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In the Germanic languages, a strong verb is a verb that marks its past tense by means of changes to the stem vowel. The majority of the remaining verbs form the past tense by means of a dental suffix, are known as weak verbs, and outnumber strong verbs.

In modern English, strong verbs include sing (present I sing, past I sang, past participle I have sung) and drive (present I drive, past I drove, past participle I have driven), as opposed to weak verbs such as open (present I open, past I opened, past participle I have opened). Not all verbs with a change in the stem vowel are strong verbs, however: they may also be irregular weak verbs such as bring, brought, brought or keep, kept, kept. The key distinction is that most strong verbs have their origin in the earliest sound system of Proto-Indo-European, whereas weak verbs use a dental ending (in English usually -ed or -t) that developed later with the branching off of Proto-Germanic.

The "strong" vs. "weak" terminology was coined by the German philologist Jacob Grimm in the 1800s, and the terms "strong verb" and "weak verb" are direct translations of the original German terms starkes Verb and schwaches Verb.

Origin and development

Strong verbs have their origin in the ancestral Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language. In PIE, vowel alternations called ablaut were frequent and occurred in many types of word, not only in verbs. The vowel that appeared in any given syllable is called its "grade". In many words, the basic vowel was *e (e-grade), but, depending on what syllable of a word the stress fell on in PIE, this could change to *o (o-grade), or disappear altogether (zero grade). Both e and o could also be lengthened to ē and ō (lengthened grade). Thus ablaut turned short e into the following sounds:

zero short long
Ø e ē
o ō

As the Germanic languages developed from PIE, they dramatically altered the Indo-European verbal system. PIE verbs could occur in three distinct aspects: the aorist, present and perfect aspect. The aorist originally denoted events without any attention to the specifics or ongoing nature of the event ("ate", perfective aspect). The present implied some attention to such details and was thus used for ongoing actions ("is eating", imperfective aspect). The perfect was a stative verb, and referred not to the event itself, but to the state that resulted from the event ("has eaten" or "is/has been eaten"). In Germanic, the aorist eventually disappeared and merged with the present, while the perfect took on a past tense meaning and became a general past tense. The strong Germanic present thus descends from the PIE present, while the past descends from the PIE perfect. The inflections of PIE verbs also changed considerably.

In the course of these changes, the different root-vowels caused by PIE ablaut became markers of tense. Thus in Germanic, *bʰer- became *beraną in the infinitive (e-grade); *bar in the past singular (o-grade); *bērun in the past plural (ē-grade); and *buranaz in the past participle (zero-grade).

In Proto-Germanic, the system of strong verbs was largely regular. As sound changes took place in the development of Germanic from PIE, the vowels of strong verbs became more varied, but usually in predictable ways, so in most cases all of the principal parts of a strong verb of a given class could be reliably predicted from the infinitive. Thus we can reconstruct Common Germanic as having seven coherent classes of strong verbs. This system continued largely intact in the first attested Germanic languages, notably Gothic, Old English, Old High German and Old Norse.

Gradual disappearance

Germanic strong verbs, mostly deriving directly from PIE, are slowly being supplanted by or transformed into weak verbs.

As well as developing the strong verb system, Germanic also went on to develop two other classes of verbs: the weak verbs and a third, much smaller, class known as the preterite-present verbs, which are continued in the English auxiliary verbs, e.g. can/could, shall/should, may/might, must. Weak verbs originally derived from other types of word in PIE and originally occurred only in the present aspect. They did not have a perfect aspect, meaning that they came to lack a past tense in Germanic once the perfect had become the past[clarification needed]. Not having a past tense at all, they obviously also had no vowel alternations between present and past. To compensate for this, a new type of past tense was eventually created for these verbs by adding a -d- or -t- suffix to the stem. This is why only strong verbs have vowel alternations: their past tense forms descend from the original PIE perfect aspect, while the past tense forms of weak verbs were created later.

The development of weak verbs in Germanic meant that the strong verb system ceased to be productive: no new strong verbs developed. Practically all new verbs were weak, and few new strong verbs were created. Over time, strong verbs tended to become weak in some languages, so that the total number of strong verbs in the languages was constantly decreasing.

The coherence of the strong verb system is still present in modern German, Dutch, Icelandic and Faroese. For example, in German and Dutch, strong verbs are consistently marked with a past participle in -en, while weak verbs have a past participle in -t in German and -t or -d in Dutch. In English, however, the original regular strong conjugations have largely disintegrated, with the result that in modern English grammar, a distinction between strong and weak verbs is less useful than a distinction between "regular" and "irregular" verbs. Thus, the verb to help, which used to be conjugated help-holp-holpen, is now help-helped-helped. The reverse phenomenon, whereby a weak verb becomes strong by analogy, is rare (one example in American English, considered informal by some authorities, is sneak, snuck, snuck. Another is the humorous past tense of "sneeze" which is "snoze"[1]).

Some verbs, which might be termed "semi-strong", have formed a weak preterite but retained the strong participle, or rarely vice versa. This type of verb is most common in Dutch:

An instance of this phenomenon in English is swell, swelled, swollen (though swelled is also found for the past participle, and the older strong form swole persists in some dialects as the preterite and past participle and has found new use in recent years. [2]).


As an example of the conjugation of a strong verb, we may take the Old English class 2 verb bēodan, "to offer" (cf. English "bid").

This has the following forms:

Infinitive Supine Present Indicative Present Subjunctive Past Indicative Past Subjunctive Imperative Past participle
bēodan tō bēodenne

ic bēode
þū bīetst
hīe bēodað

ic bēode
þū bēode
hīe bēoden

ic bēad
þū bude
hīe budon

ic bude
þū bude
hīe buden


bēodað!, bēode gē!


