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Preteritopresentia are a special group of verbs in the Germanic languages . They arose from the past tense (or Indo-European perfect ) forms of some strong verbs , but have broken away from these and now form their own lexical units . A new weak past tense was created by adding a dental suffix (in German -t-). They partially overlap with the modal verbs and also share many criteria with them.

Introductory example

A not only morphologically but also semantically clear example is the verb Wissen , which is based on the Indo-European perfect form 3.Sg. * uoide 'he has seen', 3rd place * uid-nt 'they have seen' goes back (compare Latin videre 'see').

Gothic Old English German Old Norse Danish Swedish Icelandic
infinitive witan witan knowledge vita vide veta vita
Present 1st and 3rd Sg. wait wāt White veit ved vet veit
Present 3rd pl. witun witon knowledge vitu ved vet vita
Past tense 1st and 3rd Sg. wissa know knew vissa / vissi vidste visste vissi
Present participle witands witende knowing vitandi vidende vetande vitandi
past participle witans Gewiten known vitat vidst vetat vitað

Preteritopresentia in primitive Germanic

The verbs proven for the primitive Germanic are:

infinitive meaning class Present preterite
* witana knowledge I. wait wissa
* lisana knowledge I. lais lissa
* aigana have, own I. aig aihta
* dugana benefit II daug duhta
* unnana grant III ann unþa
* kunnana know (how to do something), later can III can kunþa
* þurbana need III þarb þurfta
* dursana dare III dars thirsta
* skulana have to, should later IV scal skulda
* munana think IV man munda
* gamunana recall IV gaman gamunda
* binugana to be required V binag binuhta
* ganugana suffice V ganag ganuhta
* magana can like later V like mahta
* ōgana to fear VI ōg ōhta
* mōtana like, have to later VI mōt mōsta
* gamōtana Have space VI gamōt gamōsta

Preteritopresentia in German

Old High German

Type of verb shape meaning
strong verb Simple past: reit - ritun Simple past: ritt - ritten
Preteritopresentia Simple past: weiz - wizzun Present tense: know - know

The past tense weiz originally corresponded to “I saw, I saw”. So it referred to an event that is completed at the time of speaking, but the result of which has a direct influence on the present. This results in the present tense meaning “I know, I know, I know” for the past tense form , since the result or the knowledge can be described as still lasting.

In Old High German times, these verbs only had a presentic meaning.

The past tense of this verb class is weakly formed by adding a suffix .

Preteritopresentia show ablaut and inflection of an ablaut preterite , which is why they are assigned to the corresponding ablaut series.

Note: Empty cells suggest shapes that have not been handed down.

Ablaut series Pres. Ind. 1., 3. Sg. Pres. Ind. 2. Sg. Pres. Ind. 1., 3. Pl. infinitive Pret. Ind. meaning
I. wheat shows wizzun wizzan wissa know, recognize
I. own have, own
II tough do tohta good
III gan gunnun gunnan gonda indulge
III can kanst kunnun kunnan konda know, can
III may may durfun durfan villagea need, need
III guitar guitar guitar run gitorsta dare
IV scal scalt sculun sculan scolta need to
IV ginah have in abundance
V like maht magun, mugun magan, mugan mahta, mohta ability, can
VI muoz must muozun muosa can, may

Middle High German

Ablaut series Pres. Ind. 1., 3. Sg. Pres. Ind. 2. Sg. Pres. Ind. 1., 3. Pl. Inf. Part. Pres. Pret. Ind. Part. Prät.
I. wheat shows wizzen wizzende know, know, wiste, vest, desert certain (almost only adjectival), gewist, gewest, gewust
I. own peculiar (but is already an adjective)
II touc good, bad virtues tohte
III gan (< ge -an) ganst gunnen, günnen gunde favored, favored (, favor)
III can kanst can, can konde
III may may may, may could (needs)
III tar tarst turren, turren torste
IV sol, sal (, schol, scarf) solt, salt soln, suln, suln solte, solde
V mac maht stomach, stomach, mugun, mügen megende, tired mahte, mohte
VI muoz must muozen, muezen muose, must


  • zu tuoc: the transformation to the weak verb tougen begins as early as the 13th century

New High German

Most of the basic verbs in today's German preteritopresentia have died out; on the other hand, six derived preteritopresents have been preserved from them in the New High German language: may, can, like, must, should, know . Their characteristics that distinguish them from other verbs are as follows:

They share most of these characteristics with the modal verb want; Viewed historically, however, this is not a preterite present, but an optative form (desired form). In turn, Sollen is the only preterite present in today's German that does not have a vowel change.

Besides knowing , all preteritopresentia in German serve as modal verbs .

Preterite presentia in English

Old English

In Old English there are the following preteritopresentia, which are not documented in all forms.

conjugation pronoun 'Can, master something' (today can, could ) 'Can, have the opportunity to do something' (today may, might ) 'Shall' (today shall, should ) 'Know' (outdated wit ) 'Have, be guilty' (today owe, ought ) 'Use' (outdated dow ) 'Dare' (today dare ) ,to remember' 'Need' (obsolete thar ) 'Must' (today must , obsolete mote )
infinitive cunnan magan sculan witan āgan dugan durran ġemunan þurfan mōtan
Present indicative
ic cann mæg sceal wāt Ah dēah dearr ġeman, ġemon þearf mōt
þū canst meaht scealt wāst āhst dēaht dearst ġemanst þearft must
hē / hit / hēo cann mæg sceal wāt Ah dēah dearr ġeman, ġemon þearf mōt
wē / gē / hīe cunnon magon sculon witon āgon dugon durron ġemunon þurfon mōton
Past tense indicative
ic cūðe guessed sceolde know, know āhte didhte thorste, dyrste ġemunde þorfte must
þū cūðest meahtest sceoldest know, know āhtest dohtest dorstest, dyrstest ġemundest þorftest mustest
hē / hit / hēo cūðe guessed sceolde know, know āhte didhte thorste, dyrste ġemunde þorfte must
wē / gē / hīe cūðon meahton sceoldon wisson, wiston āhton dohton dorston, dyrston ġemundon þorfton mōston
Present subjunctive
ic / þū / hē / hit / hēo cunne mæge scule wite āge dyge, dūge dry, dry ġemune þyrfe, þurfe mōte
wē / gē / hīe cunnen mægen school witaþ āgen dūgen dry, dry ġemunen þurf must
Past tense subjunctive
ic / þū / hē / hit / hēo cūðe guessed sceolde know, know āhte didhte thorste, dyrste ġemunde þorfte must
wē / gē / hīe cūðen suspected sceolden wisten āhten dohten thorsten, dyrsten ġemunden þorften must


  • Like cunnan , geunnan is conjugated with 'allow'.

New English

In New English you can recognize the preteritopresentia by the lack of the -s -Flexiv in the 3rd person. Sg. Present tense, e.g. he can 'he can' compared to he sing s 'he sings', simple past he sang 'he sang'. The present tense paradigm of can is therefore identical in form to the simple past of strong verbs.

In addition, you cannot form infinite verb forms for preteritopresentia, e.g. B. Infinitive ** to can, participle / gerund ** canning .

See also


  • Rolf Bergmann, Peter Pauly, Claudine Moulin-Fankhänel: Old and Middle High German: Workbook on the grammar of the older German language levels and on the history of German language , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2004, ISBN 3525208367

Web links

Wiktionary: preterite present  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations