Gothic Online

Lesson 8

Todd B. Krause and Jonathan Slocum


Ulfila, also written Ulphilas in Greek texts, is the name of the bishop who devised an alphabet for the Gothic language and translated the Bible into Gothic in the mid-4th century AD. Based on the form in which it is written in Romance languages, as Vulphilas, Vulfila, or Gulphilas -- with an initial gu- signifying w- -- the name is probably more properly written Wulfila. The name itself is composed of the noun wulfs 'wolf' and the diminutive suffix -ila, the same kind of construction which forms the name of the most famous of the Huns, Attila < atta 'father' + ila (diminutive). It is not clear that the name 'little wolf' has any particular connotation in the case of the Biblical translator.

Most of what we know about Wulfila comes from two sources. One is a letter by Auxentius, a former student of Wulfila. The other is the Church History of Philostorgius, written sometime in the 5th century. Unfortunately this latter only survives in epitomized form, in the work of a 9th century scholar and patriarch of Constantinople by the name of Photius. This is brief enough that it is worth quoting in full (from Heather and Matthews, 1991):

    (Philostorgius) says that at this time Ulphilas led a large body of the Scythians from those living across the Ister (the people whom in olden times they called Getae, but now call Goths) to the land of the Romans, driven through piety from their own homes. Now this people became Christian in the following way.
    In the reigns of Valerian and Galleinus, a large number of Scythians from beyond the Ister crossed into Roman territory and overran much of Europe. Crossing into Asia, they reached as far as Galatia and Cappadocia. They took many prisoners, including some who were members of the clergy, and went home with a great quantity of booty.
    Now the pious hand of prisoners, living as they did among the barbarians, converted many of them to the way of piety and persuaded them to adopt the Christian faith instead of the pagan. Among these prisoners were the ancestors of Ulphilas; they were Cappadocians by nationality, from a village near the city of Parnassus called Sadagolthina.
    It was this Ulphilas who led the exodus of the pious ones, being the first bishop appointed among them. He was appointed in the following circumstances: sent with others by the ruler of the race of the Goths on an embassy in the time of Constantine (for the barbarian peoples in those parts owed allegiance to the emperor), Ulphilas was elected by Eusebius and the bishops of his party as bishop of the Christians in the Getic land.
    Among the matters which he attended to among them, he was the inventor for them of their own letters, and translated all the Scriptures into their languages -- with the exception, that is, of Kings. This was because these books contain the history of wars, while the Gothic people, being lovers of war, were in need of something to restrain their passion for fighting rather than to incite them to it -- which those books have the power to do, for all that they are held in the highest honour, and are well fitted to lead believers to the worship of God.
    The emperor established this mass of refugees in the territories of Moesia, where each man chose to live; and he held Ulphilas in the highest esteem, so as often to refer to him as the 'Moses of our time'. Philostorgius admires this man to excess, and records that with those in his charge he was attached to the same heretical opinions as himself.

Wulfila must have been consecrated bishop before 341, since in this year Eusebius of Nicomedia died. Wulfila subsequently went on a 7-year mission in Gothia, eventually leaving as a result of persecution. Assuming he was in fact consecrated in 341, and then left shortly thereafter on his mission, he would have left the Gothic lands in 347-348. This agrees with the timeline found in Auxentius. The historian Sozomen does in fact record something of Wulfila's impact on the Goths in his Ecclesiastical History (translated in Heather and Matthews, 1991):

    In my opinion, however, this is not the only reason why the entire nation of the Goths is still to this day associated with the followers of Arius: there is also the influence of Ulphilas, who held the priestly office among them at that time.
    At first, Ulphilas was in no respect at variance with the Catholic church, but in the reign of Constantius, in my opinion without considering the consequences, he joined the party of Eudoxius and Acacius at the council of Constantinople, while remaining in communion with the clergy of the party who had met at Nicaea.
    But when he arrived at Constantinople, it is said theat there entered into discussion with him on questions of doctrine the leaders of the Arian heresy, who promised that they would lend their support to his embassy to the emperor if he adopted the same opinions as themselves; and that, compelled by his need -- or even genuinely believing it better to think of God in this way -- he entered communion with the supporters of Arius and, together with the entire people, split away from the Catholic church.

Auxentius was a student of Wulfila and later bishop of Durostorum (Silistra) on the Danube. His letter concerning his teacher is preserved in a scholia on the council of Aquileia in 381, written by the 5th century Arian theologian Maximinus. In the council itself, the Illyrian Arians, led by bishops Palladius of Ratiaria and Secundianus of Singidunum, were defeated by Ambrose of Milan, and Arian beliefs were thereby condemned.

To situate Wulfila in the proper theological setting of which he was a part, it is instructive to know something of the Arian debate which seized the church during this period. Arius was a Libyan theologian who lived c. 256-336 A.D. He denied that the Son was consubstantial with the Father, and thereby raised questions of the nature of the Trinity. The First Council of Nicea met in 325 to resolve this heresy, which seriously threatened the early church. As time passed and the debate continued, several revised opinions emerged. There were essentially four broad viewpoints:

  1. homo-ousía, literally 'same-substance'. The homoousians (or homousians) maintained that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were of the same being or substance (ous/ia), none prior to the others. This was early espoused by Athanasius of Alexandria, then later by Basil of Caesarea and others.
  2. homoi-ousía, literally 'similar-substance'. The homoiousians (or homoeusians) maintained that the members of the Trinity were cast from similar, but not, identical substance. The softening of tone allowed certain questions raised by homoousian doctrine to be passed over, specifically the question of what were in fact the differences in the members of the Trinity. The leader of this movement was Basil of Ancyra.
  3. hómoios, literally 'similar'. The homoians (or homoeans) felt (1) that terms including ousía held no explanatory power, and (2) that the doctrine of the homoousians confused the members of the Trinity. This school was initiated by Eusebius of Nicomedia, then later taken up by the bishops Acacius of Caesarea and Eudoxius of Constantinople, and eventually supported by the Emperor Constantius.
  4. an-(h)ómoios, literally 'dis-similar'. The anomoians (or anomoeans) were more assertive than the Arians, proposing that the Father and Son were in fact unlike one another, creating a true division within the Trinity. This movement gained ground sometime in the 350s, under the leadership of Aetius and Eunomius.

Wulfila for his part espoused the Arian doctrine, asserting a difference between the members of the Trinity, and further maintaining a disdain for the introduction of the term ousía into traditional creeds.

According to Auxentius, Wulfila also rejected the homoiousians, 'because he defended not comparable things but different dispositions'. It appears that Wulfila's primary concern with the members of the Trinity was not their actual substance, but rather the functions they fulfilled. There was an established order, in which the 'unbegotten' Supreme God (Father) produced the 'only-begotten' God (the Lord, or Christ, the Son), who was then in turn the creator of the physical and spiritual universe in the stead of the Father. This Second God had also produced the Holy Spirit as an intermediary between the mortal and divine world. Auxentius explains:

    Now since there exists only one unbegotten God and there stands under him only one only-begotten God, the Holy Spirit our advocate can be called neither God nor Lord, but received its being from God through the Lord:... minister of Christ and distributor of acts of grace....
    Steadfast in these and simlar doctrines, flourishing gloriously for forty years in the bishopric, [Ulfila] preached unceasingly with apostolic grace in the Greek, Latin and Gothic languages, in the one and only church of Christ....