While the inflections are more or less regular, the vowel changes in the stem are not predictable without an understanding of the Indo-European ablaut system, and students have to learn five "principal parts" by heart. For this verb they are bēodan, bīett, bēad, budon, geboden. These are:

  1. The infinitive: bēodan. The same vowel is used through most of the present tense. In most verbs (other than classes 6 and 7), this represents the original ablaut e-grade.
  2. The present tense 3rd singular: bīett. The same vowel is used in the 2nd singular. In many verbs, this has the same vowel as part 1. When it is distinct, as here, it is always derived from part 1 by Umlaut. For this reason, some textbooks do not treat it as a principal part.
  3. The preterite (i.e. past indicative) 1st singular: bēad, which is identical to the 3rd singular. In this verb, part 3 comes from a PIE o-grade.
  4. The preterite plural: budon. In West Germanic, the same vowel is used in the 2nd singular. In this verb, part 4 comes from a PIE zero-grade.
  5. The past participle: geboden. This vowel is used only in the participle. In some verbs, part 5 is a discrete ablaut grade, but in this class 2 verb it is derived from part 4 by an a-mutation.

Strong verb classes

Germanic strong verbs are commonly divided into 7 classes, based on the type of vowel alternation. This is in turn based mostly on the type of consonants that follow the vowel. The Anglo-Saxon scholar Henry Sweet gave names to the seven classes:

  1. The "drive" conjugation
  2. The "choose" conjugation
  3. The "bind" conjugation
  4. The "bear" conjugation
  5. The "give" conjugation
  6. The "shake" conjugation
  7. The "fall" conjugation

However, they are normally referred to by numbers alone.

In Proto-Germanic, the common ancestor of the Germanic languages, the strong verbs were still mostly regular. The classes continued largely intact in Old English and the other older historical Germanic languages: Gothic, Old High German and Old Norse. However, idiosyncrasies of the phonological changes led to a growing number of subgroups. Also, once the ablaut system ceased to be productive, there was a decline in the speakers' awareness of the regularity of the system. That led to anomalous forms and the six big classes lost their cohesion. This process has advanced furthest in English, but in some other modern Germanic languages (such as German), the seven classes are still fairly well preserved and recognisable.

The reverse process in which anomalies are eliminated and subgroups reunited by the force of analogy is called "levelling", and it can be seen at various points in the history of the verb classes.

In the later Middle Ages, German, Dutch and English eliminated a great part of the old distinction between the vowels of the singular and plural preterite forms. The new uniform preterite could be based on the vowel of the old preterite singular, on the old plural, or sometimes on the participle. In English, the distinction remains in the verb "to be": I was, we were. In Dutch, it remains in the verbs of classes 4 & 5 but only in vowel length: ik brak (I broke – short a), wij braken (we broke – long ā). In German and Dutch it also remains in the present tense of the preterite presents. In Limburgish there is a little more left. E.g. the preterite of to help is (weer) hólpe for the plural but either (ich) halp or (ich) hólp for the singular.

In the process of development of English, numerous sound changes and analogical developments have fragmented the classes to the extent that most of them no longer have any coherence: only classes 1, 3 and 4 still have significant subclasses that follow uniform patterns.

Before looking at the seven classes individually, the general developments that affected all of them will be noted. The following phonological changes that occurred between Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Germanic are relevant for the discussion of the ablaut system.

In West Germanic, the 2nd person singular past indicative uses the vowel of Part 3. Its ending is also an -i of unclear origin, rather than the expected -t < PIE *-th₂e of North and East Germanic, which suggests that this state of affairs is an innovation.

Classes 1 to 6

The first 5 classes appear to continue the following PIE ablaut grades:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
1, 2, 3 e o zero
4 ē zero
5 e

Except for the apparent ē-grade in part 3 of classes 4 and 5, these are in fact straightforward survivals of the PIE situation.

The standard pattern of PIE is represented in Germanic by classes 1, 2 and 3, with the present (part 1) in the e-grade, past indicative singular (part 2) in the o-grade, and remaining past (part 3) and past participle (part 4) in the zero grade. The differences between classes 1, 2, and 3 arise from semivowels coming after the root vowel, as shown in the table below.

As can be seen, the e-grade in part 1 and o-grade in part 2 are shared by all of these five classes. The difference between them is in parts 3 and 4:

Class 6 appears in Germanic with the vowels a and ō. PIE sources of the a vowel included *h2e, *o, and a laryngeal between consonants;[3] possibly in some cases the a may be an example of the a-grade of ablaut, though the existence of such a grade is controversial. It is not clear exactly how the ō is to be derived from an earlier ablaut alternant in PIE, but believable sources include contraction of the reduplicant syllable in PIE *h2-initial verbs, or o-grades of verbs with interconsonantal laryngeal. In any event, within Germanic the resulting a ~ ō behaved as just another type of vowel alternation.

In Proto-Germanic, this resulted in the following vowel patterns:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning Usual PIE origin
1 *rīdaną *raid *ridun *ridanaz to ride Vowel + y/i.
2a *freusaną *fraus *fruzun *fruzanaz to freeze Vowel + w/u.
2b *lūkaną *lauk *lukun *lukanaz to close, to shut Arose in analogy to Class 1.
3a *bindaną *band *bundun *bundanaz to bind Vowel + m or n + another consonant.
3b *werþaną *wa *wurdun *wurdanaz to become Vowel + l or r + another consonant.
4 *beraną *bar *bērun *buranaz to bear Vowel + l, r, m or n + no other consonant.
5 *lesaną *las *lēzun *lezanaz to gather Vowel + any consonant other than y, w, l, r, m or n.
6 *alaną *ōl *ōlun *alanaz to grow, to mature Vowel + a single consonant, if the present stem had a or o in late PIE.

Class 7

The forms of class 7 were very different and did not neatly reflect the standard ablaut grades found in the first 6 classes. Instead of (or in addition to) vowel alternations, this class displayed reduplication of the first consonants of the stem in the past tense. [6]

It is generally believed that reduplication was once a feature of all Proto-Indo-European perfect-aspect forms. It was then lost in most verbs by Proto-Germanic times due to haplology. However, verbs with vowels that did not fit in the existing pattern of alternation retained their reduplication. Class 7 is thus not really one class, but can be split into several subclasses based on the original structure of the root, much like the first 5 classes. The first three subclasses are parallel with classes 1 to 3 but with e replaced with a: 7a is parallel to class 1, class 7b to class 2, and class 7c to class 3.

The following is a general picture of the Proto-Germanic situation as reconstructed by Jay Jasanoff.[7] Earlier reconstructions of the 7th class were generally based mostly on Gothic evidence.

