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Chapter 18: Preterite-Present Verbs

A few Old English verbs (unfortunately they are important and rather common) combine features of strong verbs and weak verbs.

These verbs take what would normally be a strong verb past tense (also called a preterite) and transfer it to the present tense. They then build a weak verb paradigm upon that strong verb present tense.

This sounds confusing, but makes sense when you see it applied to an actual verb. The basic idea is that preterite-present verbs are strong verbs that have their past tenses and present tenses swapped. This is why they are called "preterite-present."

Preterite-present verbs are often used as modals; they are combined with other verbs (usually those other verbs are in the infinitive form) to produce constructions like "remember to go" or "dare to fight."

The important verbs in this category are:

agan = to possess

cunnan = to know

dugan = to achieve

durran = to dare

magan = to be able to

motan = to be allowed to

munan = to remember

nugan = to suffice

sculan = must, to be obligated

unnan = to grant

þurfan = to need

witan = to know

You'll be seeing these words a lot, so you might as well memorize them now.

Conjugating Preterite-Present Verbs

To construct a conjugation for a Preterite Present Verb, do the following:

Subtract the an ending from the infinitive. This gives you the stem of the verb:

witan -an = wit

Use the Strong Verb Paradigm to determine what the Past Singular would be:

wit would be a Class I Strong Verb, so we know that the Preterite would be wat

wit ==> wat

This now becomes the stem for the paradigm, and what you would have expected to be the present tense (wit, which, remember, is the stem minus the an ending of the infinitive) moves to the past tense.

Preterite-Present Verbs Examples

Present Tense

1st Person wat
2nd Person wast
3rd Person wat
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons witon

Past Tense

1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons wiste or wisse
1st, 2nd and 3rd Persons wiste or wisse

Chapter 18 Vocabulary

Chapter 18 Translation Practice

Chapter 18 Reading Practice

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