Germanic strong verb

In the Germanic languages, a strong verb is a verb that marks its past tense by means of changes to the stem vowel (ablaut). The majority of the remaining verbs form the past tense by means of a dental suffix (e.g. -ed in English), and are known as weak verbs.

In modern English, strong verbs include sing (present I sing, past I sang, past participle I have sung) and drive (present I drive, past I drove, past participle I have driven), as opposed to weak verbs such as open (present I open, past I opened, past participle I have opened). Not all verbs with a change in the stem vowel are strong verbs, however; they may also be irregular weak verbs such as bring, brought, brought or keep, kept, kept. The key distinction is that most strong verbs have their origin in the sound system of Indo-European, whereas weak verbs use a dental ending (in English usually -ed or -t) that was introduced later, during the development of the Germanic languages.

The "strong" vs. "weak" terminology was coined by the German philologist Jacob Grimm, and the terms "strong verb" and "weak verb" are direct translations of the original German terms "starkes Verb" and "schwaches Verb".

Origin and development

Strong verbs have their origin in the ancestral Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language. In PIE, vowel alternations called ablaut were frequent and occurred in many types of word, not only in verbs. The vowel that appeared in any given syllable is called its "grade". In many words, the basic vowel was *e (e-grade), but, depending on what syllable of a word the stress fell on in PIE, this could change to *o (o-grade), or disappear altogether (zero grade). Both e and o could also be lengthened to ē and ō (lengthened grade). Thus ablaut turned short e into the following sounds:

zero short long
Ø e ē
o ō

As the Germanic languages developed from PIE, they dramatically altered the Indo-European verbal system. PIE verbs had no tense, but could occur in three distinct "aspects": the present, aorist and perfect aspect. The present implied some attention to such details and was thus used for ongoing actions ("is eating", imperfective aspect). The aorist originally denoted events without any attention to the specifics or ongoing nature of the event ("ate", perfective aspect). The perfect was a stative verb, and referred not to the event itself, but to the state that resulted from the event ("has eaten" or "is/has been eaten"). In Germanic, the aorist eventually disappeared and merged with the present, while the perfect took on a past tense meaning and became a general past tense. The strong Germanic present thus descends from the PIE present, while the past descends from the PIE perfect. The inflexions of PIE verbs also changed considerably.

In the course of these changes, the different root-vowels caused by PIE ablaut became markers of tense. Thus in Germanic, *bʰer- became *beraną in the infinitive (e-grade); *bar in the past singular (o-grade); *bērun in the past plural (ē-grade); and *buranaz in the past participle (zero-grade).

In Proto-Germanic, the system of strong verbs was largely regular. As sound changes took place in the development of Germanic from PIE, the vowels of strong verbs became more varied, but usually in predictable ways, so in most cases all of the principal parts of a strong verb of a given class could be reliably predicted from the infinitive. Thus we can reconstruct Common Germanic as having seven coherent classes of strong verbs. This system continued largely intact in the first attested Germanic languages, notably Gothic, Old English, Old High German and Old Norse.

Gradual disappearance

Germanic strong verbs, mostly deriving directly from PIE, are slowly being supplanted by or transformed into weak verbs.

As well as developing the strong verb system, Germanic also went on to develop two other classes of verbs: the weak verbs and a third, much smaller, class known as the preterite-present verbs, which are continued in the English auxiliary verbs, e.g. can/could, shall/should, may/might, must. Weak verbs originally derived from other types of word in PIE and originally occurred only in the present aspect. They did not have a perfect aspect, meaning that they came to lack a past tense in Germanic once the perfect had become the past. Not having a past tense at all, they obviously also had no vowel alternations between present and past. To compensate for this, a new type of past tense was eventually created for these verbs by adding a -d- or -t- suffix to the stem. This is why only strong verbs have vowel alternations: their past tense forms descend from the original PIE perfect aspect, while the past tense forms of weak verbs were created later.

The development of weak verbs in Germanic meant that the strong verb system ceased to be productive. Practically all new verbs were weak, and few new strong verbs were created. Over time, strong verbs tended to become weak in some languages, so that the total number of strong verbs in the languages was constantly decreasing.

The coherence of the strong verb system is still present in modern German, Dutch, Icelandic and Faroese. For example, in German and Dutch, strong verbs are consistently marked with a past participle in -en, while weak verbs have a past participle in -t in German and -t or -d in Dutch. In English, however, the original regular strong conjugations have largely disintegrated, with the result that in modern English grammar, a distinction between strong and weak verbs is less useful than a distinction between "regular" and "irregular" verbs. Thus the verb to help, which used to be conjugated help-holp-holpen, is now help-helped-helped. The reverse phenomenon, whereby a weak verb becomes strong by analogy, is rare (one example in American English, considered informal by some authorities, is sneak, snuck, snuck).

Some verbs, which might be termed "semi-strong", have formed a weak preterite but retained the strong participle, or rarely vice versa. This type of verb is most common in Dutch:

Examples in English are swell, swelled, swollen and (only in American and Canadian dialects) dive, dove, dived.


As an example of the conjugation of a strong verb, we may take the Old English class 2 verb bēodan, "to command" (cf. English "bid").

This has the following forms:

Infinitive Supine Present Indicative Present Subjunctive Past Indicative Past Subjunctive Imperative mood Past participle
bēodan tō bēodenne

ic bēode
þū bīetst
hē bīett
wē bēodað
gē bēodað
hīe bēodað

ic bēode
þū bēode
hē bēode
wē bēoden
gē bēoden
hīe bēoden

ic bēad
þū bude
hē bēad
wē budon
gē budon
hīe budon

ic bude
þū bude
hē bude
wē buden
gē buden
hīe buden


bēodað!, bēode gē!


