Verbs in Middle English

(Picture: Marking of tense, mood, number and person in Middle English Source: Lass 1999: 160)

“During the Middle English period the English language turned from an inflected language with a relatively free word order into a language with a reduced inflection and a much more rigid word order” (Jucker 2000: 29).

From Old English to Middle English, there was an inflectional reduction concerning the indicative plural in past and present and also the loss of the subjunctive singular past tense. The marking for indicative plural changed and became identical with the subjunctive plural marking –e(n). As in some regions the n was not recognisable in speech, it is put into brackets. The changes in the verb in Middle English were mainly due to loss of inflection. Also the number of weak verbs increased: On the one hand,verbs that originally were strong now became weak and all those verbs taken from other languages or formed from nouns and adjectives were conjugated as weak verbs. This was because “the weak conjugation offerd a fairly consistent pattern for the past tense and past participle, whereas there was much variety in the different classes of the strong verb” (Baugh 1978: 162-164). Because of the loss of the schwa-sound, it was possible that the 1st person singular occurred as zero-marked (-ř). This and the increasing loss of the sound /-n/ in the plural led to the fact that the plural underwent a change from marked to zero-marked.