Subclass Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning Root pattern
7a *haitaną *hegait *hegitun *haitanaz to call a + i
7b *hlaupaną
to leap
to push, to bump
a + u
7c *haldaną
to hold
to catch
a + l, r, m or n + another consonant (if no other consonant follows, the verb belongs to class 6)
7d *lētaną
to allow, to let
to sow
7e *blōtaną
to sacrifice
to grow

The situation sketched above did not survive intact into any of the Germanic languages. It was changed significantly, but rather differently in Gothic on the one hand, and in the Northwest Germanic languages on the other.


Reduplication was retained in Gothic,[6] with the vowel ai inserted. However, as in all other strong verbs, consonant alternations were almost eliminated in favour of the voiceless alternants. The present and past singular stem was extended to the plural, leaving the reduplication as the only change in the stem between the two tenses. The vowel alternation was retained in a few class 7d verbs, but eliminated otherwise by generalising the present tense stem throughout the paradigm. The verb lētan "to allow" retained the past form lailōt with ablaut, while slēpan "to sleep" had the past tense form saislēp without it. The form saizlēp, with Verner-law alternation, is occasionally found as well, but it was apparently a relic formation with no other examples of alternation elsewhere.

Northwest Germanic

In the Northwest Germanic languages, which include all modern surviving Germanic languages, class 7 was drastically remodelled. Reduplication was almost eliminated, except for a few relics, and new ablaut patterns were introduced. Many attempts have been made to explain this development. Jasanoff posits the following series of events within the history of Northwest Germanic:[7]

  1. Root-initial consonant clusters were transferred to the beginning of the reduplicating syllable, to preserve the same word onset across the paradigm. The clusters were simplified and reduced medially. (Compare Latin scindō ~ scicidī and spondeō ~ spopondī, which show the same development)
    *hlaupaną: *hehlaup, *hehlupun > *hlelaup, *hlelupun
    *stautaną: *stestaut, *stestutun > *stezaut, *stezutun
    *blōtaną: *beblōt, *beblutun > *blelōt, *blelutun
    *grōaną: *gegrō, *gegrōun > *grerō, *grerōun
    *swōganą: *sezwōg, *sezwōgun > *swewōg, *sweugun (English sough)
  2. Root compression:
    1. Based on the pattern of verbs such as singular *lelōt, *rerōd ~ plural *leltun, *rerdun, as well as verbs like singular *swewōg ~ plural *sweugun, the root vowel or diphthong was deleted in the past plural stem. The Germanic spirant law caused devoicing in certain consonants where applicable.
      *haitaną: *hegait, *hegitun > *hegait, *hehtun
      *bautaną: *bebaut, *bebutun > *bebaut, *beftun ("to beat")
      *hlaupaną: *hlelaup, *hlelupun > *hlelaup, *hlelpun
      *stautaną: *stezaut, *stezutun > *stezaut, *stestun
      *blōtaną: *blelōt, *blelutun > *blelōt, *bleltun
    2. In class 7c verbs, this resulted in consonant clusters that were not permissible (e.g. **hegldun); these clusters were simplified by dropping the root-initial consonant(s).
      *haldaną: *hegald, *heguldun > *hegald, *heldun
      *fanhaną: *febanh, *febungun > *febanh, *fengun
  3. The past plural stem of class 7c verbs no longer appeared to be reduplicated because of the above change, and was extended to the singular. This created what appeared to be a new form of ablaut, with a in the present and e in the past plural.
    *haldaną: *hegald, *heldun > *held, *heldun
    *fanhaną: *febanh, *fengun > *feng, *fengun
  4. This new form of ablaut was then extended to other classes, by alternating *a with *e in classes 7a and 7b, and *ā with *ē in class 7d (after Proto-Germanic *ē had become *ā in Northwest Germanic). In class 7a, this resulted in the vowel *ei, which soon merged with *ē (from Germanic *ē2).
    *haitaną: *hegait, *hehtun > *heit, *heitun > *hēt, *hētun
    *hlaupaną: *hlelaup, *hlelpun > *hleup, *hleupun
    *lātaną: *lelōt, *leltun > *lēt, *lētun
  5. It is at this point that North and West Germanic begin to diverge.
    • In West Germanic, class 7e took *eu as the past stem vowel, by analogy with existing verbs with initial *(s)w- such as *wōpijaną, *weup(un) and *swōganą, *swewg(un).
      *blōtaną: *blelōt(un) > *bleut(un)
      *hrōpaną: *hrerōp(un) > *hreup(un) ("to cry, roop")
      *grōaną: *grerō(un) > *greu, *gre(u)wun
    • In North Germanic, class 7e instead took *ē as the past stem vowel, probably by analogy with class 7c which also had a long stem vowel.
      *blōtaną: *blelōt(un) > *blēt(un)

Stages 4 and 5 were not quite complete by the time of the earliest written records. While most class 7 verbs had replaced reduplication with ablaut entirely, several vestigial remains of reduplication are found throughout the North and West Germanic languages. Various other changes occurred later in the individual languages. *e in class 7c was replaced by *ē (> ia) in Old High German and Old Dutch, but by *eu (> ēo) in Old English.

The following "Late Proto-Northwest-Germanic" can be reconstructed as descendants of the earlier Proto-Germanic forms given above. Note that ē became ā in Northwest Germanic.

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
7a *haitaną *hēt *hētun *haitanaz
7b *hlaupaną *hleup *hleupun *hlaupanaz
7c *haldaną *held *heldun *haldanaz
7d *rādaną *rēd *rēdun *rādanaz
7e *blōtaną *bleut (West), *blēt (North) *bleutun (West), *blētun (North) *blōtanaz


The Proto-Germanic language most likely used more than 500 strong roots. Although some roots are speculative, the language can be reconstructed with the following strong roots based on the work of Elmar Seebold (1970), Robert Mailhammer (2007) and Guus Kroonen (2013). Proto-Germanic had aorist-present roots, a remnant of the aorist aspect found in Proto-Indo-European. These verbs used the former aorist as a present tense form. The aorist had a zero-grade vowel, like parts 3 and 4 of the perfect. So these verbs have an anomalous vowel in the present tense, they decline regularly otherwise.