In his letter Auxentius goes on to talk of the persecution that drove Wulfila from Gothia:

    Then, through the envy and machinations of the Enemy a tyrannical and fearsome persecution of Christians in the barbarian land was aroused by the impious and sacrilegious 'iudex' of the Goths....
    And then, after the glorious martyrdom of many servants and maidservants of Christ, with threats of persecution growing ever more intense, after completing just seven years in his episcopate the holy and blessed Ulfila, of whom we speak, was driven from the barbarian land with a great number of confessors and, still in the reign of Constantius of blessed memory, was received with honour on Roman soil.
    And as God through Moses liberated his people from the power and violence of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, brought them across the seas and provided that they enter his service, so, through him whom we describe, God liberated from barbarian lands the confessors of his holy son the only-begotten, brought them across the Danube and had them serve him in the mountains, in imitation of the saints.

Wulfila was then not merely an obscure patriarch who chose a mission into the barbarian hinterland. Had the council at Aquileia in 381 not stamped out Arian beliefs, Wulfila may have gone on to be heralded as one of the great fathers of the church during this era. As events unfolded, however, his side did not carry the day; the steps taken later by the church, to erase documents espousing Arian attitudes, were so successful that we are in fact lucky to have any material on Wulfila at all.

Reading and Textual Analysis

It is uncertain whether the Gothic commentary on the Gospel of John, known as Skeireins (cf. ga-skeirjan 'make clear, interpret', related to skeinan 'shine' -- compare OE scīr and OHG schīr 'pure, sheer', as well as OE scīnan 'shine'), represents an original Gothic composition or merely a translation of a Greek or Latin original. Accepting Gothic as the original language of the text still leaves many questions of style and syntax unanswered. The text does not syntactically depart from the biblical translation in any significant way. This is perhaps only a chance occurrence due to the brevity of the surviving text. Given the genre, however, it is probably safe to suppose that the text was influenced by both Greek and Latin texts of similar character.

The Skeireins was probably composed sometime in the 5th century A.D. It was once argued that Wulfila was the author of this text as well as of the Bible translation, but this is now thought unlikely. The surviving portions of the work are recorded as a palimpsest on eight separate leaves of parchment, originally part of a single manuscript. The numbering convention used here, following Bennett's edition in The Gothic Commentary on the Gospel of John, designates each of the leaves with a Roman numeral (I-VIII) and the columns of text on each leaf with letters of the alphabet (a, b for recto and c, d for verso). The passage below, Skeireins IV c16 - d24, is of interest for providing us with a demonstration of the theological beliefs of the early Goths.

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  • -- conjunction; <iþ> but, however, if -- but
  • sa -- demonstrative used as person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <sa, so, þata> this, that -- he (who)
  • us -- preposition; <us> out, out of, from -- from
  • himina -- strong noun, masculine; dative singular of <himins> heaven -- heaven
  • qumana -- strong verb class 4; nominative singular masculine of preterite participle of <qiman> to come, arrive -- has come
  • jabai -- conjunction; <jabái> if, even if, although -- even if
  • in -- preposition; <in> into, towards; on account of; in, among, by -- in
  • leika -- strong noun, neuter; dative singular of <leik> body, flesh -- the flesh
  • wisan -- strong verb class 5; infinitive of <wisan> to be -- to be
  • þuhta -- weak verb class 1; third person singular preterite of <þugkjan> to seem -- he seemed
  • akei -- conjunction; <akei> but, yet, still, nevertheless -- nevertheless
  • ufaro -- preposition; <ufarō> above, upon, over -- above
  • allaim -- adjective used as substantive; dative plural masculine of <alls> all, every -- all
  • ist -- strong verb class 5; athematic third person singular present of <wisan> to be -- is

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  • jah -- conjunction; <jah> and, also -- and
  • þatei -- relative pronoun; accusative singular neuter of <saei> who, he who, which -- that which
  • gasaƕ -- strong verb class 5; third person singular preterite of <gasaíƕan> to see -- he has seen
  • jag -- conjunction; <jah> and, also -- and # the final -h of jah has assimilated to the initial g- of the following word
  • gahausida -- weak verb class 1; third person singular preterite of <gaháusjan> to hear -- heard
  • þata -- demonstrative used as pronoun; accusative singular neuter of <sa, so, þata> this, that -- that
  • weitwodeiþ -- weak verb class 1; third person singular of <weitwōdjan> to bear witness, to testify -- he testifies
  • jah -- conjunction; <jah> and, also -- and
  • þo -- demonstrative used as article; accusative plural neuter of <sa, so, þata> this, that -- ...
  • weitwodida -- weak verb class 1; accusative plural neuter of preterite participle of <weitwōdjan> to bear witness, to testify -- testimony
  • is -- personal pronoun; genitive singular masculine of <is> he, she, it -- of him
  • ni -- adverb; <ni> not -- no
  • ainshun -- indefinite pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <áinshun> (always with negative) (no) one, (n)one -- man
  • nimiþ -- strong verb class 4; third person singular of <niman> to take, receive -- receives

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  • jah -- conjunction; <jah> and, also -- and
  • þauhjabai -- conjunction; <þáuhjabái> even though -- even though
  • us -- preposition; <us> out, out of, from -- from
  • air -- adverb; <áir> soon, early -- ...
  • himina -- strong noun, masculine; dative singular of <himins> heaven -- heaven
  • ana -- preposition; <ana> in, on, upon, at, over; to, into; against -- to
  • airþai -- strong noun, feminine; dative singular of <aírþa> earth -- earth
  • in -- preposition; <in> into, towards; on account of; in, among, by -- for
  • manne -- irregular noun, masculine; genitive plural of <manna> man -- concerning men
  • garehsnais -- strong noun, feminine; genitive singular of <garēhsns> time, determination, design, plan -- the plan
  • qam -- strong verb class 4; third person singular preterite of <qiman> to come, arrive -- he came

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  • akei -- conjunction; <akei> but, yet, still, nevertheless -- yet by
  • ni -- adverb; <ni> not -- no
  • þe -- demonstrative used as article; instrumental singular neuter of <sa, so, þata> this, that -- ...
  • haldis -- adverb; <haldis> rather, more -- means
  • airþeins -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <aírþeins> earthly, born of the earth -- earthly
  • was -- strong verb class 5; third person singular preterite of <wisan> to be -- he was
  • nih -- adverb; <ni> not + enclitic conjunction; <-uh> but, and, now, therefore -- or
  • us -- preposition; <us> out, out of, from -- from
  • airþai -- strong noun, feminine; dative singular of <aírþa> earth -- the earth
  • rodjands -- weak verb class 1; nominative singular masculine of present participle of <rōdjan> to speak -- speaking
  • Ak -- conjunction; <ak> but, however -- but
  • himinakunda -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <himinakunds> heavenly -- born of heaven
  • anafilhands -- strong verb class 3; nominative singular masculine of present participle of <anafilhan> to transmit, to hand down -- transmitting
  • fulhsnja -- strong noun, neuter; accusative plural of <fulhsni> hidden thing, secret -- the hidden things
  • þoei -- relative pronoun; accusative plural neuter of <saei> who, he who, which -- that
  • gasaƕ -- strong verb class 5; third person singular preterite of <gasaíƕan> to see -- he had seen