While the inflections are more or less regular, the vowel changes in the stem are not predictable without an understanding of the Indo-European ablaut system, and students have to learn four or five "principal parts" by heart – the number depends on whether one considers the third-person singular present tense as a principle part. If we choose to use all five, then for this verb they are bēodan, bīett, bēad, budon, boden. The list of five principal parts includes:

  1. The infinitive: bēodan. The same vowel is used through most of the present tense.
  2. The present tense 3rd singular: bīett. The same vowel is used in the 2nd singular.
  3. The preterite 1st singular (from the PIE perfect): bēad, which is identical to the 3rd singular.
  4. The preterite plural: budon. The same vowel is used in the 2nd singular.
  5. The past participle (from the PIE verbal noun): boden. This vowel is used only in the participle.

Strictly speaking, in this verb ablaut causes only a threefold distinction: parts 1 and 2 are from the e-grade, part 3 from the o-grade, and parts 4 and 5 from the zero grade. The other two distinctions are caused by different kinds of regressive metaphony: part 2, when it is distinct at all, is always derived from part 1 by Umlaut. In some verbs, part 5 is a discrete ablaut grade, but in this class 2 verb it is derived from part 4 by an a-mutation.

Strong verb classes

Germanic strong verbs are commonly divided into 7 classes, based on the type of vowel alternation. This is in turn based mostly on the type of consonants that follow the vowel. The Anglo-Saxon scholar Henry Sweet gave names to the seven classes:

I. The "drive" conjugation

II. The "choose" conjugation

III. The "bind" conjugation

IV. The "bear" conjugation

V. The "give" conjugation

VI. The "shake" conjugation

VII. The "fall" conjugation

However, they are normally referred to by numbers alone.

In Proto-Germanic, the common ancestor of the Germanic languages, the strong verbs were still mostly regular. The classes continued largely intact in Old English and the other older historical Germanic languages: Gothic, Old High German and Old Norse. However, idiosyncrasies of the phonological changes led to a growing number of subgroups. Also, once the ablaut system ceased to be productive, there was a decline in the speakers' awareness of the regularity of the system. That led to anomalous forms and the six big classes lost their cohesion. This process has advanced furthest in English, but in some other modern Germanic languages (such as German), the seven classes are still fairly well preserved and recognisable.

The reverse process in which anomalies are eliminated and subgroups reunited by the force of analogy is called "levelling", and it can be seen at various points in the history of the verb classes.

In the later Middle Ages, German, Dutch and English eliminated a great part of the old distinction between the vowels of the singular and plural preterite forms. The new uniform preterite could be based on the vowel of the old preterite singular, on the old plural, or sometimes on the participle. In English, the distinction remains in the verb "to be": I was, we were. In Dutch, it remains in the verbs of classes 4 & 5 but only in vowel length: ik brak (I broke - short a), wij braken (we broke - long ā). In German and Dutch it also remains in the present tense of the preterite presents. In Limburgish there is a little more left. E.g. the preterite of to help is (weer) hólpe for the plural but either (ich) halp or (ich) hólp for the singular.

In the process of development of English, numerous sound changes and analogical developments have fragmented the classes to the extent that most of them no longer have any coherence: only classes 1, 3 and 4 still have significant subclasses that follow uniform patterns.

Before looking at the seven classes individually, the general developments that affected all of them will be noted. The following phonological changes that occurred between Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Germanic are relevant for the discussion of the ablaut system.

For the purpose of explanation, the different verb forms can be grouped by the vowel they receive, and given a "principal part" number:

  1. All forms of the present tense, including the indicative mood, subjunctive mood, imperative mood, the infinitive and present participle.
  2. The 1st person and 3rd person singular forms of the past tense in the indicative mood.
  3. All other past tense forms, which includes the past dual and plural in the indicative mood, and all forms of the past subjunctive mood.
  4. The past participle, alone.

Classes 1 to 6

The first 5 classes appear to continue the following PIE ablaut grades:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
1, 2, 3 e o zero zero
4 e o ē zero
5 e o ē e

Except for the apparent ē-grade in part 3 of classes 4 and 5, these are in fact straightforward survivals of the PIE situation.

The standard pattern of PIE is represented in Germanic by classes 1, 2 and 3, with the present (part 1) in the e-grade, past indicative singular (part 2) in the o-grade, and remaining past (part 3) and past participle (part 4) in the zero grade. The differences between classes 1, 2, and 3 arise from semivowels coming after the root vowel, as shown in the table below.

As can be seen, the e-grade in part 1 and o-grade in part 2 are shared by all of these five classes. The difference between them is in parts 3 and 4:

Class 6 appears in Germanic with the vowels a and ō. PIE sources of the a vowel included *h2e, *o, and a laryngeal between consonants;[1] possibly in some cases the a may be an example of the a-grade of ablaut, though the existence of such a grade is controversial. It is not clear exactly how the ō is to be derived from an earlier ablaut alternant in PIE, but believable sources include contraction of the reduplicant syllable in PIE *h2-initial verbs, or o-grades of verbs with interconsonantal laryngeal. In any event, within Germanic the resulting a ~ ō behaved as just another type of vowel alternation.

In Proto-Germanic, this resulted in the following vowel patterns:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning Usual PIE origin
1 *rīdaną *raid *ridun *ridanaz to ride Vowel + y/i.
2a *freusaną *fraus *fruzun *fruzanaz to freeze Vowel + w/u.
2b *lūkaną *lauk *lukun *lukanaz to close, to shut Unknown.
3a *bindaną *band *bundun *bundanaz to bind Vowel + m or n + another consonant.
3b *werþaną *wa *wurdun *wurdanaz to become Vowel + l or r + another consonant.
4 *beraną *bar *bērun *buranaz to bear Vowel + l, r, m or n + no other consonant.
5 *lesaną *las *lēzun *lezanaz to gather Vowel + any consonant other than y, w, l, r, m or n.
6 *alaną *ōl *ōlun *alanaz to grow, to mature Vowel + a single consonant, if the present stem had a or o in late PIE.