Aorist-present roots: *diganą, *stikaną, *wiganą;
Aorist-present roots: *spurnaną, *murnaną,
Aorist-present roots: *knedaną*knudaną, *kwemaną – *kumaną, *swefaną – *sufaną, *tredaną*trudaną, *welaną – *wulaną.
J present roots: *bidjaną, *frigjaną, *ligjaną, *sitjaną,*þigjaną;
J present roots: *fraþjaną, *habjaną – *hafjaną, *hlahjaną, *kwabjaną, *sabjaną*safjaną, *skapjaną, *skaþjaną, *stapjaną, *swarjaną, *wahsijaną;
7a with 11 roots: *aihaną, *aikaną, *fraisaną, *haitaną, *laikaną, *maitaną, *skaidaną – *skaiþaną, *spaitaną, *swaipaną, *taisaną, *þlaihaną;
7b with 14 roots: *audaną, *aukaną, *ausaną, *bautaną, *brautaną, *dauganą, *dawjaną, *haufaną, *hawwaną, *hlaupaną, *klawjaną, *naupaną, *skraudaną, *stautaną;
7c with 23 roots: *arjaną, *bannaną, *blandaną, *faldaną – *falþaną, *falganą, *fallaną, *faltaną, *fanhaną, *ganganą, *haldaną, *hanhaną, *pranganą, *saltaną, *skaldaną, *spaldaną, *spannaną, *staldaną, *stanganą, *waldaną, *walkaną, *wallaną, *waltaną, *waskaną;
7d with 27 roots: *bēaną, *bēganą, *blēaną, *blēsaną, *brēaną, *brēdaną, *dēaną, *drēdaną, *fēaną, *gēaną, *grētaną, *hwētaną, *hwēsaną, *knēaną, *krēaną, *lējaną, *lētaną, *mēaną, *nēaną, *rēdaną, *sēaną, *slēpaną, *stēaną, *swēþaną, *tēkaną, *þrēaną, *wēaną;
7e with 24 roots: *blōaną, *blōtaną, *bnōwwaną, *bōaną, *bōwwaną, *brōaną, *brōkaną, *flōaną, *flōkaną, *glōaną, *grōaną, *hlōaną, *hnōaną, *hrōpaną, *hwōpaną, *hwōsaną, *knōdaną, *rōaną, *snōwaną, *spōaną, *swōganą, *þrōwaną, *wōpijaną, *wrōtaną;


Being the oldest Germanic language with any significant literature, it is not surprising that Gothic preserves the strong verbs best. However, some changes still occurred:

Also, long ī was spelled ei in Gothic.

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 dreiban draif dribun dribans to drive
2a liugan laug lugun lugans to lie (tell untruth)
2b lūkan lauk lukun lukans to close, to shut
3a bindan band bundun bundans to bind
3b hilpan
to help
to become
4 qiman
to come
to bear
5 lisan
to gather
to see
6 alan ōl ōlun alans to grow, to mature
7a haitan haihait haihaitun haitans to call
7b hlaupan haihlaup haihlaupun hlaupans to leap
7c haldan
to hold
to catch
7d lētan
to allow
to sow
7e ƕōpjan ƕaiƕōp ƕaiƕōp ƕōpans to boast

West Germanic

Changes that occurred in the West Germanic languages:


Old English

The following changes occurred from West Germanic to Old English:

The following are the paradigms for Old English:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rīdan rād ridon ġeriden to ride
2a frēosan frēas fruron ġefroren to freeze
2b lūcan lēac lucon ġelocen to lock
3a bindan band bundon ġebunden to bind
3b weorþan wea wurdon ġeworden to become
4 beran bær bǣron ġeboren to bear
5 lesan læs lǣron ġeleren to gather
6 alan ōl ōlon ġealen to nourish, to grow
7a hātan hēt, heht hēton, hehton ġehāten to call, to be called
7b hlēapan hlēop hlēopon ġehlēapen to leap
7c healdan hēold hēoldon ġehealden to hold
7d rǣdan rēd rēdon ġerǣden to advise, to interpret
7e blōtan blēot blēoton ġeblōten to sacrifice

With j-presents (and other anomalies):

The verb "to stand" follows class 6. The anomalous -n- in the present is a relic of the PIE nasal infix:[9]

Some relics of class 7 reduplication remain in Old English, mostly in texts from Anglia (infinitive and past singular shown):

Changes that occurred from Old English to Modern English:

Modern English

In Modern English, generally speaking, the verb classes have disintegrated and are not easily recognisable.
For the principal parts of all English strong verbs see: Wiktionary appendix: Irregular English verbs.

The following modern English verbs resemble the original paradigm:

Class Part 1 Part 2 and 3 Part 4
1 ride
2 freeze froze frozen
3 begin
4 break broke broken
5 give gave given
6 take took taken
7b beat beaten
7c fall fell fallen
7d throw threw thrown
7e grow grew grown

Class 1

Class 1 is still recognisable, as in most other Germanic languages. The modern past is taken from either the old past singular (ride rode ridden) or the old past plural (bite bit bitten). In the case of shine shone shone, the past participle has also assimilated to the past singular.

Class 1 roots in modern English (excluding derived verbs such as abide and override) are bide, bite, chide, drive, hide, ride, rise, rive, shine, shit/shite, shrive, slide, smite, stride, strike, strive, thrive, write. Bide, chide, rive, shine, shrive, strive, thrive can also be weak. However, although most of these verbs have uniformity in their infinitive vowel, they no longer form a coherent class in further inflected forms – for example, bite (bit, bitten), ride (rode, ridden), shine (shone, shone), and strike (struck, struck/stricken, with struck and stricken used in different meanings) all show different patterns from one another – but bide, drive, ride, rise, smite, stride, strive, write do form a (more or less) coherent subclass. Most of these verbs are descended from Old English class 1 verbs. However:

In American English, the past tense of the verb dive is usually dove, as though it is in Class 1, but the past participle is still dived.