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  • jag -- conjunction; <jah> and, also -- and # the final -h of jah has assimilated to the initial g- of the following word
  • gahausida -- weak verb class 1; third person singular preterite of <gaháusjan> to hear -- had heard
  • at -- preposition; <at> at, by, to, with, of -- from
  • attin -- weak noun, masculine; dative singular of <atta> father -- the Father
  • þo -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative singular neuter of <sa, so, þata> this, that -- these matters
  • nu -- adverb; <nu> now, therefore -- now
  • insakana -- strong verb class 6; nominative singular neuter of preterite participle of <*insakan> to designate, to put forth -- declared
  • wesun -- strong verb class 5; third person plural preterite of <wisan> to be -- were
  • fram -- preposition; <fram> from, by, since, on account of -- by
  • Iohanne -- strong proper noun, masculine; dative singular of <Iōhannēs> John -- John
  • ni -- adverb; <ni> not -- not
  • in -- preposition; <in> into, towards; on account of; in, among, by -- ...
  • þis -- demonstrative; genitive singular neuter of <sa, so, þata> this, that -- ...
  • þatainei -- adverb; <þatáinei> only -- merely
  • ei -- conjunction; <ei> that, so that; whether; (relative particle) -- that
  • fins -- weak noun, masculine; genitive singular of <fráuja> lord, master -- the Lord's # abbreviation for fráujins
  • mikilein -- weak noun, feminine; accusative singular of <mikilei> greatness -- greatness
  • gakannidedi -- weak verb class 1; third person singular preterite subjunctive of <gakannjan> to make known -- he might proclaim

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  • ak -- conjunction; <ak> but, however -- but
  • du -- preposition; <du> to, towards; against; in -- to
  • gatarhjan -- weak verb class 1; infinitive of <gatarhjan> to expose, to make public -- censure
  • jah -- conjunction; <jah> and, also -- and
  • gasakan -- strong verb class 6; infinitive of <gasakan> to rebuke, to reprove -- rebuke
  • þo -- demonstrative used as adjective; accusative singular feminine of <sa, so, þata> this, that -- that
  • afgudon -- adjective; accusative singular feminine of <afguþs> godless, impious -- impious
  • haifst -- strong noun, feminine; accusative singular of <háifsts> fight, strife -- contention

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  • sabailliaus -- strong noun, masculine; genitive singular of <sabaíllius> Sabellius -- of Sabellius
  • jah -- conjunction; <jah> and, also -- and
  • markailliaus -- strong noun, masculine; genitive singular of <markaíllius> Marcellus -- Marcellus
  • þaiei -- relative pronoun; nominative plural masculine of <saei> who, he who, which -- who
  • ainana -- numeral; accusative singular masculine of <áins> one -- (are) one
  • anananþidedun -- weak verb class 1; third person plural preterite of <anananþjan> to dare -- dared
  • qiþan -- strong verb class 5; infinitive of <qiþan> to say, speak -- to say (that)
  • attan -- weak noun, masculine; accusative singular of <atta> father -- the Father
  • jah -- conjunction; <jah> and, also -- and
  • sunu -- strong noun, masculine; accusative singular of <sunus> son -- the Son

Lesson Text

c16-19 - Iþ sa us himina qumana: jabai in leika wisan þuhta: akei ufaro allaim ist. c20-24 - jah þatei gasaƕ jag gahausida þata weitwodeiþ: jah þo weitwodida is ni ainshun nimiþ: c25-d3 - Jah þauhjabai us air himina ana airþai in manne garehsnais qam: d3-10 - akei ni þe haldis airþeins was nih us airþai rodjands: Ak himinakunda anafilhands fulhsnja þoei gasaƕ. d10-17 - jag gahausida at attin: þo nu insakana wesun fram Iohanne ni in þis þatainei ei fins. mikilein gakannidedi: d17-19 - ak du gatarhjan jah gasakan þo afgudon haifst: d19-24 - sabailliaus jah markailliaus: þaiei ainana anananþidedun qiþan attan jah sunu:


Translation from William Holmes Bennett (The Gothic Commentary on the Gospel of John, Modern Language Association of America: New York, 1960) --
But "He Who has come from heaven," even if He seemed to be in the flesh, nevertheless "is above all, and what He has seen and heard, that He testifies, and no man receives His testimony." And even though He came from heaven to earth for the plan concerning men, yet He was by no means earthly or speaking from the earth but born of heaven, transmitting the hidden things that He had seen and had heard from the Father. Now these matters were declared by John, not merely that he might proclaim the Lord's greatness, but to censure and rebuke that impious contention of Sabellius and Marcellus, who dared to say that the Father and the Son are one.


36 The Seventh Strong Conjugation

The seventh strong conjugation marks a departure from the preterite formation of the other strong classes. Verbs of class VII form the past tense by means of reduplication, which may or may not be accompanied by ablaut in the root syllable. Reduplication denotes the prefixation to the root of the root's own initial consonant, followed by the vowel [e]. When the root lacks an initial consonant, only the vowel [e] appears. When the root begins with a consonant cluster, only the first consonant reduplicates -- unless the root begins with sk- or st-, whereby the entire cluster reduplicates. The historical evolution of these verbs is shown in the chart below.

Class VII   Root Shape   Present   Past Sg.   Past Pl.   Past Part.   Meaning
PIE   (K)VC   (K)VC   (K)e-(K)VC   (K)e-(K)VC   (K)VC    
        *áugō   *eáuga   *eaugmé   *augón   'increase'
        *stáldhō   *stestáldha   *stestaldhmé   *staldhón   'acquire'
        *lēdō   *lelōda   *lelōdmé   *lēdón   'let'
PGmc.   (K)VC   (K)VC   (K)e-(K)VC   (K)e-(K)VC   (K)VC    
        *auku (EG *auka)   *eáuk   *eáukum   *aukan   'increase'
        *stalðu (EG *stalða)   *stestálð   *stestálðum   *stalðan   'acquire'
        *lētu (EG *lēta)   *lelōt   *lelōtum   *lētan   'let'
Goth.       (K)VC   (K)-(K)VC   (K)-(K)VC   (K)VC    
        áuka   aíáuk   aíáukum   áukans   'add'
        -stalda   -staístald   -staístaldum   -staldans   'possess'
        lēta   laílōt   laílōtum   lētans   'let'

The roots of class seven strong verbs do not possess a unique shape distinguishing them from verbs of other strong classes. The primary characteristic subdividing class VII itself is the presence or absence of root ablaut accompanying reduplication, as shown in the following chart.

Class   Root Vowel   Present   Past Sg.   Past Pl.   Past Part.   Meaning
VIIa   a, ā   ga-stalda   ga-staístald   ga-staístaldum   ga-staldans   'possess'
    ái   fráisa   faífráis   faífráisum   fráisans   'tempt'
    ē   slēpa   saíslēp (saízlēp)   saíslēpum   slēpans   'sleep'
    ō   ƕōpa   ƕaíƕōp   ƕaíƕōpum   ƕōpans   'boast'
    áu   áuka   aíáuk   aíáukum   áukans   'add'
VIIb   ē, ai   grētan   gaígrōt   gaígrōtum   grētans   'weep'
        lēta   laílōt   laílōtum   lētans   'let'
        ga-rēda   ga-raírōþ   ga-raírōdum   ga-rēdans   'reflect upon'
        tēka   taítōk   taítōkum   tēkans   'touch'
        saian   saísō   saísōum   saians   'sow'
        waia   waíwō   waíwōum   waians   'blow'

Class VIIa verbs may contain any root vowel. The reduplicating vowel however is always e. In class VIIb, the root vowel is always [ē], written ai when it directly precedes another vowel.

The verb lēta 'let', with prinicpal parts lēta -- laílōt -- laílōtum -- lētans, serves to illustrate the forms of the seventh conjugation. The forms are as follows.