Class 7

The forms of class 7 were very different and did not neatly reflect the standard ablaut grades found in the first 5 classes. Instead of (or in addition to) vowel alternations, this class displayed reduplication of the first consonants of the stem in the past tense.

It is generally believed that reduplication was once a feature of all Proto-Indo-European perfect-aspect forms. It was then lost in most verbs by Proto-Germanic times due to haplology. However, verbs with vowels that did not fit in the existing pattern of alternation retained their reduplication. Class 7 is thus not really one class, but can be split into several subclasses based on the original structure of the root, much like the first 5 classes. The first three subclasses are parallel with classes 1 to 3 but with e replaced with a: 7a is parallel to class 1, class 7b to class 2, and class 7c to class 3.

The following is a general picture of the Proto-Germanic situation as reconstructed by Jay Jasanoff.[3] Earlier reconstructions of the 7th class were generally based mostly on Gothic evidence.

Subclass Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning Root pattern
7a *haitaną *hegait *hegitun *haitanaz to call a + i
7b *hlaupaną
to leap
to push, to bump
a + u
7c *haldaną
to hold
to catch
a + l, r, m or n + another consonant (if no other consonant follows, the verb belongs to class 6)
7d *lētaną
to allow, to let
to sow
7e *blōtaną
to sacrifice
to grow

The situation sketched above did not survive intact into any of the Germanic languages. It was changed significantly, but rather differently in Gothic on one hand, and in the Northwest Germanic languages on the other.


Reduplication was retained in Gothic, with the vowel ai inserted. However, as in all other strong verbs, consonant alternations were almost entirely eliminated in favour of the voiceless alternants. The present and past singular stem was extended to the plural, leaving the reduplication as the only change in the stem between the two tenses. The vowel alternation was retained in a few class 7d verbs, but eliminated otherwise by generalising the present tense stem throughout the paradigm. The verb lētan "to allow" retained the past form lailōt with ablaut, while slēpan "to sleep" had the past tense form saislēp without it. The form saizlēp, with Verner-law alternation, is occasionally found as well, but it was apparently a relic formation with no other examples of alternation elsewhere.

Northwest Germanic

In the Northwest Germanic languages, which include all modern surviving Germanic languages, class 7 was drastically remodelled. Reduplication was almost eliminated, except for a few relics, and new ablaut patterns were introduced. Many attempts were made to explain this development. Jasanoff posits the following series of events within the history of Northwest Germanic:[3]

  1. Root-initial consonant clusters were transferred to the beginning of the reduplicating syllable, to preserve the same word onset across the paradigm. The clusters were simplified and reduced medially. (Compare Latin scindō ~ scicidī and spondeō ~ spopondī, which show the same development)
    *hlaupaną: *hehlaup, *hehlupun > *hlelaup, *hlelupun
    *stautaną: *stestaut, *stestutun > *stezaut, *stezutun
    *blōtaną: *beblōt, *beblutun > *blelōt, *blelutun
    *grōaną: *gegrō, *gegrōun > *grerō, *grerōun
    *swōganą: *sezwōg, *sezwōgun > *swewōg, *sweugun (English sough)
  2. Root compression:
    1. Based on the pattern of verbs such as singular *lelōt, *rerōd ~ plural *leltun, *rerdun, as well as verbs like singular *swewōg ~ plural *sweugun, the root vowel or diphthong was deleted in the past plural stem. The Germanic spirant law caused devoicing in certain consonants where applicable.
      *haitaną: *hegait, *hegitun > *hegait, *hehtun
      *bautaną: *bebaut, *bebutun > *bebaut, *beftun ("to beat")
      *hlaupaną: *hlelaup, *hlelupun > *hlelaup, *hlelpun
      *stautaną: *stezaut, *stezutun > *stezaut, *stestun
      *blōtaną: *blelōt, *blelutun > *blelōt, *bleltun
    2. In class 7c verbs, this resulted in consonant clusters that were not permissible (e.g. **hegldun); these clusters were simplified by dropping the root-initial consonant(s).
      *haldaną: *hegald, *heguldun > *hegald, *heldun
      *fanhaną: *febanh, *febungun > *febanh, *fengun
  3. The present plural stem of class 7c verbs no longer appeared to be reduplicated because of the above change, and was extended to the singular. This created what appeared to be a new form of ablaut, with a in the present and e in the past plural.
    *haldaną: *hegald, *heldun > *held, *heldun
    *fanhaną: *febanh, *fengun > *feng, *fengun
  4. This new form of ablaut was then extended to other classes, by alternating *a with *e in classes 7a and 7b, and *ā with *ē in class 7d (after Proto-Germanic *ē had become *ā in Northwest Germanic). In class 7a, this resulted in the vowel *ei, which soon merged with *ē (from Germanic *ē2).
    *haitaną: *hegait, *hehtun > *heit, *heitun > *hēt, *hētun
    *hlaupaną: *hlelaup, *hlelpun > *hleup, *hleupun
    *lātaną: *lelōt, *leltun > *lēt, *lētun
  5. It is at this point that North and West Germanic begin to diverge.
    • In West Germanic, class 7e took *eu as the past stem vowel, by analogy with existing verbs with initial *(s)w- such as *wōpijaną, *weup(un) and *swōganą, *swewg(un).
      *blōtaną: *blelōt(un) > *bleut(un)
      *hrōpaną: *hrerōp(un) > *hreup(un) ("to cry, roop")
      *grōaną: *grerō(un) > *greu, *gre(u)wun
    • In North Germanic, class 7e instead took *ē as the past stem vowel, probably by analogy with class 7c which also had a long stem vowel.
      *blōtaną: *blelōt(un) > *blēt(un)

Stages 4 and 5 were not quite complete by the time of the earliest written records. While most class 7 verbs had replaced reduplication with ablaut entirely, several vestigial remains of reduplication are found throughout the North and West Germanic languages. Various other changes occurred later in the individual languages. *e in class 7c was replaced by *ē (> ia) in Old High German and Old Dutch, but by *eu (> ēo) in Old English.

