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Types of Stems


Form-building Means

Some common grammatical features of Germanic languages

Like other old IE languages, both PG and the OG languages had a synthetic grammatical structure, which means that the relationships between the parts of the sentence were shown by the forms of the words rather than by their position or by auxiliary words. In later history all the Germanic languages developed analytical forms and ways of word connection.

In the early periods of history the grammatical forms were built in the synthetic way: by means of inflections, sound interchanges and suppletion.

The suppletive way of form-building was inherited from ancient IE, it was restricted to a few personal pronouns, adjectives, and verbs.

The principle means of form-building were inflections.

The wide use of sound interchanges has always been a characteristic feature of the Germanic group. This form-building (and word-building) device was inherited from IE and became very productive in Germanic. In various forms of the word and in words derived from one and the same root, the root-morpheme appeared as a set of variants. The consonants were relatively stable, the vowels were variable.


Ablaut or vowel gradation is an independent vowel interchange unconnected with any phonetic conditions; different vowels appear in the same environment, surrounded by the same sounds.

Vowel gradation did not reflect any phonetic changes but was used as a special independent device to differentiate between words and grammatical forms built from the same root.

Ablaut was inherited by Germanic from ancient IE. The principal gradation series used in the IE languages – [e ~ o] – can be shown in Russian or Ukrainian examples: нести ~ ноша. This kind of ablaut is called qualitative, as the vowels differ only in quality. Alternation of short and long vowels, and also alternation with a “zero” (i.e. lack of vowel) represent quantitative ablaut.

The Germanic languages employed both types of ablaut – qualitative and quantitative – and their combinations.


2.1.2. Word-structure

Some changes in the morphological structure of the word in Late PG account for the development of an elaborate system of declensions in OG languages, and for the formation of grammatical endings.

Originally, in Early PG the word consisted of three main component parts: the root, the stem-suffix, and the grammatical ending. The stem-suffix was a means of word derivation, the ending – a marker of the grammatical form. In Late PG the old stem-suffixes lost their derivational force and merged with other components of the word, usually with the endings. The word was simplified: the three-morpheme structure was transformed into a two-morpheme structure. The original grammatical ending, together with the stem-suffix formed a new ending.

The simplification of the word structure and the loss of stem-suffixes as distinct components was facilitated or, perhaps, caused by the heavy Germanic word stress fixed on the root.


Most nouns and adjectives in PG and also many verbs had stem-forming suffixes; according to stem-suffixes they fell into groups or classes: a-stems, i-stems, ō-stems, etc. This grouping accounts for the formation of different declensions in nouns and adjectives, and for some difference in the conjugation of verbs.

Thus, in OG languages there are the following types of substantive stems:

1) Vocalic stems: -a-, -ō-, -i-, -u-stems. Declension of these substantives has been called strong declension.

2) n-stems. Declension of these is called weak declension.

3) Stems in other consonants: -s- and -r-stems.

4) Root-stems. This is a peculiar type: these substantives never had a stem-building suffix, so that their stem had always coincided with their root.


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