Class VII   Active           Mediopassive    
    Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative   Indicative   Subjunctive
1 Sg.   lēta   lētáu       lētada   lētáidáu
2   lētis   lētáis   lēt   lētaza   lētáizáu
3   lētiþ   lētái   lētadáu   lētada   lētáidáu
1 Du.   lētōs   lētáiwa            
2   lētats   lētáits   lētats        
1 Pl.   lētam   lētáima   lētam   lētanda   lētáindáu
2   lētiþ   lētáiþ   lētiþ   lētanda   lētáindáu
3   lētand   lētáina   lētandáu   lētanda   lētáindáu
1 Sg.   laílōt   laílōtjáu            
2   laílōst   laílōteis            
3   laílōt   laílōti            
1 Du.   laílōtu   laílōteiwa            
2   laílōtuts   laílōteits            
1 Pl.   laílōtum   laílōteima            
2   laílōtuþ   laílōteiþ            
3   laílōtun   laílōteina            
Infinitive   lētan                
Pres. Ptc.   lētands                
Past Ptc.               lētans    

For consonant changes before the second person singular past indicative ending, see Section 6.3.

37 Weak Verbs and the First Weak Conjugation
37.1 Basic Formation of Weak Verbs

The weak verbs stand in contradistinction to strong verbs. Whereas strong verbs employ ablaut to mark the past tense, weak verbs employ a dental suffix -d/þ- (sometimes -t-) to mark the past forms. This formation distinguishes the Germanic family from other branches of Indo-European, as the dental preterite is found nowhere else.

Early investigations into its origin supposed that the dental suffix represents the second element of an original periphrastic formation involving the root *dhē 'put', akin to suggestions that the Latin imperfect represents a periphrastic construction employing the root *bhū 'become'. As with the Latin situation, the hypothesis suffers from a lack of conclusive evidence as to the precise nature of the original construction, e.g. as to what was the form of the first element of the periphrastic construction. Gothic, however, is unique in displaying in the plural a fuller form of the second element than one finds in other Germanic languages. Specifically, while the singular suffixes with their endings are the monosyllabic -da, -dēs, -da, the dual and plural forms are disyllabic: -dēd-u, -dēd-uts; -dēd-um, -dēd-uþ, -dēd-un. These forms are quite suggestive, in that they parallel the attested strong preterite forms of the root *dhē in other Germanic languages: Old High German tāt-um, tāt-ut, tāt-un; Old Saxon dād-un.

Another common thread of investigations into the origin of the dental preterite in Germanic has been its possible relation to the -t- of past participles in Germanic (e.g. Goth. nas-i-þ-s) and in other branches of Indo-European: Greek do-tó-s 'given'; Latin da-tu-s 'given'. A preterite form with this -t- suffix, such as PIE *kousitōm 'I heard' > PGmc *hauziðōm (EG *hausiðōm), might eventually be conflated in the Proto-Germanic period with PIE *dhōmi 'I put' > PGmc. *ðōm and reanalyzed as a compound form. Then by extension in Gothic the preterite plural forms of PIE *dhē, e.g. PGmc *ðēðum, would have been suffixed to fill out the rest of the paradigm.

Another possibility presents itself, one which does not suffer from the ambiguities of stem formation and analogy which are integral to the preceding theories. Benveniste early studied the use of the dh-determinatve in PIE, especially in the Greek and Indo-Iranian branches. Lehmann (1942, 1943) subsequently illustrated the connotations of this suffix within the Germanic family, and he proposed that this determinative is in fact the origin of the dental preterite. The dh-determinative, sometime in the period leading up to the split of Germanic from PIE, and then subsequently within PGmc, assumed a similar function in three basic situations:

  1. with nouns derived from transitive roots: to denote past passive modification. For example, consider PIE *bher- 'cut' > Gothic fotu-baúrd 'foot-board', Old English bord; compare Greek perthō 'destroy', Latin ferīre 'strike', Old High German borōn 'bore'; PIE *mel- 'grind' > Gothic unmidljái (nom. pl. masc.) 'unkind', Old Icelandic mildr 'kind', Old English milde 'kind': the semantic development is evidently 'something that has been ground up' > 'something soft' > 'gentle, mild'. Compare Gothic malan 'grind', Latin molēre 'grind'. Also PIE *wer- 'speak' > Gothic waúrd 'word', Old Icelandic orð 'word', Old English word. Compare Latin verbum 'word', Greek eírō 'speak'. The dh-suffix denotes 'something that has been spoken'.
  2. with nouns derived from intransitive roots: to denote modification caused by previous action. For example, consider PIE *gher- 'like', cf. Sanskrit háryati 'likes', Greek khaírō 'rejoice'. The dh-formant survives in Sanskrit grdhyati 'desires', Gothic gredáu (dat. sg. masc.) 'desire', Gothic gredags 'hungry', Old Icelandic gráðr 'hunger'. The semantics pass from 'liking' to the 'result of having liked continuing into the present', and hence 'desiring'. Consider also PIE *men- 'think'. This has a dh-extension PIE *mendh- 'turn one's attention to' > Gothic mundrōn 'turn one's attention to'; compare also Old High German muntar 'alert', Gothic mundrein (dat. sg. fem.) 'desire', resulting from the semantic association 'having turned one's attention towards' > 'alert'.
  3. with verbs: to denote modification or change resulting from previous action. For example, consider PIE *(s)keu- 'cover' > Sanskrit skáuti 'covers'. The dh-extension yields Old English hȳdan 'hide, conceal', Greek keúthō 'conceal', as well as the nouns Gothic skauda-raip 'shoe-string', Old Icelandic skjóða 'sack', Middle High German schōte 'covering', Old Persian tigra-xauda 'with pointed cap'. These dh-forms show a semantic development 'to have covered' > 'hidden'. Consider also PIE *ar- 'fit' > Greek ararískō 'arrange', Latin rērī 'think'. The dh-extension gives Gothic undrēdan 'take care of', as well as Old Icelandic ráða, Old English rædan, Old Saxon rādan, all meaning 'give advice'. These show a semantic development 'fitting together, thinking' > 'having thought' > 'giving advice'. Note in addition PIE *wal- 'be strong' > Latin valēre 'be strong'. The dh-extension gives Gothic waldan, Old Icelandic valda, Old English wealdan, Old Saxon waldan, Old High German waltan, Lithuanian veldéti, all 'rule, possess'. The dh-determinative changes 'be strong' to 'have been strong' > 'rule, possess'.

The semantics of the dh-determinative are thus consonant with the eventual dental preterite. Specifically, while the PIE verbal system of aspect was still transparent, the dh-determinative signified a state reached by previous event. As this aspectual system gave way to a tense system, this dh-determinative would have become associated with past action much as the stative developed into the perfect in other branches of IE, such as Greek and Indo-Iranian. Another distinctive feature commending this theory is the simple fact that it takes the elusive nature of the ending of the first periphrastic element at face value: there was none. The original formation is not V1+V2, but rather the typical PIE formation of R+S+E, that is root-suffix-ending.

By the period of the documented Germanic languages the weak verbs are a self-standing pillar of the verbal system. Across the rest of the Germanic languages, these verbs fall into three classes, stemming from the respective suffixation of PIE *-j- > PGmc *-j/ij-, PIE *-ā- > PGmc *-ō-, or PIE *-oi- > PGmc *-ai- to the verbal root. Gothic possesses a fourth class characterized by the suffix PIE *-nō- > PGmc *-nā-. Verbs formed in this manner are found in other Germanic languages, e.g. Old Norse vakna and Old English wæcnian 'awake', but they are not numerous enough to form a class by themselves. In terms of preterite morphology, these verbs conjugate according to the PIE *-ā- > PGmc *-ō- class. Gothic thus possesses the following weak verb classes, usually distinguished in grammars by the form of the infinitive.

Weak Class   Infinitive   Past 1/3 Sg.   Past 1 Pl.   Past Part.   Meaning
i   nas-jan   nasida   nasidēdum   nasiþs   'save'
ii   salb-ōn   salbōda   salbōdēdum   salbōþs   'anoint'
iii   hab-an   habáida   habáidēdum   habáiþs   'have'
iv   full-nan   fullnōda   fullnōdēdum   -   'become full'

Four forms are given above merely for the sake of comparison with strong verbs. Such a list of forms is not however necessary, as it is for the strong verbs, since the forms of weak verbs are predictable once the infinitive is given.