The following "Late Proto-Northwest-Germanic" can be reconstructed as descendants of the earlier Proto-Germanic forms given above. Note that ē became ā in Northwest Germanic.

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
7a *haitaną *hēt *hētun *haitanaz
7b *hlaupaną *hleup *hleupun *hlaupanaz
7c *haldaną *held *heldun *haldanaz
7d *rādaną *rēd *rēdun *rādanaz
7e *blōtaną *bleut (West), *blēt (North) *bleutun (West), *blētun (North) *blōtanaz


The proto-germanic language had about 500 strong roots. Although some roots are speculative, the language can be reconstructed with the following strong roots. Proto Germanic had aorist-present roots, a remnant of the aorist aspect found in Proto-indo-european. These verbs used the former aorist as a present tense form. The aorist had a reduced vowel, like parts 3 and 4 of the perfect. So these verbs have an anomalous vowel in the present tense, they decline regularly otherwise.

Aorist present roots: *diganą, *stikaną, *wiganą;

J present roots: bidjaną, frigjaną, ligjaną, sitjaną, þigjaną;
J present roots: *fraþjaną, *habjaną/ *hafjaną, *hlahjaną, *kwabjaną, *sabjaną/ *safjaną, *skapjaną, *skaþjaną, *stapjaną, *swarjaną, *wahsijaną;
7a with 10 roots: *aihaną, *aikaną, *fraisaną, *haitaną, *laikaną, *maitaną, *skaidaną/ *skaiþaną, *swaipaną, *taisaną, *þlaihaną;
7b with 11 roots: *audaną, *aukaną, *ausaną, *bautaną, *brautaną, *dauganą, *haufaną, *hlaupaną, *naupaną, *skraudaną, *stautaną;
7c with 24 roots: *arjaną, *bannaną, *blandaną, *dawjaną, *faldaną/ *falþaną, *falganą, *fallaną, *faltaną, *fanhaną, *haldaną, *ganganą, *hanhaną, *hawwaną, *saltaną, *skaldaną, *spaldaną, *spannaną, *staldaną, *stanganą, *waldaną, *walkaną, *wallaną, *waltaną, *waskaną;
7d with 23 roots: *bēganą, *blēaną, *blēsaną, *brēaną, *brēdaną, *dēaną, *drēdaną, *gēaną, *grētaną, *hwētaną, *knēaną, *krēaną, *lējaną, *lētaną, *mēaną, *nēaną, *rēdaną, *sēaną, *slēpaną, *stēaną, *tēkaną, *þrēaną, *wēaną;
7e with 22 roots: *blōaną, *blōtaną, *bnōwwaną, *bōwwaną, *brōaną, *brōkaną, *dōnaną, *flōaną, *flōkaną, *glōaną, *grōaną, *hlōaną, *hrōpaną, *hwōpaną, *hwōsaną, *knōdaną, *rōaną, *snōwaną, *spōaną, *swōganą, *þrōwaną, *wōpijaną;


Being the oldest Germanic language with any significant literature, it is not surprising that Gothic preserves the strong verbs best. However, some changes still occurred:

Also, long ī was spelled <ei> in Gothic.

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 dreiban draif dribun dribans to drive
2a liugan laug lugun lugans to lie (tell untruth)
2b lūkan lauk lukun lukans to close, to shut
3a bindan band bundun bundans to bind
3b hilpan
to help
to become
4 qiman
to come
to bear
5 lisan
to gather
to see
6 alan ōl ōlun alans to grow, to mature
7a haitan haihait haihaitun haitans to call
7b hlaupan haihlaup haihlaupun hlaupans to leap
7c haldan
to hold
to catch
7d lētan
to allow
to sow
7e ƕōpjan ƕaiƕōp ƕaiƕōp ƕōpans to boast

Note: The letter transliterated as q was probably a voiceless labiovelar stop, /kʷ/ ([kʷʰ]), comparable to the Latin qu.

West Germanic

Changes that occurred in the West Germanic languages:


The following changes occurred from West Germanic to Old English:

The following are the paradigms for Old English:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rīdan rād ridon ġeriden to ride
2a frēosan frēas fruron ġefroren to freeze
2b lūcan lēac lucon ġelocen to lock
3a bindan band bundon ġebunden to bind
3b weorþan wea wurdon ġeworden to become
4 beran bær bǣron ġeboren to bear
5 lesan læs lǣron ġeleren to gather
6 alan ōl ōlon ġealen to nourish, to grow
7a hātan hēt hēton ġehāten to call, to be called
7b hlēapan hlēop hlēopon ġehlēapen to leap
7c healdan hēold hēoldon ġehealden to hold
7d rǣdan rēd rēdon ġerǣden to advise, to interpret
7e blōtan blēot blēoton ġeblōten to sacrifice

With j-presents (and other anomalies):

The verb "to stand" follows class 6, but has an anomalous loss of its -n- in the past:

Some relics of class 7 reduplication remain in Old English, mostly in texts from Anglia (infinitive and past singular shown):

Changes that occurred from Old English to Modern English:

In Modern English, generally speaking, the verb classes have disintegrated and are not easily recognisable.
For the principal parts of all English strong verbs see: Wiktionary appendix: Irregular English verbs.