Class 2

Class 2 does not form a coherent class, as each verb has developed different irregularities. It includes choose, cleave, fly, freeze and shoot (whose usual passive participle is shot rather than shotten). The verb bid (in the sense of "to offer") was in Class 2, but now the past and past participle are bid. The obsolete verb forlese is now used only as the passive participle forlorn.

Class 3

Class 3 in English is still fairly large and regular. The past is formed either from the old past singular or from the past plural. Many of the verbs have two past forms, one of which may be dialectal or archaic (begin, drink, ring, shrink, sing, slink, spin, spring, stink, swing, swim and wring). The class 3a verbs in modern English are:

English fling does not go back to Old English, and may be a loan-word from Norse. It seems to have adopted class 3 forms by analogy with cling etc. Similarly, ring and string were historically weak. The verb ding (in the meaning of to hit) was in this class as well, but is now usually treated as a weak verb.

Class 3b has shrunk to only four members:

Class 4

In Modern English, regular class 4 verbs have all kept the –n in the participle, though eliminating the medial e after r, this class exhibits near homogeneity of vowel pattern:

but several verbs have archaic preterites that preserve the "a" of Middle English (bare, brake, gat, sware, tare, and spake or Scots spak). Class 4 verbs in English (not including derivatives such as beget) are bear, break, get, shear, speak, steal, swear, tear, tread, wake, weave; and without the -n and of irregular vowel progression: come. Get, speak, tread and weave (weave, and occasionally tread, can also be weak) were originally of class 5, whereas swear was originally class 6. Wake was also originally class 6, and in fact retains the "a" of the present tense – the preterite woke (Middle English wook) only conforms to the modern class 4 preterite, not to the historic class 4 preterite in "a". The verb come is anomalous in all the West Germanic languages because it originally began with qu-, and the subsequent loss of the w sound coloured the vowel of the present stem. modern English "come came come", compared to Old English cuman cymþ – cōm cōmon – cumen and Middle English comen – cam or com – comen.

Class 5

In Modern English this group has lost all group cohesion.

Class 5 verbs in Modern English: bid (in the sense of "to command" or "to invite"), eat, forbid, give, lie (= lie down), see, sit. The verb quethe is only used poetically now. Get, speak, tread, and weave, which come from Class 5 verbs, are now Class 4. The verb forbid comes from a Class 2 verb in Old English, as did bid in the sense of "to offer, proclaim", but forbid is conflated with the other verb bid ("to command"). The preterite can be forbad or forbade, or even forbid. The preterite ate is pronounced "et" in some British dialects; historically the form eat, homophonous with the present stem was also found for the preterite. Although the verb to be is suppletive and highly irregular, its past follows the pattern of a class 5 strong verb, with grammatischer Wechsel (the alternation of "s" and "r" in "was" versus "were"), and has uniquely retained the singular/plural distinction of both ablaut grade and consonant in the modern languages. Old English: wæs/wǣron, English: was/were. For full paradigms and historical explanations see Indo-European copula.

Class 6

Class 6 has disintegrated as well. The verbs shake, take and forsake come closest to the original vowel sequence. The consonant anomaly in stand is still visible, and is extended to the participle.

Class 6 verbs in modern English: drag, draw, forsake, lade, shake, shape, shave, slay, stand, take. The verb heave is in this class when used in a nautical context. Like most other classes in Modern English, this class has lost cohesion and now forms principal parts according to many different patterns. Two preterites (drew and slew) are now spelled with "ew", which is similar in sound to the "oo" of the others that still use a strong form. Swear is now class 4. The adjective graven was originally a past participle of the now obsolete verb grave. Lade, shape, shave, wax are now weak outside of their optionally strong past participle forms (laden, shapen, shaven, and waxen respectively). Fare has archaic past tense fore and rare past participle faren, but is normally weak now.

Class 7

In Modern English, this class has lost its homogeneity:

The following modern English verbs descend from class 7 verbs, and still retain strong-verb endings: beat, blow, fall, hew, grow, hang, hold, know, throw. (Hew can be a preterite or present, although the usual preterite, and sometimes the participle too, is hewed.) The verb let can be considered Class 7, though the past participle now lacks the ending -en. The verbs mow and sow sometimes retain the strong-verb participles mown and sown but the preterites are now usually mowed and sowed. (The verb sew was always weak, even though one can say sewn for the past participle.) The verb show, originally a weak verb, has acquired a strong past participle shown, and in some dialects even a class 7 strong past tense shew (This "shew" is not to be confused with present "shew", which is an older spelling of, and pronounced the same as, "show"). Archaic English still retained the reduplicated form hight ("called", originally a past tense, usually with a passive meaning, but later also used as a passive participle). The verb crow was also in class 7, as in the King James Version "while he yet spake, the cock crew".


Old Dutch is attested only fragmentarily, so it is not easy to give forms for all classes. Hence, Middle Dutch is shown here in that role instead. The situation of Old Dutch generally resembled that of Old Saxon and Old High German in any case.

Changes from West Germanic to Old Dutch:

From Old Dutch to Middle Dutch:

From Middle Dutch to Modern Dutch:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rijden reed reden gereden to drive, to ride
2a vriezen vroor vroren gevroren to freeze
2b sluiten sloot sloten gesloten to close
3a binden bond bonden gebonden to bind, to tie
3b bergen borg borgen geborgen to protect, to store away
3 + 7 sterven stierf stierven gestorven to die
4 stelen stal stalen gestolen to steal
4 Irregular scheren schoor schoren geschoren to cut, shave
5 geven gaf gaven gegeven to give
5 Irregular zitten zat zaten gezeten to sit
6 graven groef groeven gegraven to dig
7b lopen liep liepen gelopen to walk, to run
7c vallen viel vielen gevallen to fall
7c Irregular hangen hing hingen gehangen to hang
7d slapen sliep sliepen geslapen to sleep
7e roepen riep riepen geroepen to call

Class 1

This class is well preserved and has the most strong verbs. Not only has it preserved many strong verbs inherited from the proto language, it was also able to expand by introducing the strong inflection to a large number of weak verbs by analogy. Sound changes caused the historical ‘ai’ and ‘i’ in open syllables, to merge as a long ‘e’ essentially merging parts 2,3,4.

