Royal Holloway, University of London<white space>Department of English

Old English Preterite-Present Verbs
These include our modal verbs (modern English ‘may’, ‘can’, ‘should’, etc.) and are thus very common. They are called preterite-present because they have a preterite (ie. past) strong verb form with a present meaning; for a past tense, they create a weak verb form.

To review: a strong verb forms a past tense through vowel changes. For example, drincan ‘to drink’ becomes dranc (1st person singular preterite), druncon (plural preterite), and (ge)druncen (past participle).

A weak verb forms a past tense by adding d (or sometimes t). For example, fremman ‘to perform, do’ becomes fremede, fremedon, and gefremed.

With these things in mind, see below.

1. agan to own, possess, have power over
Present Past
ic ah we agon ic ahte we ahton
þu ahst ge agon þu ahtest ge ahton
he ah hie agon he ahte hie ahton

2. cunnan can, to know how to
Present Past
ic cann  we cunnon ic cuþe we cuþon
þu canst ge cunnon þu cuþest ge cuþon
he cann hie cunnon he cuþe  hie cuþon

3. dugan to avail, be of use, be good
Present Past
ic deah we dugon ic dohte we dohton
--  ge dugon þu dohtest ge dohton
he deah hie dugon he dohte  hi dohton

The rest follow the same pattern:
Present Past
1&3 pers 2nd pers Plural Singular Plural
4. durran to dare dearr dearst durron dorste dorston
5. gemunan remember  geman gemanst gemunon gemunde gemundon
6. magan to be able  mæg meaht magon mihte / meahte mihton / meahton
7. motan may  mot most moton moton moston
8. sculan must  sceal scealt sculon sceolde sceoldon
9. þurfan to need þearf þearft þurfon þorfte þorfton
10. witan to know wat wast witon wiste / wisse wiston / wisson

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Page created by Dr Jennifer Neville
Last updated 2 July 1999