Origins of Some Groups of Modern Non-Standard Verbs

§ 484. As shown above, the proportion of strong and weak verbs in the language has considerably altered in the course of history. The OE strong verbs, reduced by over two thirds, constitute a small group of verbs in present-day English: they belong to non-standard verbs, which include nowadays many more verbs coming from various sources.

Sixty-seven non-standard verbs, which can be traced to the classes of strong verbs are listed in Table 8. The changes of their root-vowels, since OE reflect the regular phonetic modifications of stressed vowels, or else were brought about by analogy, under the influence of verbs with resembling forms. Their modern forms are so varied that the OE division into classes is inapplicable. The verbs are grouped under OE classes merely to indicate their origins.

Table 8

Modern Non-Standard Verbs Originating from Old English Strong Verbs

OE Classes
Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
abide strike choose begin sling spin wring run
bite slide freeze drink slink sting bind fight
drive smile cleave shrink spring stink find
ride stride fly sing swim swing grind  
rise shine write shoot sink ding win wind  

(continued)

OE Classes
Class 4 Class 5 Class 6 Class 7
bear bid see draw fall
break eat sit forsake hold
steal give speak shake hang
tear get tread slay blow
come lie weave stand grow
      swear know
      take throw

§ 485. Several groups of modern non-standard verbs have developed from the weak verbs of Class I. Nowadays they employ various form- building devices: the dental suffix, vowel and consonant interchanges.

A number of verbs displayed certain irregularities as early as in OE (see § 205), others acquired their peculiarities in ME.

(1) Verbs like OE sellan and tǣcan (Cl. I e, f) had an interchange in the root caused by palatal mutation in the Present tense stem and its absence in the other stems (Past tense salde/sealde, tāhte). In ME and NE they preserved the root-vowel interchange, though some of the vowels were altered due to regular quantitative and qualitative vowel changes: ME sellen - solde (OE salde > Early ME ['sa:lde] > Late ME ['sɔ:ldə] > NE sold [sould]), techen - taughte; NE sell - sold, teach - taught.

(2) Another group of weak verbs became irregular in Early ME as a result of quantitative vowel changes. In verbs like OE cēpan, fēdan, metan (§ 205, Table 14, type Ic) the long vowel in the root was shortened before two consonants in the Past and Participle II; OE cēpte > ME kepte ['keptə]. The long vowel in the Present tense stem was preserved and was altered during the Great Vowel Shift, hence the interchange [i:~e], NE keep - kept, feed - fed.

This group of verbs attracted several verbs from other classes - NE sleep, weep, read, which formerly belonged to Class 7 of strong verbs. Some verbs of this group - NE mean, feel - have a voiceless [t] in the Past tense and Participle II, though this devoicing cannot be ac­counted for by phonetic conditions: the preceding sound is a sonorant.

(3) Verbs like OE settan, with the root ending in a dental consonant, added the dental suffix without the intervening vowel [e] - OE sette. When the inflections were reduced and dropped, the three stems of the verbs - Present, Past and Participle II fell together: NE set - set - set; put - put - put; cast - cast - cast, etc. The final -t of the root had absorbed the dental suffix. (Wherever possible the dis­tinctions were preserved or even introduced: thus OE sendan, restan, which had the same forms - sende, reste - for the Past and Present - appear in ME as senden - sente, resten - rested(e).)

§ 486. It must be noted that although the number of non-standard verbs in Mod E is not large - about 200 items - they constitute an important feature of the language. Most of them belong to the basic layer of the vocabulary, have a high frequency of occurrence and are widely used in word-formation and phraseological units. Their significance for the grammatical system lies in the fact that many of these verbs have preserved the distinction between three principal forms, which makes modern grammarians recognise three stems in all English verbs despite the formal identity of the Past and Participle II.