Grammatischer Wechsel
In historical linguistics
Historical linguistics
Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:* to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages...

, the German term Grammatischer Wechsel ("grammatical alternation") refers to the effects of Verner's law
Verner's law
Verner's law, stated by Karl Verner in 1875, describes a historical sound change in the Proto-Germanic language whereby voiceless fricatives *f, *þ, *s, *h, *hʷ, when immediately following an unstressed syllable in the same word, underwent voicing and became respectively the fricatives *b, *d, *z,...

 when viewed synchronically within the paradigm of a Germanic verb
Germanic verb
The Germanic language family is one of the language groups that resulted from the breakup of Proto-Indo-European . It in turn divided into North, West and East Germanic groups, and ultimately produced a large group of mediaeval and modern languages, most importantly: Danish, Norwegian, and...



According to Grimm's law
Grimm's law
Grimm's law , named for Jacob Grimm, is a set of statements describing the inherited Proto-Indo-European stops as they developed in Proto-Germanic in the 1st millennium BC...

, the Proto-Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 (PIE) voiceless
In linguistics, voicelessness is the property of sounds being pronounced without the larynx vibrating. Phonologically, this is a type of phonation, which contrasts with other states of the larynx, but some object that the word "phonation" implies voicing, and that voicelessness is the lack of...

Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

 *p, *t, *k and *kʷ usually became Proto-Germanic *f, *θ (dental fricative), *x and *xʷ (velar fricative). Karl Verner
Karl Verner
Karl Verner was a Danish linguist. He is remembered today for Verner's law, which he discovered in 1875.Verner, whose interest in languages was stimulated by reading about the work of Rasmus Christian Rask, began his university studies in 1864. He studied Oriental, Germanic and Slavic languages,...

 identified the principle that these instead become the voiced
Voice (phonetics)
Voice or voicing is a term used in phonetics and phonology to characterize speech sounds, with sounds described as either voiceless or voiced. The term, however, is used to refer to two separate concepts. Voicing can refer to the articulatory process in which the vocal cords vibrate...

 consonants *b, *d, *g, *gʷ if they were word-internal and immediately preceded by an unaccented vowel in PIE. Furthermore, PIE *s, which usually came into Germanic unchanged, became *z in this position; Proto-Germanic *z later became Germanic *r.

Consequently, five pairs of consonants emerged, each pair representing a single PIE phoneme. The following table shows the precise developments from Proto-Indo-European through Proto-Germanic and West Germanic to Old English, Old High German and Middle Dutch. It is mainly in the dentals that these languages show significant differences in the patterns of grammatischer Wechsel. Note that this table lists only the outcome of word-internal consonants, since word-initial consonants were generally not affected by Verner's law.
*p f f/v f f/v By GL p→f.
b By VL p→β.
*t ð θ/ð d d By GL t→θ. Then θ→d German and Dutch.
*d d t By VL t→ð→d. Then d→t in German.
*k *x *x/h x/- x/h x/- By GL k→x. x→h before a vowel. h is then lost between vowels in Old English and Dutch.
ɣ j/ɣ ɡ x/ɣ By VL k→ɣ. Then ɣ→j in English and ɣ→ɡ in German, though all 3 use spelling ‹g›.
*kʷ *xʷ *x/h x/- x/h x/- Parallel to *k.
*ɣʷ ɣ j/ɣ ɡ x/ɣ Parallel to *k, but *ɣʷ had split into *ɣ and *w by late Proto-Germanic.
w/- *w w w w
*s *s s *s s/z s s/z GL leaves s unaffected; allophone [z] in English.
*z r *r r r r By VL s→z→r.

In Old English, the fricatives took the voiced allophones [ð], [v] and [z] when they were word-internal, and in Middle Dutch also when word-initial; see: Pronunciation of English th
Pronunciation of English th
In English, the digraph ⟨th⟩ represents in most cases one of two different phonemes: the voiced dental fricative and the voiceless dental fricative...

. In Old High German the stops were moved according to the High German consonant shift
High German consonant shift
In historical linguistics, the High German consonant shift or second Germanic consonant shift is a phonological development that took place in the southern parts of the West Germanic dialect continuum in several phases, probably beginning between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD, and was almost...

. In Dutch, the idiosyncrasies of this shift mean that Dutch (like German) experiences the shift þ→d but (like English) does not experience the shift d→t; thus the dental variety of grammatischer Wechsel is eliminated in Dutch by the normal operation of sound laws. Likewise, [f] and [v] merged in almost all Germanic languages (except Gothic and German), eliminating this variety early on. In Old Norse, [θ] and [ð] likewise merged altogether.

