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n German some verbs have a stem-vowel change in the present tense, more specifically in the du and the er/sie/es-forms. For now, the guide will just give the basic premise of the stem-vowel changing verbs, but you will learn later on that these verbs have further implications concerning different forms and tenses. Examples are as follows:

schlafen
ich schlafe wir schlafen
du schläfst ihr schlaft
er/sie/es schläft sie (pl.), Sie schlafen

lesen
ich lese wir lesen
du liest ihr lest
er/sie/es liest sie (pl.), Sie lesen


There are two basic types of vowel change, based on the vowel that occurs in the infinitive.

a → ä
e → i or ie

The first type of vowel change includes the change from au to äu; one verb in this category is laufen: er läuft. The second type of change, however, is a bit more complicated in that the change cannot be predicted based on any criteria; the change simply has to be memorized. Note that there is one more type of stem-vowel change, namely o to ö, but only one verb has this change (stoßen "to strike": er stößt).

How, then, does Old English even fit into the pattern? Old English, unlike Modern English, had these types of verbs and, moreover, the two basic changes found in German are also found in Old English.

a → æ

The "æ" is the vowel sound in "cat" and is similar phonetically to the German ä.

e → i or ie

The second major type of vowel change in Old English is like its German counterpart in that it cannot be predicted but has to be memorized.

Below are charts illustrating how stem-vowel changes occur in Old English, with Modern German equivalents where applicable. Only the third singular present tense form is given to illustrate the vowel change; the second person singular present tense form simply has the ending st in place of the German t or the Old English þ.

a → æ (Old English) :: a → ä (German)
English Old English
infinitive
Old English
hē...
German
infinitive
German
er...
"bake" bacan bæ backen bäckt1
"go" faran fæ fahren fährt
"load" hladan *hlæ2 laden lädt
"shake" scacan scæ -3 -3

1This is becoming an archaic form of the verb. The contemporary form does not have the vowel change, i.e., er backt.
2This form is not recorded anywhere, rather the form that occurs is hladeþ, strikingly with no vowel change indicated (Mitchell and Robinson 157, footnote 3).
3There is no known cognate in German.


e → i or ie (both languages)
English Old English
infinitive
Old English
hē...
German
infinitive
German
er...
"help" helpan hilpþ helfen hilft
"bear" beran bi (gebären) (gebirt)
"break" brecan bri brechen bricht
"steal" stelan sti stehlen stiehlt
"eat" etan itt, iteþ4 essen isst
"speak" sprecan spri sprechen spricht
----
"throw" weorpan wierpþ werfen wirft
"become" weorþan wie werden wird
----
"see" sēon sie sehen sieht

4The first form is the regular form, but the þ has been absorbed into the preceding t for ease of pronunciation. (Pronouncing itþ as it is spelled is rather difficult.) The second form has also been recorded but occurs less frequently in Old English texts.

 

(Old English forms from Mitchell and Robinson 152-158)

 

 

 

Exercises and Activities
(Exercises open in a new window)

Stem-vowel Changes in Old English and Modern High German (1)
Stem-vowel Changes in Old English and Modern High German (2)
Present Tense Stem Changes

 

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