37.2 The First Weak Conjugation

The first weak conjugation is characterized by the suffix PIE *-j- > PGmc *-i/ij- added to the verbal root. These verbs are typically either causative or denominative. Consider the following examples:

    Strong Infin.   Past 3 Sg   Meaning   Strong Class   Weak i Infin.   Meaning
    drigkan   dragk   'drink'   III   dragkjan   'give to drink'
    ligan   lag   'lie, recline'   V   lagjan   'make recline, lay'
    ga-nisan   ga-nas   'be saved'   V   ga-nasjan   'save'
    ur-reisan   ur-ráis   'arise'   I   ur-ráisjan   'raise'
    sitan   sat   'sit'   V   satjan   'set'
    sliupan   sláup   'slip'   II   af-sláupjan   'put off'
    diups       'deep'       ga-diupjan   'make deep'
    dulþs       'feast'       dulþjan   'feast, keep a feast'
    mikils       'great'       mikiljan   'magnify, praise'
    riqis       'darkness'       riqizjan   'become dark'
    sigljō       'seal'       sigljan   'seal, shut'
    stáins       'stone'       stáinjan   'stone, cast stones at'

In Gothic, as in the other Germanic languages, the reflex of the PGmc *-i/ij- suffix in certain morphological forms depends on the shape of the root to which it was affixed. There are two possibilities: Gothic -ji- or -ei- [ī]. First weak conjugation roots thus fall into two groups, based on the reflex of the suffix. The reflex of the suffix only differs between the groups in the 2nd and 3rd person singular present indicative active, in the 2nd person plural present indicative active, and in the 2nd person plural imperative. Elsewhere the form of the suffix does not depend on root shape, but appears as -j- in all other present forms. The suffix appears as -i- in all past forms. For the sake of clarity, paradigms for the two types of class i weak verbs will be listed separately.

In order to make a clear statement of the distinction between the types of class i weak verbs, we must refine our terminology of syllable length. Recall that, according to the definition given in Section 2.3, syllables ending in a short vowel are termed short, all others are long. Thus long syllables end in a consonant or contain a long vowel, or both. For the purposes of describing the first weak conjugation, a further distinction must be made. We will restrict the term long syllable and define the term overlong syllable as follows.

  • long syllable: a syllable containing a short vowel followed by a consonant, or containing a long vowel with no following consonant;
  • overlong syllable: a syllable containing a long vowel followed by a consonant.

Note that traditional terminology in Germanic linguistics often includes the former category under the heading 'short' and terms the latter 'long'. This system has its advantages; the system above is employed here in order to keep terminology as close as possible to that used in grammars of other early Indo-European languages, e.g. Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit.

37.2.1 Class ia Verbs

Given the above definitions of syllable length, we may succinctly characterize the first type of class i weak verbs:

Class ia   Description   Explanation
Syllable   verbs with long stem syllable   For example, the stem syllable may contain a short vowel followed by a consonant, as nasjan 'to save'; or the stem syllable may contain a long vowel with no following consonant, as stōjan 'to judge'.
Reflex   -ji-   in the 2/3 sg. and 2 pl. present indicative active, and in the 2 pl. imperative.

[Note that this class, according to traditional terminology, contains roots whose stem syllable is 'short' (nasjan) or 'long' and open (stōjan).]

The verb nasjan 'to save' serves to illustrate the forms of verbs whose stem contains a short vowel followed by a consonant. The forms are as follows.

Class ia   Active           Mediopassive    
    Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative   Indicative   Subjunctive
1 Sg.   nasja   nasjáu       nasjada   nasjáidáu
2   nasjis   nasjáis   nasei   nasjaza   nasjáizáu
3   nasjiþ   nasjái   nasjadáu   nasjada   nasjáidáu
1 Du.   nasjōs   nasjáiwa            
2   nasjats   nasjáits   nasjats        
1 Pl.   nasjam   nasjáima   nasjam   nasjanda   nasjáindáu
2   nasjiþ   nasjáiþ   nasjiþ   nasjanda   nasjáindáu
3   nasjand   nasjáina   nasjandáu   nasjanda   nasjáindáu
1 Sg.   nasida   nasidēdjáu            
2   nasidēs   nasidēdeis            
3   nasida   nasidēdi            
1 Du.   nasidēdu   nasidēdeiwa            
2   nasidēduts   nasidēdeits            
1 Pl.   nasidēdum   nasidēdeima            
2   nasidēduþ   nasidēdeiþ            
3   nasidēdun   nasidēdeina            
Infinitive   nasjan                
Pres. Ptc.   nasjands                
Past Ptc.               nasiþs    

For purposes of comparison, the conjugation of stōjan 'to judge' is given below. The forms illustrate the conjugation of class ia weak verbs whose stem contains a long vowel with no following consonant.

Class ia   Active           Mediopassive    
    Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative   Indicative   Subjunctive
1 Sg.   stōja   stōjáu       stōjada   stōjáidáu
2   stōjis   stōjáis   stauei   stōjaza   stōjáizáu
3   stōjiþ   stōjái   stōjadáu   stōjada   stōjáidáu
1 Du.   stōjōs   stōjáiwa            
2   stōjats   stōjáits   stōjats        
1 Pl.   stōjam   stōjáima   stōjam   stōjanda   stōjáindáu
2   stōjiþ   stōjáiþ   stōjiþ   stōjanda   stōjáindáu
3   stōjand   stōjáina   stōjandáu   stōjanda   stōjáindáu
1 Sg.   stauida   stauidēdjáu            
2   stauidēs   stauidēdeis            
3   stauida   stauidēdi            
1 Du.   stauidēdu   stauidēdeiwa            
2   stauidēduts   stauidēdeits            
1 Pl.   stauidēdum   stauidēdeima            
2   stauidēduþ   stauidēdeiþ            
3   stauidēdun   stauidēdeina            
Infinitive   stōjan                
Pres. Ptc.   stōjands                
Past Ptc.               stauiþs    

Class ia verbs are thus characterized by the fact that -j- is retained in all present forms, where it is followed by a vowel. Note that the imperative 2 sg. ending is -ei, so the -j- becomes [ī] when final. When -j- comes between two consonants, as in the past forms, it is voiced as -i-. Before a vowel, ō is written au.

37.2.2 Class ib Verbs

Again according to the above definitions of syllable length, we may succinctly characterize the second type of class i weak verbs:

Class ib   Description   Explanation
Syllable   verbs with overlong stem syllable, or polysyllabic stems   For example, a monosyllabic stem contains a long vowel followed by a consonant, as sōkjan 'to seek'; or the stem may contain more than one syllable, as glitmunjan 'to shine'.
Reflex   -ei-   in the 2/3 sg. and 2 pl. present indicative active, and in the 2 pl. imperative.

[Note that this class, according to traditional terminology, contains roots whose stem syllable is 'long' and closed (sōkjan).]

The verb sōkjan 'to seek' serves to illustrate the forms of verbs whose stem contains a long vowel followed by a consonant. The forms are as follows.

