Ablaut derivatives

From The Anglish Wiki

Many common words in our speech are gotten from a process called ablaut. For example, the word song is obviously linked to sing. Because sound changes have beclouded many of the original links, the Old English forms are given as well. All forms that are no longer used in current standard speech are put in bold. A (*) shows that a form has been reconstructed and is not attested in New English.

In many derivatives, the vowel was affected by umlaut (about which see here). Some umlauted forms are characteristic of the West Saxon dialect, so those forms are marked (WS). Generally, the form passed down to us is from the Anglian variant.

In a few cases, the form of either the infinitive or the derivative ended up taking over the other. For example, OE drync would have normally become drinch, but it later became influenced by the verb drink. Here, the normal reflexes are recorded instead of the analogous ones. Normal developments for certain verbs, however, are excluded; for example, the reflex of OE swebban is recorded here as sweave and not sweb since this is part of a regular process in which inflected forms of certain verbs ended up influencing the infinitive.


OE infinitive OE vowel stem OE derivative NE infinitive NE derivative
Class 1
belīfan (remain) -lāf lāf (remainder) belive (*) love (*)
bītan biten bite (bite) bite bit
bītan biten bita (morsel) bite bit
drīfan drāf drāf drive drove
līþan (go) lāþ lād (course) lithe (*) load
rīdan rād rād (riding) ride road
snīþan (cut) snāþ snǣd (morsel) snithe snead (*)
strīdan striden stride (stride) stride strid (*)
swīcan (deceive) swicen swice (deceit) swike (*) swick (*)
wrītan writen writ write writ
Class 2
bēodan (offer) boden bod (order) bid bode
būgan bēag bēag (bracelet) bow bigh (*)
būgan bugon byge (angle) bow bye (*)
būgan bogen boga bow bow
cēosan curon cyre (choice) choose kir (*)
clēofan clufon clufu cleave clove
hrēosan (fall) hruron hryre (fall) reeze (*) rure (*)
hrēosan (fall) hroren gehror (ruin) reeze (*) rore (*)
nēotan (use) nēat genēat (companion) neet (*) neat (*)
nēotan (use) nuton nyt (use) neet (*) nit (*)
nēotan (use) noten notu (use) neet (*) note
scēotan scēat scȳte (WS, cloth) shoot sheet
scēotan scēat scēata (corner) shoot sheet
scēotan scoten scot shoot shot
sēoþan (boil) sēaþ sēaþ (pit) seethe seath (*)
Class 3-1
bindan band bend (fetter) bind bend
drincan dranc drenc drink drench
drincan druncen drync drink drinch (*)
hlimman (sound) hlamm hlemm (sound) lim (*) lem (*)
rinnan runnen ryne (course) run rin (*)
singan sang sang sing song
stincan stanc stenc stink stench
swincan (toil) swanc swenc (trouble) swink swench (*)
þringan (press) þrang geþrang thring throng
Class 3-2
ceorfan (cut) curfon cyrf (cutting) carve kerf
weorpan (throw) wurpon wyrp (throw) warp wirp (*)
weorþan (become) wurþon wyrd (fate) worth wird (*)
Class 4
beran bǣron bǣr bear bier
brecan brocen bryce break britch (*)
cuman cumen cyme (coming) come kim (*)
cwelan (die) cwæl cwalu (killing) queal (*) quale (*)
scieran scear scear (plowshare) shear share
scieran scearu scearu (cutting) shear share
stelan stæl stalu (theft) steal stale (*)
Class 5
cweþan (say) cweden cwide (saying) queath quid (*)
drepan (strike) drepen drepe (stroke) dreap (*) dreap (*)
etan ǣton ǣt (food) eat eat
sprecan sprǣcon sprǣc speak speech
Class 6
faran fōr fōr (journey) fare fore (*)
cunnan (know) cann cann (knowledge) cun (*) can (*)
þurfan (need) þearf þearf (need) thurve (*) tharf (*)


  • Bit from OE bite is now used to refer to a horse's mouthpiece or tools used for boring such as the drill bit. Bit from OE bita is used to mean small piece.
  • The OE forebear of stroke (akin to strike) is unattested and would have been strāc, but it is found in the OE verb strācian (stroke).
  • Bend has been replaced by bond, which came from Old Norse, but bend is still used in nautical contexts to refer to a knot with which a rope is tied to another or to something else.
  • Sheet from the OE word meaning corner was influenced by the compound noun scēatlīne, so as a nautical word, it now refers to a rope attached to the lower corner of a sail.
  • OE bēag became bee in northern dialects, and bee is now used only in nautical speech to refer to a piece of wood on each side of a ship's bowsprit. The bee (more specifically, bee block) is used to fasten stays from the mast or the foremast.
  • Clove was clufu in OE, so the normal reflex would normally rhyme with love, not grove. The variant with the changed vowel, which begins to be attested in Middle English, was likely due to influence of cloven, a past participle form of cleave.
  • The archaic verb worth is still used in the literary phrase woe worth (wherein worth is subjunctive, and the phrase thus means woe be to). If the verb had survived in spoken speech, it would be pronounced /wərð/ (better spelled as worthe), since as a verb passed down from Old English, the dental fricative would naturally be voiced.
    • Likewise, the obsolete verb queath lives on only in bequeath so would be naturally pronounced /kwið/.


Causative verbs are gotten through ablaut, but the relationship is somewhat beclouded by the vowel changes brought upon by umlaut. The original vowel is that of the past singular indicative. Note that for the preterite-present verbs, the form listed in the OE past column is truly the present tense form, since the present tense form was originally a past singular form.

