Grammatical Categories of the Finite Verb

§ 190.The verb-predicate agreed with the subject of the sentence in two grammatical categories: number and person. Its specifically ver­bal categories were mood and tense. Thus in OE hē bindep “he binds” the verb is in the 3rd p. sg, Pres. Tense Ind. Mood; in the sentence Brinʒap mē hider pā ‘Bring me those (loaves)’ brinʒap is in the Imper. Mood pl.

Finite forms regularly distinguished between two numbers: sg and pl. The homonymy of forms in the verb paradigm did not affect number distinctions: opposition through number was never neutralised (see the conjugations in Table 9).

The category of Person was made up of three forms: the 1st, the 2nd and the 3rd. Unlike number, person distinctions were neutralised in many positions. Person was consistently shown only in the Pres. Tense of the Ind. Mood sg. In the Past Tense sg of the Ind. Mood the forms of the 1st and 3rd p. coincided and only the 2nd p. had a distinct form. Per­son was not distinguished in the pl; nor was it shown in the Subj. Mood.

The category of Mood was constituted by the Indicative, Impera­tive and Subjunctive. As can be seen from the paradigms in Table 9 there were a few homonymous forms which eliminated the distinction between the moods: Subj. did not differ from the Ind. in the 1st p. sg Pres. Tense — here, dēme — and in the 1st and 3rd p. in the Past. The coincidence of the Imper. and Ind. Moods is seen in the pl — lōciap, dēmap.

The category of Tense in OE consisted of two categorial forms, Pres. and Past, The tenses were formally distinguished by all the verbs in the Ind. and Subj. Moods, there being practically no instances of neutrali­sation of the tense opposition.

§ 191. In order to understand the structure of the verb system one should get acquainted with the meanings and use of moods and tenses in OE.

The use of the Subj. Mood in OE was in many respects different from its use in later ages. Subj. forms conveyed a very general meaning of unreality or supposition. In addition to its use in conditional sen­tences and other volitional, conjectural and hypothetical contexts Subj. Was common in other types of construction: in clauses of time, clauses of result and in clauses presenting reported speech, e. g.:

pā ʒiet hē ascode hwæt heora cyninʒ hāten wǣre, and him man and swarode and cwæð pæt hē Ælle hāten wære ‘and yet he asked what their king was called, and they answered and said that he was called Ælle’.In presenting indirect speech usage was variable: Ind. forms occurred by the side of Subj.

Table 9

Conjugation of Verbs in Old English

  Strong Weak
Infinitive findan beran dēman lōcian
  (NE find bear deem look)
Present tense        
Singular 1st finde bere dēme lōcje
2nd fintst bir(e)st[18] dēmst lōcast
3rd fint bir(e)p dēmp lōcap
Plural findap berap dēmap lōciap
Singular finde bere dēme lōcie
Plural finden beren dēmen lōcien
Singular find ber dēm lōca
Plural findap berap dēmap lōciap
Participle I findende berende dēmende lōciende
Past tense        
Singular 1st fond bær dēmde lōcode
2nd funde bǣre dēmdest lōcodest
3rd fond bær dēmde lōcode
Plural fundon bǣron dēmdon lōcodon
Singular funde bǣre dēmde lōcode
Plural funden bǣren dēmden lōcoden
Participle II (ʒe)fundon (ʒe)boren (ʒe)dēmed (ʒe)lōcod

§ 192. The meanings of the tense forms were also very general, as compared with later ages and with present-day English. The forms of the Pres. were used to indicate present and future actions. With verbs of perfective meaning or with adverbs of future time the Pres. acquired the meaning of futurity; Cf.:

ponne pū pa inbrinʒst, ytt and blētsap pē — futurity — ‘when you bring them, he will eat and bless you’

ʒesihst past ic ealdiʒe ‘you see that I am getting old’ the Pres.

These phrases did not form regular oppositions with the simple forms of the verb and cannot be treated as members of grammatical categories. They belonged to the periphery of the verb system and provided a sup­ply of phrases which was later used for further extension of the system.

§ 194.The category of voice in OE is another debatable issue. In OE texts we find a few isolated relics of synthetic Mediopassive forms (which may have existed in PG and were well developed in Gothic), Cf. the old Mediopassive in pā ēa pe hātte Araxis ‘the river that is called Arax’ with the active use of the same verb: pā dēor hie hātap hrānas ‘those deer they called reindeer’. The passive meaning was frequently indicated with the help of Participle II of transitive verbs used as pre­dicatives with the verbs bēon (NE be)and weorðan ‘become’:

pæt hūs wearð forburnen ‘that house was (got) then burned down’

hie wǣron micle swipor ʒebrocode on pǣm prim ʒēarum ‘they were badly afflicted in these three years’.

During the OE period these constructions were gradually transformed into the analytical forms of the Passive voice.

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