Strong Verb you need to know four pieces of information:
Note: for probably 80 percent 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 takes no guff.
A fool he holds him who falls for such stuff.

-- by Patrick W. Conner

Mnemonic Tip: Memorize the poem.

Taking the Modern English verbs from the poem in order gives us examples, in order, 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

Unfortunately, different grammar books use different conventions in numbering the verb classes. Some use Roman numerals as we do, but others use Arabic numerals. When in doubt, look at the table of abbreviations that usually appears either at the beginning of the book or the beginning of the book's glossary.

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," like "fleon," 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. Use the basic weak verb endings, but plug the appropriate strong verb stems into the paradigm.

Strong Verb Complete Conjugation Sample: bitan and singan

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

We'll use bitan = "to bite" and singan="to sing" as examples.

First find the stem of the verb by removing an from the infinitive. Removing an from bitan and singan gives us bit and sing as the two stems.

Then plug these stems into the paradigm below.

Present Tense

Singular Ending Class I Class III
1st Person e bite singe
2nd Person est bitest singest
3rd Person biteð singeð
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons bitað singað

For the past tense we use the 3rd person singular past. However, for the 2nd person past tense you must use the vowel of the all plurals past (in this case i) with an e as the ending.

Past Tense

Singular Ending Class I Class III
1st Person bat sang
2nd Person e bate sunge
3rd Person bat sang
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons on biton sungon

Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood uses the stem for the present tense and the vowel of the 3rd person plural past of the past tense, adding e in the singular and en in the plural. Thus, the subjunctive past and 2nd sg. past share the same vowel.

Present Tense

Singular Ending Class I Class III
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons e bite singe
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons en biten singen

Past Tense

Singular Ending Singular Singular
1st, 2nd, 3rd Person e bite sunge
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons en biten sungen

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 for the plural.

2nd Person stem only bit sing
2nd Person bitað singað

Inflected infinitive: to bitanne, to singanne

Present participle: bitende, singende

Past participle: biten, sungen


Chapter 17 Vocabulary Words

Chapter 17 Translation Practice

Chapter 17 Reading Practice


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