The Verb

Gothic verbs are inflected for three persons, for three numbers - with the dual only in first and second persons, for present and preterite tenses; for indicative, subjunctive and imperative moods; and for active and passive voice, though passive forms are found only in the present tense. The subjunctive is based on the Indo-European optative; some handbooks maintain the designation, though to indicate parallelism with other Germanic dialects the term 'subjunctive' is generally used. Passives are also made with forms of wisan and wairpan plus the preterite participle.

Aspectual Expression

While Gothic has a tense system, derivational patterns, such as the -nan verbs, also indicate manner of action (Aktionsart). Yet expression of such verbal meaning is one of the most debated features of the language, as is treatment of aspectual expression in linguistic handbooks.

Some linguists use the term 'aspect' generally, while others insist on restricting it to languages like Russian, in which parallel forms are found for the so-called perfective and imperfective aspects. It is useful to distinguish between aspect with such a meaning and Aktionsart 'manner of action', which is expressed through means such as derivation. Those who make the distinction posit only Aktionsart for Gothic.

Strong and Weak Verbs

Gothic verbs fall into two groups: those called strong indicate tense through internal marking based on ablaut; those called weak are largely derived and indicate tense through a ¿-affix. The strong verbs consist of seven classes, for which we here use Roman numerals; the weak verbs consist of four, for which we use Arabic numerals. This twofold distinction sets Germanic off from other Indo-European languages; Latin, for example, has four conjugations, the third of which includes verbs such as those making up the strong group in Germanic. The two other western groups, Greek and Celtic, have even less distinct classes.

The Strong Verbs

The strong verbs consist of two sets as determined by their ablaut patterning. Of the seven Germanic classes, the first five are parallel in their ablaut patterning, as illustrated in Table 2.2; the forms have adapted the ablaut vowels e vs 0, and zero, though the fourth and fifth classes employ lengthened grade in the preterite forms other than the singular indicative.

The two remaining classes are difficult to analyse; their pattern may have been determined by laryngeal bases. By such an analysis the normal grade was applied in the past, while the present and the past participle have zero grade, e.g. Proto-Germanic a vs o vs o vs a of class VI, and ay vs ey vs ey vs ay among others of class VII, e.g., swaran9 swor 'swear', haitan, haihait

'be named'. This hypothesis is difficult to verify because few verbs in the two classes have bases that are similarly modified in other Indo-European languages. Verbs of class VII show reduplication in the past tense. Its presence has been taken by some as persistence of the widespread pattern in Indo-Iranian and Greek. It may also be the result of internal spread, for parallel verbs in the other Germanic dialects provide only a few forms that have been interpreted as reflexes of reduplicated forms. For the most part the other dialects form the stem vowel in the past tense of class VII verbs with reflexes of Proto-Germanic e2.

The Weak Verbs

Gothic has four classes of weak verbs, distinguished by their suffixes: class 1 i/j; class 2 o \class 3 &i\ class 4 na/d. The last two may also be characterized semantically; class 3 verbs are stative; class 4 verbs are inchoative or mediopassive. Class 1 verbs result from various sources, notably causatives or factitives, e.g. lagjan 'lay', and denominatives based on nouns or adjectives, e.g. hdiljan 'heal'. Class 2 verbs are also chiefly denominatives.

The Verbal Paradigm

Many forms of the class IV strong verb niman 'take' are attested; it is therefore useful for illustrating the paradigm (Table 2.9). The active voice has two tenses and three moods, but only present forms are found for the passive.

The forms of weak verbs are comparable, though the affix must be taken into consideration. And in the first class the second- and third-person singular and the second plural must be noted for variation of the resonant marking the root. The present singular forms are given in Table 2.10.

The forms of the weak past are characteristic only in the singular indicative. For lagjan the first and third singular are lagida, the second singular lagides.

Table 2.9 The verbal paradigm as illustrated by the class IV strong verb niman

Active Passive

Present Past Present

Indicative Subjunctive Imperative Indicative Subjunctive Indicative Subjunctive

1 Singular nima nimdu nam *nemj£u nimada nimdidau

2 minis *nim&is nim namt nemeis nimaza nimdizau

3 nimij) nimdi nimadau nam nemi nimada nimdidau

1 Dual nimos *nim£iwa nemu

2 nimats *nim£its *nimats *nemuts

1 Plural nimam *nim£ima *nimam nemum *nemeima nimanda nimdindau

2 nimij) nim£it> nimit> nemu{> *nemeit>

3 nimand nim&na nemun nemeina

Table 2.10 The present singular of weak verbs

Class 1

Class 2

Class 3

Class 4

1 sg.