Regular class 1 pattern (ɛi-e:-e:-e:):

Class 2

A notable development in Dutch is the growth of class 2b at the expense of class 2a. Like class 1, sound changes caused the historical ‘au’ and ‘u’ in open syllables, to merge as a long ‘o’ merging parts 2,3,4.

Regular class 2a roots (i-o:-o:-o:):

Regular class 2b roots (œy-o:-o:-o:):

Anomalous class 2 roots:

Class 3

Class 3a and 3b have generalised part 3 to part 2, eliminating the -a- from this class. Some 3b verbs have a past in -ie- like class 7: helpen – hielp – geholpen. This can be considered a new "class 3 + 7".

Regular class 3a roots (ɪ-ɔ-ɔ-ɔ):

Regular class 3b roots (ɛ-ɔ-ɔ-ɔ):

Class 3 + 7 roots (ɛ-i-i-ɔ):

Anomalous class 3 roots:

Class 4

Class 4 and 5 verbs still show the distinction in vowel between the past singular (part 2) and plural (part 3), although this is not obvious due to the rules of Dutch orthography: ik nam ("I took") has the plural wij namen (not *nammen), that is, the 'short' vowel [ɑ] of the singular is replaced by the 'long' [aː] in the plural. (Note the relationship of consonant doubling to vowel length, which is explained at Dutch orthography). The pattern is therefore: breken brak (braken) gebroken ("to break")

Regular class 4 roots (eː-ɑ-a:-oː): bevelen, breken, nemen, spreken, steken, stelen.

Class 4 roots with 'o(o)' in the preterite (eː-o:-o:-oː): scheren, wegen and zweren ("to hurt, to sore").

Anomalous roots:

Class 5

Regular class 5 roots (eː-ɑ-a:-eː): eten, genezen, geven, lezen, meten, treden, vergeten, vreten

Class 5 j-present roots (ɪ--ɑ-a:-eː): bidden, liggen, zitten. These have a short 'i' in part 1 because of the gemination of the consonants, they retain the long 'e' vowel in part 4.

Anomalous roots:

Class 6

Class 6 has become very small, many of its verbs have gone weak or have become semi-strong.

Regular class 6 roots (a-u-u-a): dragen, graven, varen.

Anomalous roots:

Class 7

Class 7 has shrunk in the modern language, like class 6 many of its verbs have become semi-strong. This class has an -ie- in the past tense, the past participle has the same vowel as the present tense. (The verbs with * are nowadays mostly semi-strong)

  • One verb displays L-vocalization: houden – hield – gehouden ("to hold")
  • As in German, two anomalous class 7c verbs have formed new present stems, and shortened the vowel in the past tense: vangen – ving – gevangen ("to catch") and hangen – hing – gehangen ("to hang"). The suppleted past tense of the verb gaan ("to go") also belongs to this class and is declined: gaan – ging – gegaan.


A special case is hoeven, which is a weak verb that can decline a strong participle in some circumstances, even though the verb was never strong to begin with.


The distinction between simple past, present and past perfect has been lost in Afrikaans, as the original past tense has fallen out of use almost entirely, being replaced with the old present perfect tense using (usually) a strong past participle. For example, the ancestral Dutch hij zong has become hy het gesing ("he sang/has sung/had sung"). Modal verbs tend to retain their strong past tense, and a handful of other verbs do so too. Verbs almost never retain both a strong past tense and a strong past participle, due to the loss of the grammatical distinction. The exception is wees ("to be"), which does retain both was and gewees. Nonetheless, there are many verbs for which the new past tense is formed with a strong past participle, such as geboë from buig ("bend") or gedrewe from dryf ("drive" to set into motion).

The notion exists that strong past participles always have a figurative meaning, and weak and strong past participles sometimes coexist within the language. Sometimes, this seems to be the case. For instance, compare strong and figurative bedorwe jeug ("spoiled youth") to weak and literal bederfde yoghurt ("spoiled yoghurt"), or strong and figurative gebroke hart ("broken heart") to weak and literal gebreekte vaas ("broken vase"). Nonetheless, this notion is not 100% accurate. Sometimes the strong past participle just happens to be more common. For instance, the strong participles are used in bevrore groente ("frozen vegetables") and aangenome kinders ("adopted children").[10]


From West Germanic to Old High German:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rītan reit ritun giritan to ride
2a friosan frōs frurun gifroran to freeze
2b sūfan souf sufun gisoffan to close
3a bintan bant buntun buntan to bind
3b werdan ward wurtun giwortan to become
4 beran bar bārun giboran to bear
5 lesan las lārun gileran to gather, to read
6 tragan truog truogun gitragan to carry
7a heizan hiaz hiazun giheizan to call, to be called
7b (h)loufan (h)liof (h)liofun gi(h)loufan to run
7c haltan hialt hialtun gihaltan to hold
7d rātan riat riatun girātan to advise
7e wuofan wiof wiofun giwuofan to weep

Changes from Old High German to Modern German:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 reiten
to ride
to lend
2a bieten bot boten geboten to offer, to bid
2b saugen sog sogen gesogen to suck
3a binden
to bind
to flow
to shine, to glow
3b helfen
to help
to thresh
4 treffen traf trafen getroffen to hit
5 geben gab gaben gegeben to give
6 graben grub gruben gegraben to dig
7a heißen hieß hießen geheißen to be called
7b laufen lief liefen gelaufen to walk/run
7c halten hielt hielten gehalten to hold
7d schlafen schlief schliefen geschlafen to sleep
7e stoßen stieß stießen gestoßen to push, to knock

The classes are still well preserved in modern German.

Class 1

In class 1, part 3 is generalised, eliminating the older -ei- or -e-. However, a new subdivision arises because the i of the past tense forms is lengthened to ie before a single consonant. reiten ritt geritten ("to ride") versus leihen lieh geliehen ("to loan"). Class 1 verbs in modern German are:

Class 2

In class 2, part 2 is generalised, eliminating older -u-. Class 2b verbs are rare, as in Old High German.

