Verb Exercise

            Using the verb paradigms within your Old English textbook we will begin to translate the action words within the puzzle. Weak verbs form their preterite and past participle by adding a dental suffix while strong verbs experience a vowel change in their stem. That is, the consonant in the suffix is -d or -t, sounds made by touching the tongue against the back of the teeth. A helpful hint in distinguishing between strong and weak verbs is to remember that verbs ending in -rian are class one weak and verbs ending in -ian are class two weak. Verbs ending in -an are usually either class one weak or strong verbs. The way to tell these two apart is by looking at the infinitive. If it contains i plus a consonant than it is most likely class one strong but if it has a u and a consonant it is likely class two strong. [9] Both weak and strong verbs distinguish between present and past and are also indicative of moods. It is also useful to remember that the past participle often uses the prefix ge. As you study the verbs try to become aware of their general patterns. This will be beneficial to you when you are looking up words in the glossary. If you cannot recognize when a verb is being inflected you will have difficulty, looking up the equivalent of the Modern English spoke, for example, when you should be trying to find the root word which is speak.[10] The following is a copy of the riddle we have been working on with the verbs emphasized in purple.

Riddle 8
Hrgl mīn swīgađ    onne ic hrūsan trede
  oe ā wīc būge      oe wado drēfe.
  Hwilum mec āhebbađ        ofer hlea byht
  hyrste mīne      ond ēos hēa lyft,
(5) ond mec onne wīde wolcna strengu
  ofer folc byređ.     Frtwe mīne
  swōgađ hlūde    ond swinsiađ,
torhte singađ,      onne ic getenge ne bēom
  flōde ond foldan,      fērende gst.

            After examining the first line of the riddle and comparing it our textbooks we can tell that swīgađ is a class two weak verb and is in its present third person singular form. Swīgađ is akin to the words fall silent, become quite or still in Modern English. The verb trede is also on this line; by studying it we find that it is a variant form of the word tredan, which is a class five strong verb. It is also clear that this is a present first person singular verb. This is very useful information when translating, as one would not want to translate trede as trod, when it is supposed to be in the present tense, tread.

            Moving on to line two, the verb būge becomes recognizable. This is a class two strong verb. We can tell from its change from the original būgan, that it is in its present subjunctive form and that it is second person singular. It expresses, therefore, an unlikely condition, doubt or has a negative connotation. [11] The word can be translated dwell or inhabit. In the second line we also find the verb drēfe which means to stir up or disturb, conveying a sense of agitation of something that is normally calm. We can tell from the suffix at the end of the word that this verb is class one weak and is in its present first person singular tense.

            The next line contains the verb āhebbađ, which we can see is class seven strong when comparing it with the verb paradigms. From the change in the ending it is clear that this verb is in its present third person plural form. Translated the word means raise or lift.

            While lines four and five contain no verbs, the verb byređ can be found in line six. This word means carry, bear or bring. The stem of this verb changes from beran to byređ indicating that it is a class four strong verb. This word is in present third person singular form.

            The seventh line possesses the verb swōgađ which can be rendered sing, sound, rustle, rattle or make a noise. By referring to our textbooks we see that it is a class seven strong verb in its present third person plural form. This information is clear from the -a suffix at the end of the word. The following verb on this line means to sound melodiously or sing. It changes from its infinitive swinsian to swinsiađ, making it a class two weak verb in its present third person plural form. We can tell that this riddle is in the present tense, as none of the verbs have been marked as past. Whatever the answer to the riddle is, it is speaking as if the action is taking place in this moment.

            In the eighth line two verbs are present. The first is singađ, which transcribes into sing or resound. It is a class three strong verb and its suffix indicates that it is present third person plural. Seeing as this is a strong verb, you might be wondering why the stem of the word does not change. This rule, however, only applies when strong verbs are forming their past participle or preterite. Moving onto the next verb we find the word bēom, which is a form of the anomalous verb bēon, which means to be. By anomalous I mean that this word does not follow any of the standard verb patterns and is an exception to typical verb laws. The section of our textbook which covers anomalous verbs describes how bēon functions, and thus we discover that this verb is in its present first person singular form.

            We finally come to the last line of the riddle and also the last verb, fērende. This verb translates to set out, proceed, go or to be mobile. From checking our books it is clear that the verb is class one weak and is a present participle in its nominative singular masculine state. As explained earlier in the terminology section, a participle is a form of verb which can be used as an adjective, as is the case in this particular riddle. As we already know from our exploration of the nouns, the word beside fērende is gst, which means spirit. Fērende is, therefore, describing gst like an adjective would. This clause would translate into something along the lines of mobile spirit, describing the mobility of the noun. We still have the descendent of the word fērende in Modern English, as in to fare and to travel. We can see the parallel between the Old English ending ende and the Modern English ending ing in words like faring and travelling.


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[9] Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson. A Guide to Old English Sixth Edition, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001) 53.

[10] Mitchell and Robinson, 35-37.

[11] Please refer to earlier definitions on the Grammar Page if any of these terms are unclear.