2 sg.







3 sg.







There are three non-finite forms, the infinitive, e.g. niman, the present participle, nimands, the past participle, *numans. The present participle is inflected like a weak adjective, though the feminine ends in -ei, e.g. nimandei.


The Germanic languages have a small group of verbs that are inflected as past-tense forms but have present meaning. They arose when in the shift from an Indo-European aspect system to the Germanic tense system the lexical meaning rather than the aspectual meaning underwent change. For example, wait 'I know* is based on the perfect (preterite) form of the Proto-Indo-European root *weyd- 'see'; the aspectual meaning 'I have completed seeing' was not shifted to the preterite meaning 'I have seen' but rather to 'I know' - for, one who has seen knows. Among other members of the group are kann 'I know, I can' from 'I have recognized', dg 'I fear' from 'I have suffered in spirit'.

Somewhat similarly, the verb forms wiljau, wile is, wili 'want' are historically optative, but are used as indicatives.

The present-tense forms of the verb be are made from the Proto-Indo-European root *?es- 'be', e.g. im 'I am', is 'thou art', ist 'is'. The infinitive and past tense are made from the root Proto-Indo-European *wes- 'exist', e.g. was, wast, was, inf. wisan, pres. part, wisands.

Uninfected Words

There are four classes of uninflected words: adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and inteijections. Among these the class of adverbs has the most members, some of which are noted here.

Adverbs derived from adjectives are made with the suffix -d that is a reflex of Proto-Indo-European -dd, and identified by some scholars as an ablative, e.g. galeiko 'similarly'; as a more likely explanation it is a form from which the ablative in some nouns arose, notably in Sanskrit and Latin. The suffix -ba is used to derive adverbs of manner from adjectives, e.g. ubilaba 'evilly'. Adverbs of place form a set of related items using several suffixes, e.g. inn 'into', inna 'within', innapro 'from within', hwap 'where to', hwaprd 'from where'.

Prepositions are found that govern any of the oblique cases, or also several cases, such as ana 'on, at' governing the dative and the accusative, in governing all three cases, with the meaning 'because of' when followed by the genitive. They are also used as prefixes in compounding, e.g.faura-gaggja 'steward' < 'one going ahead'. When such prefixes are found with verbs, a particle may be placed between the two segments, e.g. us-nu-gibip 'now give (out)'. The position of the separating particle indicates that such verbal compounds are not fixed yet. This conclusion is supported by the position of the accent in such compounds in Modern German, where the prefix has been weakened in verbs, e.g. erlauben 'permit', but not in nouns, e.g. Urlaub 'furlough'.

Many conjunctions are in use to indicate the relationships between clauses. They do not govern modal forms, which in Gothic have the function of expressing modality rather than subordination.

Simple conjunction is indicated by jah 'and, also', uh 'and', and nih 'and not'. Disjunction is expressed by pau(h) and aippau < *aif-pau, cf. Eng. if, 'or', as well as by the correlatives andizuh ... aippau 'either ... or'. Adversative relationship is expressed by ip, pan, appan, akei 'but' and ak 'but, on the contrary'.

For indicating conditional relationships jabai 'if' and niba(i) 'if not' are used, and for indicating concessive relations, pauhjabai 'even if, swepauh 'to be sure'.

To indicate purpose, many conjunctions in -ei are found, including ei, patei, peei, pei 'that', swaei and swaswe 'so that'. The conjunction swe is used for comparison with the meaning 'as' and temporally 'as, when'. Other temporal conjunctions are pan, pande 'whenever, as long as', bipe, mippanei 'while', sunsei (suns-ei) 'as soon as', unte 'until'.

Causal relationship is expressed by allis, auk, unte, raihtis 'for, because'; result by eipan, nu, nuh, nunu,panuh,pannu,paruh 'therefore, accordingly'.

This large array of conjunctions, most newly created for these uses in Gothic or Proto-Germanic, provides further evidence that means for expressing clausal interrelationships in Proto-Germanic had to be created, as we have noted with relative markers. When the basic order of sentences shifted from the Proto-Indo-European Object-Verb (OV) to Verb-Object (VO) in Proto-Germanic and its dialects, subordinate clauses came to be postposed; markers were then essential to indicate their relationship with the principal clause. The need was even greater because clausal interrelationships were not expressed through verbal forms, for example, subjunctives in contrast with indicatives.

Only a few inteijections are included in the texts: o 'oh', sai 'behold', wai 'alas', as well as the three forms modified for number, hiri, hirjats, hirjip 'come here'.

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