The following modern English verbs resemble the original paradigm:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
1 ride
2 freeze froze froze frozen
3 begin
4 break broke broke broken
5 give gave gave given
6 take took took taken
7b beat beat beat beaten
7c fall fell fell fallen
7d throw threw threw thrown
7e grow grew grew grown

Class 1

Class 1 is still recognisable, as in most other Germanic languages. The modern past is taken from either the old past singular (ride rode ridden) or the old past plural (bite bit bitten). In the case of shine shone shone, the past participle has also assimilated to the past singular.

Class 1 verbs in modern English (excluding derived verbs such as abide and override) are bide, bite, chide, drive, hide, ride, rise, rive, shine, shrive, slide, smite, stride, strike, strive, thrive, write.

However, although these verbs have uniformity in their infinitive vowel, they no longer form a coherent class in further inflected forms – for example, bite (bit, bitten), ride (rode, ridden), shine (shone, shone), and strike (struck, struck/stricken, with struck and stricken used in different meanings) all show different patterns from one another – but bide, drive, ride, rise, smite, stride, strive, write do form a (more or less) coherent subclass. Most of these verbs are descended from Old English class 1 verbs. However:

Class 2

Class 2 has become a small group and has become rather irregular. It includes choose, cleave, fly, freeze. It does not form a coherent class, as each verb has different irregularities from each other verb. In American English, the past tense of the verb dive is usually dove, as though it is in Class 2, but the past participle is still dived.

Class 3

Class 3 in English is still fairly large and regular. The past is formed either from the old past singular or from the past plural. Many of the verbs have two past forms, one of which may be dialectal or archaic (begin, drink, ring, shrink, sing, slink, spring, stink, swing, swim and wring). However, there are some anomalies. The class 3 verbs in modern English are:

English fling does not go back to Old English, and may be a loan-word from Norse. It seems to have adopted class 3 forms by analogy with cling etc. Similarly ring, string.

Class 4

The verb come is anomalous in all the West Germanic languages because it originally began with qu-, and the subsequent loss of the w sound coloured the vowel of the present stem.

Also anomalous:

In Modern English, regular class 4 verbs have all kept the –n in the participle, though eliminating the medial e after r, this class exhibits near homogeneity of vowel pattern:

but several verbs have archaic preterites that preserve the "a" of Middle English (bare, brake, gat, sware, tare, and spake or Scots spak). The preterite of Middle English comen was either cam or com (or with -en in the plural).

Class 4 verbs in English (not including derivatives such as beget) are bear, break, get, shear, speak, steal, swear, tear, tread, wake, weave; and without the -n and of irregular vowel progression: come. Get, speak, tread and weave were originally of class 5, whereas swear was originally class 6. Wake was also originally class 6, and in fact retains the "a" of the present tense – the preterite woke (Middle English wook) only conforms to the modern class 4 preterite, not to the historic class 4 preterite in "a".

Class 5

In Modern English this group has lost all group cohesion.

Class 5 verbs in Modern English: bid, eat, give, lie (= lie down), see, sit. The verb quethe is only used poetically now. Get, speak, tread, weave are now class 4.

The preterite of the verb forbid can be forbad or forbade, and the preterite ate is pronounced "et" in some British dialects.

Although the verb to be is suppletive and highly irregular, its past follows the pattern of a class 5 strong verb, with grammatischer Wechsel (the alternation of "s" and "r" in "was" versus "were"), and has uniquely retained the singular/plural distinction of both ablaut grade and consonant in the modern languages. Old English: wæs/wǣron, English: was/were. For full paradigms and historical explanations see Indo-European copula.

Class 6

Class 6 has disintegrated as well. The verbs shake, take and forsake come closest to the original vowel sequence. The consonant anomaly in stand is still visible, and is extended to the participle.

Class 6 verbs in modern English: draw, forsake, lade, shake, shape, shave, slay, stand, take. The verb heave is in this class when used in a nautical context. Like most other classes in Modern English, this class has lost cohesion and now forms principal parts according to many different patterns. Two preterites (drew and slew) are now spelled with "ew", which is similar in sound to the "oo" of the others that still use a strong form. Swear is now class 4. The adjective graven was originally a past participle of the now obsolete verb grave. Note that lade, shape, shave, wax are now weak outside of their optionally strong past participle forms (laden, shapen, shaven, and waxen respectively). Fare has archaic past tense fore and rare past participle faren, but is normally weak now.

Class 7

In Modern English this class has lost its homogeneity:

The following modern English verbs descend from class 7 verbs, and still retain strong-verb endings: beat, blow, fall, hew, grow, hang, hold, know, throw. (Hew can be a preterite or present, although the usual preterite is hewed.) The verb let can be considered Class 7, though the past participle now lacks the ending -en. The verbs mow and sow retain the strong-verb participles mown and sown but the preterites are now mowed and sowed. (The verb sew was always weak, even though one can say sewn for the past participle.) Archaic English still retains the reduplicated form hight ("called", originally a past tense, usually with a passive meaning, but later also used as a passive participle). The verb crow was also in class 7, as in the King James Version "while he yet spake, the cock crew".


A few English verbs have become "strong" but do not belong to any class:


Old Dutch is attested only fragmentarily, so it is not easy to give forms for all classes. Hence, Middle Dutch is shown here in that role instead. The situation of Old Dutch generally resembled that of Old Saxon and Old High German in any case.

