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The Non-finite Forms of the Verb
Strong and weak verbs
The ME Verb
The verb retained nearly all grammatical categories it had possessed in OE: tense, mood, person, number. Only the category of aspect was lost. The most important feature of the history of the verb in ME was the development of analytical forms to express new grammatical meanings.
1. The syntactical combinations of OE sculan (E. shall) and willan (E. will) with the infinitive developed into analytical forms of the future tense. As a result, the grammatical category of tense came to be represented not by binary oppositions ‘past – present’, but by ternary oppositions ‘past – present – future’.
2. Combinations composed of different forms of OE habban (E. have) and participle II of some verb developed into a set of analytical forms known as the perfect forms.
3. Word-combinations comprising different forms of OE bēon/wesan (E. to be) and the past participle of another verb developed into a set of analytical forms of the passive voice.
The two morphological types of verbs – strong and weak – were, on the whole, well preserved in ME. Only the number of weak verbs was constantly increasing at the expense of the newly borrowed and the newly created verbs, whereas the number of strong verbs was diminishing. Some of them became obsolete, others became weak.
Sometimes the distinctions between different classes of verbs were obliterated. For instance, the suffix –ode of the weak second class was reduced to –ede and coincided with the –ede suffix of the first class.
The suffixes of the infinitive (OE –an), the past tense plural (OE –on) and the past participle of strong verbs (OE –en) became homonymous (ME –en). Therefore the forms of the past tense plural and the past participle of the strong verbs often coincided.
E.g. OE writon, writen.
ME written, writen.
The two forms of the infinitive (OE wrītan and (tō) wrītenne) gradually coincided (ME wrīten). The preposition tō came to be used not only with infinitive of purpose but in other cases as well. By degrees it lost its lexical meaning and became a mere sign of the infinitive. It did not penetrate only into certain word-combinations, such as the combination of a modal verb and the infinitive, where the infinitive never expressed purpose.
The ending of participle I (OE wrītende) was different in various dialects. In the north it became –ande (perhaps under Scandinavian influence). In the central regions it was –ende. In the south it narrowed to –inde. It was in the south that the suffix –ing was first used as the ending of the present participle. Later it spread to other regions as well.