Anomalous class 2a roots:

  • The roots sieden and ziehen have preserved the verner alternation: "sieden – sott – gesotten" and "ziehen – zog – gezogen"
  • The roots lügen ("to tell a lie") and trügen ("to deceive"), have changed their present tense vowels from 'ie' to 'ü'. This no doubt arises from a desire to disambiguate Middle High German liegen from ligen (class 5), which would have sounded the same after vowel lengthening. Trügen would have followed in its wake, because the two words form a common rhyming collocation.
  • The verb kiesen has become obsolete, however the strong past tense and past participle are still used. Some speakers reinterpreted these forms as if they are part of the related verb küren, creating the pattern: küren-kor-gekoren.

In German class 2b was never large, the modern language retains the following verbs: krauchen, saufen, saugen, schnauben.

Class 3

In class 3, part 2 is generalised. The o of the 3b participle has been passed by analogy to some 3a verbs, and also to the past of some verbs of both groups: beginnen begann begonnen, bergen barg geborgen ("to rescue"), quellen quoll gequollen ("to well up"). Thus, there are now 5 subgroups:

Class 3a

Class 3b

Anomalous class 3 roots:

  • The root werden generalizes part 3 instead of part 2 (ɛ-ʊ-ɔ), and also suffixes -e; werden, wurde, geworden. The original (part 2) singular preterite ward is still recognizable to Germans, but is archaic.
  • The root löschen replaced the vowel of the infintive with 'ö' (œ-ɔ-ɔ).
  • The root schallen can be declined with a strong past tense in 'o'.
  • The root schinden which was originally weak, acquired an anomalous strong inflection with 'u' (ɪ-ʊ-ʊ).

Class 4

In class 4, the long -a- of part 3 was generalised to part 2. Example: nehmen nahm genommen ("to take").

Several of these verbs have been moved into this class from other classes. sprechen and treffen were originally class 5, befehlen was originally class 3, and stechen was originally class 1 (having had a change in the present vowel). schrecken was originally a weak verb and remains weak in transitive use.

  • kommen ("to come") still has the anomalous o in the present stem (although some dialects have regularised it to kemmen): kommen kam gekommen
  • The preterite of sein ("to be") is Old High German: was/wârum, but levelled in modern German: war/waren.

Class 5

Class 5 is little changed from Old High German, like class 4 the long -a- of part 3 was generalised.

  • The verb essen ("to eat") had a past participle giezzan in OHG; in MHG this became geezzen which was contracted to gezzen and then re-prefixed to gegezzen.
  • j-presents: bitten, liegen, sitzen.

Class 6

Class 6 is also preserved. In Modern German the uo is monophthongised to u.

Anomalous class 6 roots:

Class 7

In class 7, the various past tense vowels have merged into a single uniform -ie-.

  • fangen, hängen have back-formed new present stems from the past stem, and have eliminated grammatischer Wechsel and shortened the vowel in the past tense: fangen fing gefangen ("to catch"), hängen hing gehangen ("to hang").
  • The past tense and participle of German gehen, ging gegangen, derive from a lost verb *gangen which belongs to this class. (The verb still exists in other languages, such as the verb gang used in Scotland and northern England.)
  • With a strong participle only: falten, salzen, spalten

Low German

The following changes occurred from West Germanic to Old Saxon:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rīdan rēd ridun giridan to ride
2a friosan frōs frurun gifroran to freeze
2b bilūkan bilōk bilukun bilokan to close
3a bindan band bundun gibundan to bind
3b werðan wa wurdun giwordan to become
4 beran bar bārun giboran to bear
5 lesan las lāsun gilesan to gather, to read
6 dragan drōg drōgun gidragan to carry
7a hētan hēt hētun gihētan to call, to be called
7b hlōpan hliop hliopun gihlōpan to run
7c haldan hēld hēldun gihaldan to hold
7d rādan rēd rēdun girādan to advise
7e hrōpan hriop hriopun gihrōpan to call

From Old Saxon to Middle Low German:

As in Middle Dutch Lengthening of vowels in open syllables: e > ē, o > ō, a > ā, ö > ȫ, ü > ǖ. i Is often lengthened to ē.

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There is no single Modern Low German, and some sources gives different forms than this. E.g. see

Some differences:

From Middle Low German to Modern Low German:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 rieden reed reden reden to ride
2a beden bood boden baden to offer, to bid
2b schuven schoov schoven schaven to shove
3a binnen bunn bunnen bunnen to bind
3b starven
to die
to swell
4 stehlen
to steal
5 geven
to give
to tread
6 graven groov groven graven to dig
7a heten heet heten heten to be called
7b lopen leep lepen lopen to walk/run
7c holen
to hold
to fall
7d slapen sleep slepen slapen to sleep
7e ropen reep repen ropen to call

Most classes are quite well preserved, although the cohesion of some has been lost substantially or even entirely.

The verb kamen still shows the -u- infinitive which became -a-: kamen, keem, kamen. The verb to be, wesen, levelled its old preterite forms was/weren into weer/weren, although was still appears in some dialects.
The verb treden is anomalous as it has kept the -a- infinitive forms in the preterite and with the variation in vowel length, thus it has tradd, traddst, tradd in the singular with [a] but traden in the plural with [ɒː]. However, normal class 5 preterite forms treed, treedst, treed, treden may also be found.
The verb fohren is now merging with föhren and takes weak past endings. The verb dregen has an anomalous infinitive in -ē- but has kept its class 6 past forms droog, drogen (preterite) and dragen (past participle). The verb laden has gone weak but has laden beside laadt in the past participle. The past tense of stahn (stunn), which derives from Middle Low German standen, also belongs to this class.
Finally the verb waschen shows preterite wusch and past participle wuschen, just like fallen, fangen and hangen, they seem to make a new strong verb class.

