Table of Contents

Chapter 9: Irregular Verbs

At the very minimum a grammatical sentence requires a subject and a verb. We can use the personal pronouns from Chapter 7 for subjects, and now we will add verbs to them to make our first sentences in Old English.

The first verbs we learn are irregular verbs (verbs which are conjugated differently than most verbs in the language). There are two reasons to begin with the irregular verbs: first, they're very common (verbs like "is" "do" and "go" are all irregular in Anglo-Saxon). Second, you can just memorize them as a group without having to worry (yet) about working through conjugation patterns.

The four Old English irregular verbs are:

  1. beon = to be
  2. willan = to wish
  3. don = to do
  4. gan = to go

Beon ("to be")

Beon has two forms in the present tense (eom and beo) which correspond (very roughly) with Modern English "is" and "be" (eom is the antecedent of Modern English "am" and beo is the antecedent of Modern English "be").

Although Old English does not have a future tense, a good rule of thumb is that the eom forms are generally present tense while beon forms may indicate future tense (you'll need to use the context of the word in these cases).

Indicative Mood: Beon

  Present Present Past
First Person Singular (I) eom beo wæs
Second Person Singular (you) eart bist wære
Third Person Singular (he, she, it) is bið wæs
All Plurals sind or sint or sindon beoð wæron

Subjunctive Mood:Beon

Present Present Past
All Singulars sie beo wære
All Plurals sien beon wæren

Imperative Mood:Beon

Second Person Singular beo or wes
Second Person Plural beoð or wesað

Note: The Imperative occurs only in the present tense and in the second person.

Inflected Infinitive: to beonne


beonde, wesende

Willan ("to wish")

Translating tip: One of the most common mistakes students make in beginning Old English is to translate forms of willan as "will" rather than "wish". This mistake is natural given the lack of a future tense in Old English, but you need to avoid it by remembering that willan, while it looks like "will," is a false friend and should not be relied upon.

Memorize: Willan means 'to wish' not 'will.'

Indicative Mood: Willan

  Present Past
First Person Singular (I) wille or wile wolde
Second Person Singular (you) wilt woldest
Third Person Singular (he, she, it) wille or wile wolde
All Plurals willað woldon

Subjunctive Mood: Willan

  Present Past
All Singulars wille or wile wolde
All Plurals willen wolden

Imperative Mood: Willan

Second Person Plural nyllað or nellað (only used in this negative form)

Note: The imperative form of willan is only used with the negative prefix n replacing w (this is a contraced form of ne willan). In Old English one can command a group of people not to wish for something, but not to wish for something.

Participle: willende

Don ("to do")

Indicative Mood: Don

  Present Past
First Person Singular (I) do dyde
Second Person Singular (you) dest dydest
Third Person Singular (he, she, it) deþ dyde
All Plurals doð dydon

Subjunctive Mood: Don

  Present Past
All Singulars do dyde
All Plurals don dyden

Imperative Mood: Don

Second Person Singular do
Second Person Plural doð

Inflected Infinitive: to donne

Present Participle:donde

Past Participle:don

Gan ("to go")

Indicative Mood: Gan

Present Past
First Person Singular (I) ga eode
Second Person Singular (you) gæst eodest
Third Person Singular (he, she, it) gæð eode
All Plurals gað eodon

Subjunctive Mood: Gan

  Present Past
All Singulars ga eode
All Plurals gan eoden

Imperative Mood: Gan

Second Person Singular ga
Second Person Plural gað

Inflected Infinitive: to ganne

Present Participle: gande

Past Participle: gan

Some patterns to recognize: Although the verbs given above are irregular, it is not too early to start noticing some patterns. For example, the second person singular has the ending –st, the third person singular has the ending , and the plurals have the ending –. Subjunctives are characterized by having –e in the ending (en and e).

Chapter 9 Vocabulary Words

Translation Practice

Reading Practice

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