Ablaut

rogersgeorge on April 4th, 2017

Sing sang sung; bring brang oops. Okay, sing sang sung, ring rang rung.

This pattern of changing the vowel to show tense is called ablaut in German. I’ve never heard a name for this in English—we call them strong verbs. Weak (also called regular) verbs add -ed and -en or -ed -ed to make the past and perfect forms. (And words like bring, brought, brought are called irregular verbs)

Some languages change vowels in distinct patterns all over the place to show their verb forms. Hebrew in particular is famous (well, among Hebrew scholars, anyway) for its vowel patterns, to the extent that someone familiar with Hebrew can easily read the language with the vowels left out. (I used to be able to do that, but I’ve gotten pretty rusty.)

Need I add that English has all sorts of exceptions to these patterns? We have lots of irregular verbs. But all that said, you should still be able to tell the simple past from the perfect form, so I’m chagrined to see this solecism from history.com:

On March 8, the Virginia sunk two Union ships and ran one aground off Hampton Roads.

Come on, guys, it’s sink sank sunk. Harrumpf.

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