Germanic weak verb

Germanic weak verb

In Germanic languages, including English, weak verbs are by far the largest group of verbs, which are therefore often regarded as the norm, though historically they are not the oldest or most original group.

:"For other aspects of the verb in Germanic languages see the article Germanic verb."

General description

In Germanic languages, weak verbs are those verbs that form their preterites and past participles by means of a dental suffix, an inflection that contains a /t/ or /d/ sound or similar. In English the preterite and participle are always identical, but in most of the languages there are three principal parts. For example:

:1. The distinction between the infinitive and present forms of Afrikaans verbs has been lost with the exception of a very few such as "wees" and "is", "to be" and "is/am/are":2. learn, teach

North Germanic

:3. prepare, manufacture


Weak verbs are often thought of as having a regular inflection, but not all weak verbs are regular verbs; some have been made irregular by ellipsis or contraction, such as "hear ~ heard"; while others are merely irregular due to the eccentricities of English spelling, such as "lay ~ laid". In German, verbs ending in "-eln" or "-ern" have slightly different inflection patterns. There are many other examples. The Preterite-present verbs are in a sense weak verbs with very significant irregularities; but usually they are not bracketed under weak verbs.

One particularly interesting category of irregular weak verb is the so-called "rückumlaut" verb. This is discussed in the article on "Germanic umlaut" under the section ""Umlaut" in Germanic verbs". An original "-j-" in the inflection caused the whole of the present stem (including the infinitive) to experience a fronting of the stem vowel, though the past tense retains the back vowel. Another irregularity is a consonant alternation sometimes referred to by the German word "Primärberührung", which looks superficially like Grammatischer Wechsel but in fact results from the phenomenon of the Germanic spirant law in early Germanic. In effect this is a process of assimilation of the plosive at the end of the stem caused by contact with the dental suffix. Both "Rückumlaut" and "Primärberührung" are observable in the verb "to think":
* English: "think thought"
* German: "denken dachte gedacht"Some school text books use the term "mixed verb" to describe these. This rests on the misconception that these verbs display both "ablaut" and a dental suffix, and are therefore at once strong and weak. But the vowel change is not "ablaut".

Other meanings

The term "weak verb" was originally coined by Jacob Grimm and in his sense refers only to Germanic philology. However, the term is sometimes applied to other language groups to designate phenomena which are not really analogous. For example, Hebrew "irregular" verbs are sometimes called weak verbs because one of their radicals is weak. See: weak inflection.

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