Changes from West Germanic to Old Dutch:

From Old Dutch to Middle Dutch:

From Middle Dutch to Modern Dutch:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning Regular roots Irregular roots
1 rijden reed reden gereden to drive, to ride 53 3 ('ei' present)
2a vriezen vroor vroren gevroren to freeze 16 0
2b sluiten sloot sloten gesloten to close 25 2 ('u' & 'ij' present)
3a binden bond bonden gebonden to bind, to tie 27 0
3b bergen borg borgen geborgen to protect, to store away 18 7 (worden & class 3+7)
4 stelen stal stalen gestolen to steal 6 4 (komen & 'o' past)
5 geven gaf gaven gegeven to give 8 4 (zien & J-presents)
6 graven groef groeven gegraven to dig 3 9 (Incl. Semi-strong past & J-presents)
7b lopen liep liepen gelopen to walk, to run 11 3 (Short 'i' past)
7c vallen viel vielen gevallen to fall
7d slapen sliep sliepen geslapen to sleep
7e roepen riep riepen geroepen to call
Semi-strong and other - - - - - 15
Original class 1 strong verbs: bezwijken, bijten, blijken, blijven, drijten (rare), drijven, glijden, grijpen, kijken, knijpen, krijgen, krijten, lijden, lijken, mijden, mijgen/ miegen (rare), nijgen, nijpen, rijden, rijgen, rijten, rijven, rijzen, schijnen, schijten, schrijden, schrijven, slijpen, slijten, smijten, snijden, splijten, stijgen, strijden, strijken, (aan)tijgen, verdwijnen, wijken, wijten, wrijten, wrijven, zijgen, zwijgen.
Class 1 verbs that are historically weak: hijsen, kijven, krijsen, kwijten, prijzen, spijten, stijven, vijzen, vrijen, wijzen
Three verbs with 'ei' have also joined this class by analogy, as 'ij' and 'ei' are pronounced the same: breien, uitscheiden, zeiken.
Class 2a verbs: bedriegen, bieden, genieten, gieten, kiezen, klieven, liegen, rieken, schieten, verdrieten, verliezen, vlieden, vliegen, vlieten, vriezen, zieden (rare);
Class 2b with historical eu-present: buigen, druipen, kluiven, kruipen, ruiken, schuiven, sluipen, sluiken (rare), sluiten, spuiten, stuiven;
Class 2b with historical ū-present: duiken, (ont)luiken, kruien (rare), schuilen, snuiten, snuiven, spruiten, zuigen, zuipen;
Class 2b historically weak: fluiten, fuiven (informal), pluizen, wuiven.
The verb spugen can also be declined with a class 2 past tense and participle.
The verb tijgen has a class 2 past tense and participle when it means 'to pull'.
Class 3a roots are: beginnen, binden, blinken, (af)dingen, dringen, drinken, dwingen, glimmen, klimmen, klinken, krimpen, ontginnen, schrikken, slinken, spinnen, springen, stinken, verslinden, verzwinden, vinden, winden, winnen, wringen, zingen, zinken, zinnen;
Original 3b roots: bergen, delven, gelden, kerven, melken, schelden, smelten, vechten, vlechten, zwelgen, zwellen, zwelten;
Two verbs of another class have joined with 3b: treffen (class 5), zwemmen (class 3a)
Class 3b verbs that are historically weak: schenden, schenken, trekken, zenden; The verbs became strong by reinterpreting the Rückumlaut that was present in some Old and Middle Dutch weak verbs as a strong vowel alternation.
The verb 'worden' (to become) also belonged to class 3b, but the past and present vowels appear to have been swapped: worden werd geworden.
Some 3b verbs have a past in -ie- like class 7: helpen hielp geholpen. This can be considered a new "class 3+7", and includes (be)derven, erven (colloquially), helpen, sterven, werpen, werven, zwerven;
Anomalous: komen the present tense vowel was influenced by a preceding w, which was subsequently lost. The etymological w is retained in the past, unlike English or German: komen kwam kwamen gekomen.
The verbs scheren ("to cut"), wegen ("to weigh") and zweren ("to hurt, to sore") have become anomalous. They have replaced the past tense vowel with that of the participle. Thus they decline with a long 'o' in the past tense, like class 2.
Anomalous: zien ("to see") has experienced a loss of the original /h/, with a resulting assimilation of the stem vowel to the vowel of the inflection, and shows Grammatischer Wechsel between this original /h/ and a /g/ in the past: zien zag zagen gezien. The preterite of wezen/zijn ("to be") still shows both (quantitative) ablaut and grammatischer Wechsel between the singular and plural: was/waren.
Old j-presents are preserved: bidden, liggen, zitten. These have a short 'i' in part 1 because of the gemination of the consonants, they retain the long 'e' vowel in part 4.
Class 6 roots that decline regularly: dragen, graven, varen.
Anomalous: slaan (to hit) Like the verb 'zien' has experienced a loss of the original /h/, with a resulting assimilation of the stem vowel to the vowel of the inflection, and shows Grammatischer Wechsel between this original /h/ and a /g/ in the past: slaan - sloeg - sloegen - geslagen
The verb klagen can be used as a strong verb in colloquial Flemish, but is considered substandard in the modern language.
This class has the following "semi-strong" verbs with a strong past tense but a weak participle: jagen, klagen (colloquially), vragen, waaien.
The suppleted past tense of the verb 'staan' (to stand) also belonged to this class, it now declines with a short 'o': staan - stond - stonden - gestaan
The three inherited j-presents historically decline with 'e'-'oe'-'oe'-'a(a)'. In the modern language they decline irregularly, two have taken 'ie' in the past tense, all three have taken separate vowels in the participle: scheppen schiep geschapen ("to create"), heffen hief geheven ("to lift, raise"), zweren zwoer gezworen ("to swear an oath").
Class 7a has disappeared. The verb heten ("to call") has become weak, but retains its strong past participle geheten. One relic still remains, but is now declined like a class 1 verb: uitscheiden - scheed uit - uitgescheden ("to secrete")
Class 7b: lopen, stoten*
Class 7c: houwen, vallen, wassen*
One verb displays L-vocalization: houden hield gehouden ("to hold")
As in German, two anomalous class 7c verbs have formed new present stems, and shortened the vowel in the past tense: vangen - ving - gevangen ("to catch") and hangen - hing - gehangen ("to hang"). The suppleted past tense of the verb 'gaan' ("to go") also belongs to this class and is declined: gaan - ging - gegaan
Class 7d: blazen, slapen, laten, raden*
Class 7e: roepen
Many strong verbs have obtained a weak past tense but retain the strong participle malen, moel, gemalen changed into malen, maalde, gemalen.
(The verbs with * still use their past tense rarely or archaiacly)
Class 3: barsten (the older vowels e and o changed to a in standard Dutch, but are still found in some dialects)
Class 4: wreken (has retained the long 'o' in the participle)
Class 5: weven
Class 6: lachen*, laden, malen, varen ("to fare" The sense "to travel by boat" has a class 6 past voer)
Class 7: bakken, bannen, braden, brouwen, heten, raden*, scheiden (uitscheiden has the past scheed uit), spannen, stoten*, vouwen (the past had -ield-, like houden), wassen*, zouten (the past had -ielt-, like houden)
A special case is hoeven, which is a weak verb that can decline a strong participle in some circumstances, even though the verb was never strong to begin with.


The distinction between strong and weak verbs has been lost in Afrikaans, as the original past tense has fallen out of use almost entirely, being replaced with the old perfect tense using the past participle. For example, the ancestral Dutch hij zong has become hy het gesing ("he sang/has sung/had sung). One relic of a strong verbs remains, however: wees was gewees ("to be").


From West Germanic to Old High German:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rītan reit ritun giritan to ride
2a friosan frōs frurun gifroran to freeze
2b sūfan souf sufun gisoffan to close
3a bintan bant buntun buntan to bind
3b werdan ward wurtun giwortan to become
4 beran bar bārun giboran to bear
5 lesan las lārun gileran to gather, to read
6 tragan truog truogun gitragan to carry
7a heizan hiaz hiazun giheizan to call, to be called
7b (h)loufan (h)liof (h)liofun gi(h)loufan to run
7c haltan hialt hialtun gihaltan to hold
7d rātan riat riatun girātan to advise
7e wuofan wiof wiofun giwuofan to weep

Changes from Old High German to Modern German:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 reiten
to ride
to lend
2a bieten bot boten geboten to offer, to bid
2b saugen sog sogen gesogen to suck
3a binden
to bind
to flow
to shine, to glow
3b helfen
to help
to thresh
4 treffen traf trafen getroffen to hit
5 geben gab gaben gegeben to give
6 graben grub gruben gegraben to dig
7a heißen hieß hießen geheißen to be called
7b laufen lief liefen gelaufen to walk/run
7c halten hielt hielten gehalten to hold
7d schlafen schlief schliefen geschlafen to sleep
7e stoßen stieß stießen gestoßen to push, to knock

The classes are still well preserved in modern German.

Two anomalous class 2 verbs in modern German are lügen ("to tell a lie") and trügen ("to deceive"). This no doubt arises from a desire to disambiguate Middle High German liegen from ligen (class 5), which would have sounded the same after vowel lengthening. Trügen would have followed in its wake, because the two words form a common rhyming collocation.
Class 4 verbs in modern German: brechen, gebären, nehmen, schrecken, sprechen, stechen, stehlen, treffen; anomalous: kommen.
The preterite of sein ("to be") is Old High German: was/wârum, but levelled in modern German: war/waren.
In Modern German the uo is monophthongised to a u.
Class 6 verbs in modern German: fahren, graben, laden, schaffen, schlagen, tragen, waschen; also backen, fragen, though these are usually weak nowadays; with j-present: heben, schwören. The past tense and participle of stehen (stand, older stund, gestanden), which derive from a lost verb *standen, also belong to this class.
Other class 7 verbs in modern German are: blasen, braten, fallen, halten, heißen, lassen, laufen, raten, rufen, schlafen, stoßen; anomalous: fangen, hängen.
The past tense and participle of German gehen, ging gegangen, derive from a lost verb *gangen which belongs to this class. (The verb still exists in other languages, such as the verb gang used in Scotland and northern England.)

Low German

The following changes occurred from West Germanic to Old Saxon:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rīdan rēd ridun giridan to ride
2a friosan frōs frurun gifroran to freeze
2b bilūkan bilōk bilukun bilokan to close
3a bindan band bundun gibundan to bind
3b werðan wa wurdun giwordan to become
4 beran bar bārun giboran to bear
5 lesan las lāsun gilesan to gather, to read
6 dragan drōg drōgun gidragan to carry
7a hētan hēt hētun gihētan to call, to be called
7b hlōpan hliop hliopun gihlōpan to run
7c haldan hēld hēldun gihaldan to hold
7d rādan rēd rēdun girādan to advise
7e hrōpan hriop hriopun gihrōpan to call

From Old Saxon to Middle Low German:

As in Middle Dutch Lengthening of vowels in open syllables: e > ē, o > ō, a > ā, ö > ȫ, ü > ǖ. i Is often lengthened to ē.

From Middle Low German to Modern Low German:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rieden reed reden reden to ride
2a beden bood boden baden to offer, to bid
2b schuven schoov schoven schaven to shove
3a binnen bunn bunnen bunnen to bind
3b starven
to die
to swell
4 stehlen
to steal
5 geven
to give
to tread
6 graven groov groven graven to dig
7a heten heet heten heten to be called
7b lopen leep lepen lopen to walk/run
7c holen
to hold
to fall
7d slapen sleep slepen slapen to sleep
7e ropen reep repen ropen to call

Most classes are quite well preserved, although the cohesion of some has been lost substantially or even entirely.