Class ib   Active           Mediopassive    
    Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative   Indicative   Subjunctive
1 Sg.   sōkja   sōkjáu       sōkjada   sōkjáidáu
2   sōkeis   sōkjáis   sōkei   sōkjaza   sōkjáizáu
3   sōkeiþ   sōkjái   sōkjadáu   sōkjada   sōkjáidáu
1 Du.   sōkjōs   sōkjáiwa            
2   sōkjats   sōkjáits   sōkjats        
1 Pl.   sōkjam   sōkjáima   sōkjam   sōkjanda   sōkjáindáu
2   sōkeiþ   sōkjáiþ   sōkeiþ   sōkjanda   sōkjáindáu
3   sōkjand   sōkjáina   sōkjandáu   sōkjanda   sōkjáindáu
1 Sg.   sōkida   sōkidēdjáu            
2   sōkidēs   sōkidēdeis            
3   sōkida   sōkidēdi            
1 Du.   sōkidēdu   sōkidēdeiwa            
2   sōkidēduts   sōkidēdeits            
1 Pl.   sōkidēdum   sōkidēdeima            
2   sōkidēduþ   sōkidēdeiþ            
3   sōkidēdun   sōkidēdeina            
Infinitive   sōkjan                
Pres. Ptc.   sōkjands                
Past Ptc.               sōkiþs    

Class ib verbs are thus characterized by the fact that -j- is retained before the back vowel -a-, but assimilates with a following -i- to give ī (written ei). As in class ia the imperative 2 sg. ending is -ei, so the -j- becomes [ī] when final. Likewise, as in class ia, when -j- comes between two consonants, it is voiced as -i-.

37.2.3 Irregular and t-Suffix Weak Verbs

The verb gaggan 'to go' was originally a reduplicated verb of the strong class VII. It nevertheless once shows a weak preterite gaggida in Gothic; generally the suppletive forms iddja, iddjēs, etc. supply the past tense of gaggan. Some weak verbs already lacked in Proto-Germanic the medial -i- between root and dental suffix. The ensuing phonetic environment led to -t- as the reflex of the dental suffix in the past forms. The verb káupatjan 'to buffet' falls into this category, though the past participle shows -i-. The following is a list of the verbs in Gothic showing these peculiar features.

Infinitive   Past 1/3 Sg.   Past Part.   Meaning
briggan   brāhta   brāhts   'bring'
brūkjan   brūhta   brūhts   'use'
bugjan   baúhta   -baúhts   'buy'
gaggan   iddja   gaggans   'go'
káupatjan   káupasta   káupatiþs   'buffet'
þagkjan   þāhta   -þāhts   'think'
þugkjan   þūhta   -þūhts   'seem'
waúrkjan   waúrhta   -waúrhts   'work, make'
38 The Second Weak Conjugation

The second weak conjugation is characterized by the suffix PIE *-ā- > PGmc *-ō- added to the verbal root. These verbs are typically denominative. Consider the following examples:

    Nominative   Stem   Meaning       Weak ii Infin.   Meaning
    fisks   fiska-   'fish'       fiskōn   'fish, catch fish'
    fráuja   fráujin-   'lord'       fráujinōn   'rule over'
    grēdus   grēdu-   'hunger'       grēdōn   'hunger, be hungry'
    gudja   gudjin-   'priest'       gudjinōn   'be a priest'
    hatis   hatiz-   'hatred'       hatizōn   'be angry'
    kara   karō-   'care'       karōn   'be concerned'
    páida   páidō-   'shirt'       ga-páidōn   'clothe'
    reiki   reiki-   'realm'       reikinōn   'rule'
    sidus   sidu-   'custom'       sidōn   'practice'
    skalks   skalka-   'servant'       skalkinōn   'serve'
    sunja   sunjō-   'truth'       sunjōn   'defend oneself'
    þiudans   þiudana-   'king'       þiudanōn   'be king, rule'

Unlike in the first weak conjugation, the form of the class ii suffix does not depend on root shape, but appears as -ō- in all other present forms. The suffix likewise appears as -ō- in all past forms.

The verb salbōn 'to anoint' serves to illustrate the forms of class ii weak verbs. The forms are as follows.

Class ii   Active           Mediopassive    
    Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative   Indicative   Subjunctive
1 Sg.   salbō   salbō       salbōda   salbōdáu
2   salbōs   salbōs   salbō   salbōza   salbōzáu
3   salbōþ   salbō   salbōdáu   salbōda   salbōdáu
1 Du.   salbōs   salbōwa            
2   salbōts   salbōts   salbōts        
1 Pl.   salbōm   salbōma   salbōm   salbōnda   salbōndáu
2   salbōþ   salbōþ   salbōþ   salbōnda   salbōndáu
3   salbōnd   salbōna   salbōndáu   salbōnda   salbōndáu
1 Sg.   salbōda   salbōdēdjáu            
2   salbōdēs   salbōdēdeis            
3   salbōda   salbōdēdi            
1 Du.   salbōdēdu   salbōdēdeiwa            
2   salbōdēduts   salbōdēdeits            
1 Pl.   salbōdēdum   salbōdēdeima            
2   salbōdēduþ   salbōdēdeiþ            
3   salbōdēdun   salbōdēdeina            
Infinitive   salbōn                
Pres. Ptc.   salbōnds                
Past Ptc.               salbōþs    

Note the suffix -ō- appears in all forms built to the present stem, replacing even the distinctive suffix of the subjunctive. The -ō- also precedes the dental suffix in past forms, indicative and subjunctive.

39 The Subjunctive

The subjunctive in Gothic describes an event which is viewed by the speaker as not actual. For example, the speaker may feel that the event is potential ('were I your brother...'), supposed ('assuming this be true...'), reported ('I've heard he would walk at night...'), or desired ('Thy kingdom come...'). The non-factual or unconfirmed status of these events in the view of the speaker is conveyed by the use of the subjunctive. The corresponding statements, when the speaker views the events as factual or confirmed, employ the indicative. The statements are actual ('I am your brother'), known ('It is true that...'), witnessed ('I saw that he walked...'), or realized ('as we forgive those who trespass...').

Gothic, like other Germanic languages, has two subjunctive formations, one built from the present stem of the verb, the other built from the past stem. The distinction, however, is not one of tense -- it cannot be, since the subjunctive denotes an event which is unreal, and therefore cannot be located in time. The distinction between Past and Present Subjunctive, then, is essentially one of the event viewed as a complete whole (Past Subjunctive) or as incomplete (Present Subjunctive), or rather, as viewed without specific reference to its completion (though it may in fact be completed). The formation and use of the subjunctive in Gothic is described in the following sections.

Proto-Indo-European possessed two different verb formations to denote events viewed as unreal: the subjunctive and the optative. Succinctly, the subjunctive denotes events which are simply viewed as unreal, e.g. 'if I were you...'; the optative generally denotes wishes, e.g. 'would I were you...'. Inasmuch as most subjunctive forms in Gothic actually continue the forms of the PIE optative, many grammars use the term optative instead of subjunctive. By the time of the Gothic texts, however, the point is pragmatically moot, since the functions of PIE subjunctive and optative both have merged into the single irrealis mood called subjunctive in these lessons.

39.1 Present Subjunctive

Both strong and weak verbs form the present subjunctive from the same stem as the present indicative of the verb. The verbs baíran 'to bear', nasjan 'to save', and salbōn 'to anoint', serve to illustrate the paradigm. The verb wisan 'to be' forms the subjunctive from the stem found in the present indicative plural, e.g. 1 pl. sijum.

    Strong   Weak i   Weak ii    
Pres. Infin.   baíran   nasjan   salbōn   wisan
Pres. Subjunct.                
1 Sg.   baíráu   nasjáu   salbō   sijáu
2   baíráis   nasjáis   salbōs   sijáis
3   baírái   nasjái   salbō   sijái
1 Du.   baíráiwa   nasjáiwa   salbōwa    
2   baíráits   nasjáits   salbōts    
1 Pl.   baíráima   nasjáima   salbōma   sijáima
2   baíráiþ   nasjáiþ   salbōþ   sijáiþ
3   baíráina   nasjáina   salbōna   sijáina

The verb wisan 'to be' has no extant dual forms in the present subjunctive. The -ō- of verbs of the second weak conjugation stands in place of the -ái- found in the subjunctive of other verbs.

