Germanic weak verb

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As weak verbs (abbreviation SWV u. Ä.) Is one of three verbal classes in the Germanic languages referred. They are characterized by the formation of the Präteritalformen and the participle of the past tense ( past participle ) using a dental suffix . The other two verb classes are the strong verbs and the preteritopresentia .

In the description of contemporary language, weak verbs are usually referred to as regular verbs (with the exception of bring and think and the backward verbs, where vowel and sometimes consonantic changes occur in addition to the dental suffix), as their forms can be more easily derived from the nominal form than with the other verbal classes. From a linguistic-historical point of view, the designation as regular or irregular makes less sense, since the strong verbs once had regular forms.

The weak verbs are far more numerous than the strong ones in today's Germanic languages . In contrast to the latter, they are also still productive; H. suitable for neoplasms.


The formation of the root forms of weak verbs can be illustrated by the following examples from some modern Germanic languages:

infinitive preterite Past participle
German do did made
love loved dear-loved
English punch 'hit' punch-ed punch-ed
say 'say' sai-d sai-d
make 'do' ma-de ma-de
Norwegian snakke 'talk' snakk-et snakk-et
box 'throw' kast-et kast-et
'reach' nå-dde nå-dd

Examples from the old Germanic languages:

infinitive preterite Past participle
Gothic nasjan 'save' nasi-da nasi-þs
salbōn salbō-da salbō-þs
Old High German search 'search' suoh-ta gi-suoch-it
salbōn 'anoint' salbō-ta gi-salbō-t
Old Icelandic kalla 'call' kalla-þa kalla-þr
telia 'tell' tal-þa tal- (e) þr

Weak verbs in New High German

If the regular formation of the stem forms a weak verb by appending the suffix th (suffix) or -t and the prefix overall (prefix) to the unchanged word stem , such as in question - in question te - ge question t . The prefix overall applicable for verbs that already inseparable prefix have, as well as foreign origin with verbs that on -ieren end. The root of the word (in this case -quest- ) always remains the same. (For comparison: In English the ending -ed fulfills the same function.) Since this ending contains a dental sound in all Germanic languages , it is also called a dental suffix . The conjugation of verbs using these dental suffixes is called weak conjugation ; Verbs that are inflected according to this pattern are called correspondingly weak verbs .

However, there are also irregular weak verbs, which form their stem forms with a dental suffix, but also show other historical phenomena, such as de nk en - da ch te - geda ch t , with umlaut in the present stem and consonant change in the past tense caused by primary contact. The frequently repeated equation “weak verbs = regular verbs” is therefore misleading for all Germanic languages.


The weak verb category is a Germanic innovation . With a few exceptions, the verbs are not inherited from Indo-European , but are newly created derivatives of existing words (secondary formations).

Denominal derivatives

Weak verbs can be derived from nouns or adjectives. The Gothic verb karōn 'worry', for example, is a derivation of the noun kara 'worry', the verb hailjan 'heal' is a derivation from the adjective hails ' hail , healthy', taiknjan 'make a sign, show' from taikns 'sign'. A special type are the incoatives , which denote the occurrence of a state (New High German to say 'day to be').

Deverbative derivatives

Strong verbs can also be used as a derivation basis. The neoplasms then usually have the meaning of a causative , i.e. That is, they designate the cause of the verbal act (such as soak, 'make drink' to drink ), or that of an iterative / intensive ( carve 'intensely, cut repeatedly' to cut ).

Weak verbal classes

Since Gothic, as the oldest documented language of Germanic, has four separate weak verbal classes, an original number of four classes is generally used for the entire Germanic language. The classification is based on formal criteria, i. H. on the suffix used in the derivation process .

jan verbs (1st grade)

These have a suffix * -ja- , which is still clearly visible in Gothic: Got. nasjan 'save', sōkjan 'search', mikiljan * 'praise'. The jan verbs are by far the largest of the weak (or even all) verbal classes. Its members are mostly derived from strong verbs, nouns or adjectives and have a causative meaning.

ōn verbs (2nd class)

These formations are characterized by a suffix * -ōja- . In Gothic only the long -ō- is preserved: salbōn 'anoint', mitōn 'think', fraujinōn 'rule'. They are usually denominal .

an-verbs (3rd grade)

The suffix of the third weak verbal class cannot be clearly reconstructed. It appears in Gothic as -ai- or -a- . The class has relatively few members in Gothic, but experienced strong growth in Old High German . Examples from the Gothic are þulan 'tolerate' or liban 'live'.

nan verbs (4th grade)

The fourth weak verb class consists mostly of incoatives , i.e. H. Verbs that denote the transition into a state. The derivative suffix appears in Gothic as -na- or -nō-: fullnan 'to become full', and-bundnan * 'to loosen', us-bruknan 'to break off'. In West Germanic , this group has disappeared as a separate inflection class.

The dental past tense

The origin of the past tense formed by means of a dental suffix is ​​one of the great controversies in Germanic language history. There are various hypotheses, including a. the emergence of an old formation with the verb * dō- "to do", but no generally accepted explanation has yet been found.


  • Alfred Bammesberger: The structure of the Germanic verbal system. Winter, Heidelberg 1986, ISBN 3-533-03858-0 .
  • Wilhelm Schmidt: History of the German language. 10th edition. Hirzel, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 3-7776-1432-7 .

Individual evidence

  1. b: Middle High German: Abbreviations
  2. Seebold
  3. Eugen Hill: The Germanic verb for 'to do' and the outcomes of the Germanic weak simple past . In: Linguistics . No. 29, 2004, pp. 257-303.