The verb kamen still shows the -u- infinitive which became -a-: kamen, keem, kamen. The verb to be, wesen, levelled its old preterite forms was/weren into weer/weren, although was still appears in some dialects.
The verb treden is anomalous as it has kept the -a- infinitive forms in the preterite and with the variation in vowel length, thus it has tradd, traddst, tradd in the singular with [ɑ] but traden in the plural with [aː]. However, normal class 5 preterite forms treed, treedst, treed, treden may also be found.
The verb fohren is now merging with föhren and takes weak past endings. The verb dregen has an anomalous infinitive in -ē- but has kept its class 6 past forms droog, drogen (preterite) and dragen (past participle). The verb laden has gone weak but has laden beside laadt in the past participle. The past tense of stahn (stunn), which derives from Middle Low German standen, also belongs to this class.
Finally the verb waschen shows preterite wusch and past participle wuschen, just like fallen, fangen and hangen, they seem to make a new strong verb class.

North Germanic

Changes from Proto-Germanic to Old Norse:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 ríða reið riðu riðinn to ride
2a frsa
to freeze
to drip
2b lúka lauk luku lokinn to finish
3a binda batt bundu bundinn to bind
3b verða va urðu orðinn to become
4 bera
to bear
to weave
5 lesa las lásu lesinn to gather, to read
6 ala
to grow, to produce
to take
7a heita hét hétu heitinn to be called
7b hlaupa hlp hlpu hlaupinn to leap
7c halda helt heldu haldinn to hold
7d gráta grét grétu grátinn to cry
7e blóta blét blétu blótinn to sacrifice


Class Part 1 Part 2 & 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 bide bed bidet to bite
2 skyde skøde skudet to shoot
3a binde bandt bundet to bind
3b hjælpe hjalp hjulpet to help
4 bære bar båret to bear
5 ligge lå ligget to lay
6 drage drog draget to draw
7a hedde hed heddet to be called
7b løbe løb løbet to run
7c falde faldt faldet to fall
7d græde græd grædet to cry
class 1 strong roots with 'i'supine: blive, drive, fise, glide, gnide, gribe, hive, knibe, lide, pibe, ride, rive, skride, skrige, skrive, slibe, snige, stige, svie, svige, vige, vride
class 1 strong roots with 'e'supine: bide, fnise, grine, hvine, kige, skide, slide, smide, splide, stride, trine
class 2 strong roots with 'u'supine: bryde, byde, fortryde, *fryse (frøs - frosset/frusset), lyde, skyde
class 2 strong roots with 'y'supine: betyde, flyde, fnyse, gyde, gyse, nyde, nyse, skryde, snyde
class 2 strong roots with 'ø'supine: flyve, fyge, klyve, krybe, kyse, *lyve (løj -løjet), ryge, smyge, syde, stryge
class 3a strong roots with 'u' supine: binde, drikke, finde, rinde, slippe, spinde, springe, svinde, svinge, synge, synke, tvinde, tvinge, vinde, stikke, fornemme
class 3a strong roots with 'i' supine: *bede (bad - bedt), briste, gide, give, klinge, sidde, stinke, tie
class 3b strong roots with 'u' supine: brække, hjælpe, sprække, trække, træffe,
class 3b strong roots with 'æ' supine: hænge, skælve, gælde, knække, kvæde, smælde, smække, være,


class 4 strong roots: bære, skære, stjæle,
class 5 strong roots: ligge, se, æde,
anomalous: These two verbs were influenced by a preceding 'w':
sove - sov - sovet
komme - kom - kommet
class 6 regular strong roots: drage, fare, jage, lade, tage,
le - lo - let/leet
slå - slog - slået (slaget)
stå - stod - stået
sværge - svor - svoret
class 7a: hedde - hed - heddet
class 7b: løbe - løbe - løbet
class 7c:
dø - døde - død
falde - faldt - faldet
få - fik - fået
gå - gik - gået
holde - holdt - holdt
hugge - hug - hugget
class 7d: græde - græd - grædt

Norwegian Nynorsk

Changes from Old Norse to modern Norwegian Nynorsk:

Class Part 1 Part 2 & 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 bite
to bite
to ride
2a fryse fraus frosen to freeze
2b suge saug sogen to suck
3a binde
to bind
to burn
3b verte vart vorten to become
4 bere bar boren to bear
5 lese las lesen to read
6 ale
to grow, to produce
to take
7a heite het heitt to be called
7c halde heldt halden to hold
7d gråte gret gråten to cry


Class Part 1 Part 2 & 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 bite bet biten to bite
2a flyga flög flugen to fly
2b suga sög sugen to suck
3a binda band bunden to bind
3b svälta svalt svulten to starve
4 bära bar buren to wear, carry
5 kväda kvad kväden to speak
6 fara for faren to travel
7a heta het heten to be called
7b löpa lopp lupen to run
7c hålla höll hållen to hold
7d gråta grät gråten to cry


  1. Examples: *aka- < *h2ego- ("to drive"), *mala- < *molh2o- ("to grind"), *habja- ("to lift") < *kh2pio- ("to seize"). See Ringe 2006, p. 188.
  2. Ringe, Don. 2006. A Linguistic History of English. From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanlic. pp. 226, 243.
  3. 1 2 Jasanoff, Jay (2008). "From Reduplication to Ablaut: The Class VII Strong Verbs of Northwest Germanic" (PDF). Retrieved 26 November 2012.


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