OE infinitive OE past OE causative NE infinitive NE causative
Class 1
belīfan (remain) -lāf lǣfan belive (*) leave
bīdan (wait) bād bǣdan (constrain, urge) bide bead (*)
bītan bāt bǣtan (bridle, bait) bite beat (*)
drīfan drāf drǣfan (repel) drive dreave (*)
hnīgan (bow) hnāg hnǣgan (cause to bow, humble) nye (*) nay (*)
līþan (go) lāþ lǣdan lithe (*) lead
rīsan rās rǣran rise rear
Class 2
brēotan (break) brēat brȳtan (WS, crush) breet (*) breet (*)
būgan bēag bȳgan (WS, cause to bend) bow bye (*)
drēopan (drop) drēap drȳpan (WS, cause to drop, moisten) dreep dreep (*)
dūfan (dive) dēaf dȳfan (WS, dip) dove (*) dive
flēon flēag flȳgan (WS, cause to flee) flee fly (*)
slūpan (slip) slēap slȳpan (WS, slip) sloup (*) sleep (*)
Class 3-1
acwincan (disappear) -cwanc cwencan aquink (*) quench
birnan barn bærnan (set on fire) burn barn (*)
clingan clang clengan (adhere) cling clinge (*)
drincan dranc drencan (force to drink) drink drench
irnan, rinnan (run) arn, rann ærnan (gallop), gerennan (coagulate) run arn (*), ren (*)
scrincan scranc gescrencan (cause to shrivel) shrink shrench (*)
sincan sanc sencan (cause to sink) sink sench (*)
springan sprang sprengan (sprinkle) spring springe
stincan stanc stencan (stink) stink stench
swimman swamm beswemman (cause to swim, wash) swim swem (*)
swincan (toil) swanc swencan (trouble) swink swench (*)
swingan swang swengan (shake) swing swinge
windan wand wendan (turn) wind wend
Class 3-2
hweorfan (turn) hwearf hwyrfan (WS, turn) wharve (*) wharve (*)
meltan mealt myltan (WS, cause to melt) melt melt
weorþan (become) wearþ wyrdan (WS, injure) worth werd (*)
Class 4
cwelan (die) cwæl cwellan (kill) queal (*) quell
Class 5
licgan læg lecgan lie lay
nesan (survive) næs nerian (save) nease (*) near (*)
sittan sæt settan sit set
swefan (sleep) swæf swebban (put to sleep) sweave (*) sweave (*)
wegan wæg wecgan (move, shake) weigh way (*)
Class 6
faran fōr fēran (go) fare fere (*)
cunnan (know) cann cennan (make known) cun (*) ken
dugan (avail) dēag gedȳgan (WS, escape) dow die (*)


  • Some of the causatives had already lost causative force, even by Old English times, e.g., OE faran and fēran meant nearly the same thing, and the latter was not used as the causative of the former, i.e., if it had kept causative force, it would have meant something like carry instead.
  • The consonantal difference seen in pairs such as rise and rear, and OE līþan and NE lead is due to Verner's law.
  • The verb raise, often used instead of rear as the causative equivalent of rise, is a borrowing from Old Norse, but both rear and raise are etymologically the causative of rise.
  • Bend (OE bendan) and singe (OE sengan) may be causatives of bind and sing, respectively, though all causative force is now lost.
  • Cringe seems to be from the unattested Old English verb crengan, the causative of cringan (meaning fall, yield).
  • Clench arose from a variant of the causative of OE clingan (cling).
  • The OE verbs cwincan and līfan (from which the causatives quench and leave are gotten) are attested only in the derivatives acwincan and belīfan, both of which had the same meaning as the base verbs.
    • The prefixed causative of belīfan, belǣfan, would have become something like beleave or bleave (as the vowel in the prefix was often dropped in Middle English).
  • Interestingly enough, dive is gotten from the West Saxon variant rather than the Anglian variant, which is attested in Middle English as deven and would have become deeve.
  • The modern verb dwell was originally the causative of the OE verb dwelan (go astray), which is attested only in the past participle adjective gedwolen (erroneous). Thus, the original meaning of dwell was lead astray, and it later came to mean reside, perhaps from influence of its Norse cognate.
  • OE etan (eat) had ettan (graze, pasture) as its causative, but it is not based on the past tense form ǣt (which is unusual for its lengthened vowel). Instead, it is based on an older past tense form that, if it had survived into Old English, would have become æt.
  • OE irnan and rinnan are variants of the same verb, the former being a metathesized form of the latter. In standard speech, the verb later became run, the past tense being ran. The causative too underwent metathesis in Old English, so there were two causative forms: ærnan (gallop) and gerennan (coagulate).
  • Send appears to be the causative of a lost strong verb related to the obsolete noun sithe (journey, time).
  • OE stencan meaning stink (as it had lost its causative force) is attested only once and is seldom found in Middle English. Since the 16th century, however, stench has been occasionally used to mean cause to stink, and this meaning was likeliest gotten from the noun stench.
    • OE stencan also meant scatter and was the causative of the strong verb stincan meaning spring, leap.
  • The modern form of OE dūfan would be dove (rhyming with shove, OE scūfan).
  • The causatives of OE feallan (fall) and weallan (boil) are fyllan and wyllan, but they do not quite belong here, as they are based not on the OE past tense forms fēoll and wēoll but on older past tense forms. The OE past tense forms were newly formed and had replaced the older reduplicated forms. The modern verbs fell and well are from fellan and wellan, the Anglian variants.
  • OE cennan had the meaning of cause to know and so had such meanings as inform and declare. The non-causative meaning of know arose in Middle English and likely came from the Old Norse cognate.
  • The irregular verb will (etymologically not a preterite-present, despite its resemblance) had a causative in Proto-Germanic that would have become OE wellan had it survived up to that point. It is akin to the dialectal word wale (choice), which was borrowed from Norse; the dialectal verb wale (choose) is converted from the noun.