The present subjunctive is often used to express wishes capable of fulfillment: wiljáu ei mis gibáis ana mesa háubiþ Iōhannis 'I desire that thou give me the head of John on a platter' (Mark 6.25); weihnái namō þein; qimái þiudanassus þeins; waírþái wilja þeins... jah ni briggáis uns in fráistubnjái 'hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done... and lead us not into temptation' (Matthew 6.9-13); guþ gibái izwis 'God grant you' (Romans 15.5). The present subjunctive is also used to refer to the following circumstances:

  • exhortation: gawaúrkjáima hleiþrōs þrins 'let us make three tents' (Luke 9.33; but compare Mark 9.5 gawaúrkjam); ni filuwaúrdjáiþ 'do not use many words' (Matthew 6.7); þaírhgaggáima ju und Bēþlahaím jah saíƕáima 'let us now go unto Bethlehem and see' (Luke 2.15); swa nu bidjáiþ jus 'so therefore pray ye' (Matthew 6.9).
  • indirect discourse: The present subjunctive may be introduced by either a present or past tense verb. For example, jus qiþiþ þatei wajamērjáu 'do you say that I blaspheme?' (John 10.36); Farisaieis frēhun ina skuldu sijái mann qēn afsatjan 'the Pharisees asked him if it be lawful for a man to put away (his) wife' (Mark 10.2).
  • possibility: faírgunja miþsatjáu 'I could remove mountains' (I Corinthians 13.2); jah þan in sis silbin ƕōftulja habái 'and then shall he have rejoicing in himself' (Galatians 6.4).
  • purpose: The present subjunctive may follow either a primary or secondary tense. For example, swa liuhtjái liuhaþ izwar... ei gasaíƕáina izwara gōda waúrstwa jah háuhjáina attan izwarana 'let your light shine... that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father' (Matthew 5.16); galisiþ þōs aflifnandeins draúhsnōs, þei waítái ni fraqistnái 'gather up the remaining fragments, that nothing may be lost' (John 6.12); Mōsēs gamēlida unsis... ei nimái brōþar is þō qēn is jah ussatjái barna brōþr seinamma 'Moses wrote unto us... that his brother should (and shall) take his wife and raise up children unto his brother' (Mark 12.19).
  • supposition: jabái ƕas mein waúrd fastái 'if anyone keep my word' (John 8.52); táujiþ jah láisjái 'shall do and (may indeed) teach' (Matthew 5.19).
  • uncertainty: ƕas þannu sa sijái 'who, then, can this be?' (Matthew 4.41).

The present subjunctive is also used to refer to present or future time after the conjunction faúrþizei 'before': faúrþizei jus bidjáiþ ina 'before ye ask him' (Matthew 6.8).

39.2 Past Subjunctive

The past subjunctive is formed from the same stem found in the past plural indicative of the verb. This holds true for both strong and weak verbs, so that the strong past subjunctive shows the ablaut of the strong plural (and reduplication in verbs of class VII), and the weak past subjunctive shows the dental suffix found in the weak plural. The verbs baíran 'to bear', nasjan 'to save', salbōn 'to anoint', and wisan 'to be' serve to illustrate the paradigm.

    Strong   Weak i   Weak ii    
Pres. Infin.   baíran   nasjan   salbōn   wisan
Past 1 Pl.   bērum   nasidēdum   salbōdēdum   wēsum
Past Subjunct.                
1 Sg.   bērjáu   nasidēdjáu   salbōdēdjáu   wēsjáu
2   bēreis   nasidēdeis   salbōdēdeis   wēseis
3   bēri   nasidēdi   salbōdēdi   wēsi
1 Du.   bēreiwa            
2   bēreits   nasidēdeits   salbōdēdeits   wēseits
1 Pl.   bēreima   nasidēdeima   salbōdēdeima   wēseima
2   bēreiþ   nasidēdeiþ   salbōdēdeiþ   wēseiþ
3   bēreina   nasidēdeina   salbōdēdeina   wēseina

Forms for the first person dual are lacking in the weak verbs.

The past subjunctive is often used to express wishes unfulfilled or unable to be fulfilled: iþ wissēdeis... 'hadst thou but known...' (Luke 19.42); jah wáinei þiudanōdēdeiþ 'and would that ye did reign!' (I Corinthians 4.8). The past subjunctive also expresses unreal conditions, present or past: wáinei þiudanōdēdeiþ 'would that ye reigned!' (I Corinthians 4.8); wēseis hēr 'if thou hadst been here' (John 11.21). The past subjunctive is also used to refer to the following circumstances:

  • exhortation: anabáuþ im ei mann ni qēþeina 'he commanded them that they should not tell any man' (Mark 7.36).
  • indirect discourse: The past subjunctive is always introduced by a past tense verb. For example, þadei háusidēdun ei is wēsi 'where they heard he was' (Mark 6.55); jah sōkidēdun ƕáiwa ina innatbēreina jah galagidēdeina in andwaírþja is 'and they sought how they might bring him in and lay him before him' (Luke 5.18).
  • possibility: ƕa wēsi þata 'what that might be' (Luke 15.26).
  • purpose: The past subjunctive rarely follows a primary tense, generally following a secondary tense. For example, atgibana ist mis hnuþō leika meinamma, aggilus satanins, ei mik káupastēdi 'there is given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet me' (II Corinthians 12.7); jah allans þans ubil habandans gaháilida, ei usfullnōdēdi 'and healed all those that were sick, that it might be fulfilled' (Matthew 8.16-17); rūna nēmun allái þái gudjans... bi Iēsu, ei afdáuþidēdeina ina 'all the chief priests... took counsel against Jesus, that they might put him to death' (Matthew 27.1).
  • supposition: hugidēdun þatei is bi slēp qēþi 'they supposed that he was speaking of sleep' (John 11.13).
  • uncertainty: ni kunnandans ƕaþar skuldēdi máiza 'not knowing which should be greater' (Skeireins 3.4).

The past subjunctive is also used to refer to past time after the conjunction faúrþizei 'before': faúrþizei Abraham waúrþi, im ik 'before Abraham was, I am' (John 8.58).

40 Tense and Aspect

Tense places an event on a timeline, relative to the perspective of the one uttering a clause. The speaker's perspective is defined as now, and this partitions the timeline into past (before now), present (concurrent with now), and future (after now). Aspect, by contrast, focuses on the speaker's conception of the event represented by a verb. Sometimes the conception of an event is part and parcel of the meaning of the word itself, whereby one refers to lexical aspect (the terms Aktionsart and manner/type of action are also found). In other instances, however, certain changes in morphology may denote different conceptions of the same basic event. Scholars generally refer to this morphological aspect with the unqualified term 'aspect'.

Events may be durative, i.e. extending over time, or punctual, without temporal extent. Likewise events may be active/eventive, denoting an input of energy to maintain action, or stative, denoting a quality or state of being maintained without effort. Any of these may be further characterized as perfective or imperfective. An event is perfective when it is viewed with specific reference to its endpoints; that is, both beginning and end are included in the event, so that the event makes a conceptually indivisible whole. An event is imperfective when it is not perfective. More specifically, an event is imperfective when the speaker does not make reference to the endpoints of the action, so that the conception is not that of an indivisible whole, but rather that of an action with internal structure.