North Germanic

Changes from Proto-Germanic to Old Norse:

Class Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 ríða reið riðu riðinn to ride
2a frsa
to freeze
to drip
2b lúka lauk luku lokinn to finish
3a binda batt bundu bundinn to bind
3b verða
to become
to pay
4 bera
to bear
to weave
5 lesa las lásu lesinn to gather, to read
6 ala
to grow, to produce
to take
7a heita hét hétu heitinn to be called
7b hlaupa hlp hlpu hlaupinn to leap
7c halda helt heldu haldinn to hold
7d gráta grét grétu grátinn to cry
7e blóta blét blétu blótinn to sacrifice


Class Part 1 Part 2 & 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 bide bed bidt to bite
2 skyde skød skudt to shoot
3a binde bandt bundet to bind
3b hjælpe hjalp hjulpet to help
4 bære bar båret to bear
5 ligge lå ligget to lay
6 drage drog draget to draw
7a hedde hed heddet to be called
7b løbe løb løbet to run
7c falde faldt faldet to fall
7d græde græd grædt to cry

Class 1

This class has generalised part 2 over part 3 creating a past tense in 'e'. The class can be split up by the different vowels the supine can take:

Class 2

This class has generalised part 2 over part 3 creating a past tense in 'ø'. The class can be split up by the different vowels the supine can take:


Class 3

This class has disintegrated into a number of smaller subgroups, all its members have generalised part 2 over part 3 creating a past tense with 'a'.

class 3a:

class 3b:

Class 4

Class 4 has most of its members moved to class 3. It is marked by 'a' in the past tense and å in the supine. Regular class 4 strong roots: bære, skære, stjæle

Anomalous: These two verbs were influenced by a preceding 'w':

Class 5

Class 5 this class has lost cohesion. It is marked by 'å' or 'a' in the past tense and the supine has the same vowel as the infinitive.


Class 6

Class 6 is marked by 'o' in the past tense and the supine has the same vowel as the infinitive.

Regular strong roots: drage, fare, jage, lade, tage.


Class 7

Danish has removed the vowel alternation between the past and present tenses (except for få and gå)

  • anomalous: – fik – fået, – gik – gået

Norwegian Nynorsk

Changes from Old Norse to modern Norwegian Nynorsk:

Class Part 1 Part 2 & 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 bite
to bite
to ride
2a fryse fraus frosen to freeze
2b suge saug sogen to suck
3a binde
to bind
to burn
3b verte vart vorten to become
4 bere bar boren to bear
5 lese las lesen to read
6 ale
to grow, to produce
to take
7a heite het heitt to be called
7c halde heldt halden to hold
7d gråte gret gråten to cry


Class Part 1 Part 2 & 3 Part 4 Verb meaning
1 bita bet biten to bite
2a flyga flög flugen to fly
2b suga sög sugen to suck
3a binda band bunden to bind
3b svälta svalt svulten to starve
4 bära bar buren to wear, carry
5 äta, ge åt, gav äten, given to eat, to give
6 fara for faren to travel
7b löpa löpte lupen to run
7c hålla höll hållen to hold
7d gråta grät gråten to cry

Class 1

Unlike Danish, this class is still uniform in Swedish, all verbs have an ‘e’(eː) in the past tense, the supine has the same vowel as the present tense.

Regular class 1 verbs (iː-eː-iː): bita, bliva / bli, driva, fisa, glida, gnida, gripa, kliva, knipa, kvida, lida, niga, pipa, rida, riva, skina, skita, skrida, skrika, skriva, slita, smita, snika, sprida, stiga, strida, svida, svika, tiga, vika, vina, vrida

Verbs for which the strong forms are dated: lita, smida, snida, trivas

Class 2

In Swedish this class split up into multiple patterns all verbs have an ‘ö’ (øː) in the past tense:




Class 3

Class 3a is well preserved and has a predictable pattern, with 'a' in the past tense and 'u'(ɵ) in the supine. Class 3b on the other hand has shrunk in the modern language to only a few members, most of the remaining verbs now often appear with weak forms as well, making this subclass fairly unstable.

Regular class 3a verbs (ɪ-a-ɵ): binda, brinna, brista, dimpa, dricka, finna, förnimma (originally class 4), gitta (Danish loan word), hinna, klicka, klinga, rinna, simma (also weak), sitta (originally class 5), skrinna, slinka, slinta, slippa, spilla (also weak), spinna, spricka, springa, spritta, sticka, stinga, stinka, svinna (försvinna), tvinga, vinna

Regular class 3b verbs (ɛ-a-ɵ:): smälla, skälva, smälta, svälta, värpa

Anomalous: The verb varda, is declined vart-vorten. But it is now only used in the past tense (as an alternative for the past tense of bliva)

Class 4

This class has become small, only three regular verbs remain, they have a long ‘a’ (ɑː) in the past tense and a long ‘u’ (ʉː) in the supine.

Regular class 4 verbs (ɛː-ɑː-ʉː): bära, stjäla, skära

The following verbs are influenced by a preceding ‘w’ which was lost:

Class 5

With å (oː) past: äta, se, ligga

With a (ɑː) past: be / bedja, dräpa (strong forms are poetic), förgäta, ge / giva, kväda


Class 6

With 'a' in present tense and supine (ɑː-u:-ɑː): begrava, dra / draga, fara, gala, ta / taga

With 'å' in present tense and 'a' in the supine (oː-u:-ɑː): slå, två (now mostly weak)


Class 7

  • anomalous: – fick – fått, – gick – gått


  1. ^ 1957, S. Lee Crump, Boys' Life – Aug 1957 – Page 62: I sneezed a sneeze into the air; / It fell to earth I know not where. / But hard and cold were the looks of those / In whose vicinity I snoze. cited at
  2. ^
  3. ^ Examples: *aka- < *h2ego- ("to drive"), *mala- < *molh2o- ("to grind"), *habja- ("to lift") < *kh2pio- ("to seize"). See Ringe 2006, p. 188.
  4. ^ Ringe 2006, p. 241.
  5. ^ Ringe 2006, p. 226, 243.
  6. ^ a b Ringe 2006, p. 248.
  7. ^ a b Jasanoff, Jay (2008). "From Reduplication to Ablaut: The Class VII Strong Verbs of Northwest Germanic" (PDF). Retrieved 26 November 2012. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Jasanoff (2007) actually refuses to reconstruct a vowel grade for the 3rd principal part of *blōtaną (he says doing so would be "foolhardy").
  9. ^ Ringe, Donald (2006). A Linguistic History of English part 1: From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. Oxford University Press. p. 78.
  10. ^ "Om te -de of te -te".