Verbs: Present Tense

In Premodern English verbs fall into the same main groups that English-speakers become familiar with at childhood: we learn some verbs that add d to show past tense and some verbs that change their vowel to do so. The first group is called "Weak Verbs" and the second "Strong Verbs". In some weak verbs, the d in the past tense shows up as t instead, as in the word kept. In others, there are also other changes in the word, as in told and thought. But whatever changes accompany the word, if d or t is added in the past tense, you know it is a weak verb. If it doesn't show up, but a vowel changes to show past tense instead, then you know it is a strong verb.

Both weak and strong verbs have the same general endings for the present tense. They may differ slightly from those listed below, but they correspond to the same pattern. As long as you know these endings, you know how the present tense works.

Present Tense:

First Person:       e
Second Person:       est
Third Person:      
Participle:      ende

             ic ride "I ride"
            ■u ridest "thou ridest"
            he/heo/hit rid "he/she/it rides"
            we/ge/hie rid "we/ye/they ride"
             ridende "riding"

When a verb ends in o or a the vowel of the verb ending is absorbed into the vowel of the verb itself.

ic do (instead of doe) "I do"
ic fleo (instead of fleoe) "I flee"
ic ga (not gae) "I go"
ic ■wea (not fleoe) "I wash"

Est and

Most minor differences one may find are in the forms with est and . Sometimes the verb itself is shortened, sometimes the ending is shortened, sometimes the ending has a different vowel, sometimes it omits a vowel, etc. Although none of these differences is of much importance, it is helpful to have some awareness of them.

Group 1: Shorter Verbs, Unshorter Endings

Most forms in this group have a shorter form of the verb itself (e.g fremm- is frem- in fremest and freme­, neri- is ner- in nerest and nere­, etc.) and some are accompanied by other sound-changes (e.g swebb- is swef- in swefest and swefe­), but the verb-endings est and are usually kept in tact. Since -cg is a special spelling for gg, indicating the soft pronunciation "-dge", verbs with this sound are also listed under "Verbs with twin consonants".

Verbs with twin consonants
fremm- "perform"fremest            freme­
trymm- "strengthen"trymest              tryme­
tell- "tell"telest            tele­
strecc- "stretch"strecest            strece­
swebb- "put to sleep"swefest            swefe­
hebb- "lift"hefest            hefe­
lecg- "lay"legest            lege­
bycge- "buy"bygest            byge­
licg- "lie down"ligest            lige­
■icg- "receive"■igest            ■ige­
These few have forms with the vowel a:
libb- "live"liofast            liofa­
hŠbb- "have"hafast or hŠfst            hafa­ or hŠf­
secg- "say"sagast or sŠgst            sŠg­
hycg- "think"hogast or hygst            hoga­ or hyc­

Verbs with rw
gierw- "prepare"gierest            giere­
sierw- "contrive"sierest            siere­

Verbs with ri or rig
neri- or nerig- "save"nerest            nere­
snyri- or snyrig- "hasten"snyrest            snyre­

Verbs with i- or -ig
These always have an a in the endings
lufi or lufig- "dwell"lufast            lufa­
eardi- or eardig- "dwell"eardast            earda­

Most verbs with consonant-groups ending in m, n, l or r
hyngr- "hunger"hungrest            hungre­
diegl-- "conceal"dieglest            diegle­

Group 2: Shorter Endings, Unshorter Verbs

Forms in this group often (but not always) shorten the endings est and to st and ­, but don't shorten the verb itself. Notice some vowels (eo, a, o, u) are altered into others (ei, Š, e, y).

Verbs with long vowels
dem- "deem"demst            dem­
lŠf- "leave"lŠfst              lŠf­
dryg- "dry"drygst            dryg­
hier- "hear"hierst              hier­
Verbs ending in o or a
do- "do"dest            de­
ga- "go"gŠst            gŠ­
All others have an h:
fo- "seize"fehst              feh­
ho- "hang"hehst            heh­
seo- "see"siehst              sieh­
fleo- "see"fliehst              flieh­
slea- "slay"sliehst              slieh­
■wea- "wash"■wiehst              ■wieh­
Most verbs ending in two different consonants
seng- "singe"sengst              seng­

Verbs ending in d turn their d to t and turn the ending -­ to t as well. Words ending in s also turn the ending -­ to t.

rid- "ride" ritst (for ridest) ritt or rit (for ride­)
stand- "stand"stentst (for standest)stent (for stande­)
ceos- "choose"ciest (for ceosest)ciest (for ceose­)
ris- "rise"rist (for risest)rist (for rise­)

Although second person ciest and rist are spelt the same as third person ciest and rist, they are easy to distinguish when another word is present:

■u ciest "thou choosest"
he ciest "he chooses"

■u rist "thou risest"
he rist "he rises"

Weak Verbs: Past Tense

The past tense-endings for weak verbs are:

Past Tense:

First Person:       ede
Second Person:       edest
Third Person:      ede
Plural:       edon
Participle:      ed

            ic hyngrede "I hungered"
            ■u hyngredest "thou hungeredest"
            he/heo/hit hyngrede "he/she/it hungered"
            we/ge/hie hyngredon "we/ye/they hungered"
             hyngred "hungered"

Group 1 Weak Verbs

Group 1 weak verbs show most of the same peculiarities with the ending -ed- of the past tense as they do with the endings -est and -e­ of the present tense (e.g. fremm- is frem- in fremed-, neri- is ner- in nered). A few verbs (those with -cg and the common verb hŠbb- "have") however usually shorten the past-tense ending to d. Also, notice that verbs like lufi- "love" have od instead of ed.

fremm- "perform"              fremed- "performed"
lecg- "lay"              legd- "laid"
hŠbb- "have"              hŠfd- "had"
gierw- "prepare"              giered- "prepared"
neri- "save"              nered-- "saved"
lufi- "love"              lufod- "loved"
hyngr- "hunger"              hyngred- "hungered"

Group 2 Weak Verbs

As you saw earlier, verbs in Group 2 are the ones that often (but not always) shorten the endings est and e­ to st and ­. Group 2 weak verbs predictably shorten ed to d as well:

dem- "deem"              demd- "deemed"
seng- "singe"              sengd- "singed"

Weak Verbs ending in d.

Weak verbs ending in d shorten ed to d. In words ending in nd, only -nd is used in the past tense as well. In Middle English, this -nd is turned to -nt, that we still use today in such words.

lŠd- "lead"              lŠdd- "led"
hredd- "save"              hred-d- "saved"
send- "send"              send (later sent) - "sent"

Voiceless Consonants

Weak verbs ending in voiceless consonants (c, p, s, t) shorten ed and turn it to t. In words ending in -st only -st shows up.

drenc- "drench"              drenct- "drenched"
cep "keep"              cept- "kept"
cyss- "kiss"              cyst- "kissed
met- "meet"              met-t- "met"
sett- "set"              set-t- "set"
fŠst- "fasten"              fŠst- "fastened"