40.1 The ga- Prefix

Proto-Indo-European verbs functioned primarily according to an aspectual system, at its most basic divided into active and stative (or eventive and stative). Tense was a secondary development largely confined to the individual daughter languages. It appears that adverbial elements within the utterance could also convey aspectual value. In some of the daughter languages, these adverbial elements came to occupy a position just before the verb, hence the term preverbs. The preverbal elements came most conspicuously in Slavic to develop a robust aspectual system complementary to the suffixal system inherited from PIE. But the aspectual nature of preverbs has left possible traces in other branches of Indo-European, including Germanic. The most likely member of this preverbal system is PIE *kom- 'near, at, with', which in pretonic position voices the intial *k- > g- [] according to Verner's Law (see Section 6), and remains as ga- in Gothic and Old Saxon, ge- in other Germanic languages.

In the earliest stages of PIE, preverbs were uncommon, but sentence particles could nevertheless perform an aspectual role. PIE *kom- has left traces of its independence from verbs even in those daughter languages in which it seems to serve as an aspectual preverb. Its use as a postpositive particle survives in Latin mē-cum 'with me' and tē-cum 'with you'; likewise it is found at the end of sentence-initial enclitic chains in Hittite nu-kan and Vedic nú-kam, where it fills a perfectivizing role. This freedom even survives in Gothic, where other sentence elements may intervene between ga- and the verb. For example, þu ga-u-láubjeis du sunáu gudis 'do ye believe in the Son of Man (God)' (John 9.35); ga-þáu-láubidēdeiþ mis 'ye would believe me' (John 5.46). This extends to strings of elements, such as ga-þ-þan-miþ-sandidēdun < ga-(u)h-þan-miþ-sandidēdun 'we are sending along with (him)' (II Corinthians 8.18); even to nominal elements, such as ga-u-ƕa-sēƕi 'did you see anything?' (Mark 8.23).

There is some cross-linguistic evidence supporting the possibility that PIE *kom- served as a perfectivizing preverb in various daughter languages. For example, one finds the common contrast of PGmc *þahan (cf. Old Norse þega) and Latin tacēre, both 'be silent', versus Gothic ga-þahan and Latin con-ticēre, both 'fall silent'. This contrast of perfectivity remains in some places within the Gothic corpus. For example, take háusjan and gaháusjan, both 'to hear'. In the statement saei habái áusōna háusjandōna gaháusjái 'Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear' (Mark 4.9), the unprefixed participial form háusjandōna is temporally unbounded, akin to 'ears hearing, and keeping right on hearing'. The prefixed form gaháusjái, by contrast, is bounded, and akin to 'let him hear, once and for all, and get it done with'. Consider also the following examples contrasting the verbal pair sigqan-gasigqan, both meaning 'sink':

  • Perfective: andanahtja þan waúrþanamma, þan gasagq sauil, bērun du imma allans 'With evening having come, when the sun had set, they brought them all to him' (Mark 1.32);
  • Imperfective: miþþanei þan sagq sunnō, allái... brahtēdun ins du imma 'While the sun was sinking, they all... brought them to him' (Luke 4.40).

Within Germanic, the ga- prefix was early associated with the past participle. In some of the Germanic languages, such as Old Saxon, this prefix was so common as to become essentially obligatory on the past participle. Compare

Language   Infinitive   3 Sg. Past   1 Pl. Past   Past Part.   Meaning
Gothic   bindan   band   bundum   bundans   'bind'
Old English   bindan   band   bundon   bunden   'bind'
Old Saxon   bindan   band   bundun   gibundan   'bind'
Old High German   bintan   bant   buntun   gibuntan   'bind'

Some verbs, however, typically occurred with the ga- prefix thoughout the paradigm. Compare

Language   Infinitive   3 Sg. Past   1 Pl. Past   Past Part.   Meaning
Old English   ge-wītan   ge-wāt   ge-witon   ge-witen   'go'
Old Saxon   gi-uuītan   gi-uuēt   gi-uuitun   gi-uuitan   'go'

This prefix is found with cognate verbs even outside Germanic: compare Gothic ga-qiman and Old English ge-cuman, both 'come', to Latin con-venīre 'come'. As the aspect system of late PIE and early PGmc gave way to a true tense system, the stative developed into a past tense in Germanic, parallel to the development, e.g., of the PIE stative into the perfect of Greek and Sanskrit. At this stage the ga- prefix came to be naturally associated with the past tense.

40.2 Future

Gothic has no specific morphological forms to denote the future tense. Instead, Gothic employs the present forms with future sense, a trait it shares with the other Germanic languages -- compare Modern English 'I am going to the store in five minutes; is anybody coming?' Both present indicative and present subjunctive forms are used in this manner. Consider the following examples: áudagái þái hráinjahaírtans, untē þái guþ gasaíƕand 'blessed (are) the pure in heart, for they shall see God' (Matthew 5.8); ni ufarswaráis, iþ usgibáis fráujin áiþans þeinans 'thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths' (Matthew 5.33); ni maúrþrjáis; iþ saei maúrþreiþ skula waírþiþ stauái 'thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment' (Matthew 5.21).

Also like the other Germanic languages, Gothic employs a few auxiliary verbs to form a periphrastic future: skulan 'shall', haban 'have', duginnan 'begin'. Compare Modern English 'I shall return' and 'I have to go in five minutes'. Such constructions are rare. Consider the following examples: ƕa skuli þata barn waírþan 'what manner of child shall this be?' (Luke 1.66); þaruh sa andbahts meins wisan habáiþ 'and there shall also my servant be' (John 12.26); iþ þatei táuja, jah táujan haba 'but what I do, and will do' (II Corinthians 11.12); untē gáunōn jah grētan duginnid 'for ye shall mourn and weep' (Luke 6.25); jah in þamma faginō, akei jah faginōn duginna 'and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice' (Philippians 1.18).

Gothic also occasionally uses the adjective anawaírþs 'future' to express the future: þatei anawaírþ was uns du winnan agliþōs 'that we should suffer tribulation', literally 'that it was future for us to suffer...' (I Thessalonians 3.4); izei anawaírþái wēsun du galáubjan imma '(to them) which should hereafter believe on him' (I Timothy 1.16).

An event completed in the future, i.e. the future perfect, is likewise rendered in Gothic by present forms. For example, ni usgaggis jáinþrō, untē usgibis þana minnistan kintu 'thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing', meaning 'till thou shalt have paid...' (Matthew 5.26); hana ni hrukeiþ, untē þu mik afáikis kunnan þrim sinþam 'the cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice', meaning 'till thou shalt have denied...' (John 13.38).

40.3 Historical Present

Gothic makes use of the historical present, though only when the Greek does so as well. The term historical present denotes the use of a present tense form to refer to a past action. This is found in Modern English, more commonly in some speakers than others, and forms a marked narrative technique for jokes of the form 'Two guys walk into a bar...'. The general explanation for such present tense use is that use of the present tense where the listener expects a past tense adds a sense of vividness, bringing the listener into the narrative instead of keeping him or her at a mental distance. This is a common technique in historical narratives in the classical languages Latin and Greek, and is found in Germanic languages as well -- prominently so in Old Norse. Gothic however provides only instances which mimic their Greek prototype. For example, naúhþan imma rōdjandin gaggiþ sums mannē 'while he was still speaking, a certain one of men comes...' (Luke 8.49); þō qaþ, jah afar þata qiþiþ du im 'these things said he, and after that he saith unto them' (John 11.11). Occasionally the Gothic translates a Greek historical present with a past form: jah atiddjēdun du Iēsua, jah gasaíƕand þana wōdan 'and they came to Jesus, and see the possessed (one)' (Mark 5.15). Here the past form atiddjēdun translates the Greek present form ērkhontai 'come', while the present form gasaíƕand mimics the Greek present theōrousin.

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