Within verb paradigms

Grammatischer Wechsel is the phenomenon that a verb which in PIE had a stem ending in one of these phonemes displays a differing reflex in different parts of the paradigm, a result of the movable nature of accent in PIE. The Germanic past tense derives from the PIE perfect aspect, which was always athematic and therefore almost always had a shift of accent between the singular indicative (where it was on the root syllable) and the remaining forms including the past participle (where it was on the ending). However, the perfect aspect was only present in primary, underived verbs, and any derived verbs therefore lacked perfect forms altogether. These latter verbs formed the base of the Germanic weak verb
Germanic weak verb
In Germanic languages, including English, weak verbs are by far the largest group of verbs, which are therefore often regarded as the norm, though historically they are not the oldest or most original group.-General description:...

s, and did not inherit the accent shift, so the alternation itself only affects Germanic strong verb
Germanic strong verb
In the Germanic languages, a strong verb is one which marks its past tense by means of ablaut. In English, these are verbs like sing, sang, sung...


A process of levelling has meant that there are only few examples of this in the modern languages. In East and North Germanic, this levelling was almost complete before the earliest records, though Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

 and Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

 did have traces of Grammatischer Wechsel. In Old English, too, the levelling had already begun to the extent that in some verbs the preterite singular had taken the consonant of the preterite plural. The only surviving example in Modern English is was:were, but a trace can also be seen in the adjective forlorn, which reflects the old participle of the verb to lose. Likewise Modern German has lost most of its examples by levelling, but d:t can be observed in verbs like leiden, litt, gelitten ("to suffer") or h:g in ziehen, zog, gezogen ("to pull"). Apart from the English copula mentioned above, the only occurrences of s:r in the modern languages are in Dutch: for example verliezen, verloor, verloren ("to lose") and verkiezen, verkoos, verkoren ("to choose").

Some examples:

Original /*p/ (no examples in the modern languages)
Old English: hebban – hōf hōfon hafen ("to lift" cf. heave)

Original /*t/ (survives in modern German and archaic English)
Old English: cweþan (cwiþþ) cwæþ – cwǽdon cweden ("to say": cf. quoth)
Old English: sēoþan (sīeþþ) sēaþ – sudon soden ("to boil" cf. seethe)
English (archaic): seethe – sod sodden
Modern German: schneiden – schnitt geschnitten ("to cut")

Original /*k/ (survives in modern German and Dutch)
Middle High German: zîhen zêch – zigen gezigen ("to upbraid")
Old English: þeon (þīehþ) þāh – þigon þigen ("to prosper" cf. German gedeihen)

Original /*kʷ/ (survives in modern English, as original *k in Dutch and earlier German)
Old English: sēon seah – sāwon sewen ("to see", Old English lost intervocalic h)
English: see – saw
Dutch: zien zie gezien – zag zagen ("to see", Dutch lost intervocalic h)
Old High German: sehan sah – sāgun gisehan/gisewan
Swedish: se ser – såg

Original /*s/ (survives in modern Dutch, and in the English and Dutch copula)
Old English: wesan wæs – wæron ("to be")
English: was – were
Old English: cēosan cēas – curon coren ("to choose")
Old English: frēosan frēas – fruron froren ("to freeze")
Dutch: vriezen vries – vroor gevroren ("to freeze")
Dutch: wezen wees was – waren ("to be")
Old Norse (early): vesa vas – váru ("to be", the -s- was soon replaced by -r- analogically)
Old Norse: frjósa frýss – fruru frorinn ("to freeze")

NB. Not all consonant apophony in Germanic verbs is caused by grammatischer Wechsel. The consonant alternation
Alternation (linguistics)
In linguistics, an alternation is the phenomenon of a phoneme or morpheme exhibiting variation in its phonological realization. Each of the various realizations is called an alternant...

 in certain weak verbs
Germanic weak verb
In Germanic languages, including English, weak verbs are by far the largest group of verbs, which are therefore often regarded as the norm, though historically they are not the oldest or most original group.-General description:...

 which typically goes along with the Rückumlaut
Germanic umlaut
In linguistics, umlaut is a process whereby a vowel is pronounced more like a following vowel or semivowel. The term umlaut was originally coined and is used principally in connection with the study of the Germanic languages...

 phenomenon (think:thought, German denken:dachte) is a result of a later development in Germanic known as the Germanic spirant law
Germanic spirant law
In linguistics, the Germanic spirant law or Primärberührung is a specific historical instance of dissimilation that occurred as part of an exception of Grimm's law in the ancestor of the Germanic languages.-General description:...

. Likewise, the terminal devoicing which produces a fortis-lenis alternation in Dutch (wrijven:wreef) is an unrelated historical phenomenon.

Between strong verbs and derived causatives

In PIE, causative
In linguistics, a causative is a form that indicates that a subject causes someone or something else to do or be something, or causes a change in state of a non-volitional event....

 verbs (meaning "to cause to") were derived from verb roots with a suffix *-éye-, and the root vowel was changed to the o-grade. Verbs with this suffix eventually became part of the first weak class (*-jan verbs). This suffix always bore the accent, and the verb root never did, while in regular strong verbs the verb root was accented in the present tense. This caused Verner alternation between the original verbs and the causative verbs derived from them.

Examples are numerous in the older languages, but are less frequent today because some levelling has occurred, and in some cases one verb or the other was lost.

Original /*p/
(no examples)

Original /*t/
Modern German: leiden ("to suffer, to undergo", originally "to go", from *līþanan) – leiten ("to lead", from *laidijanan)

Original /*k/
Icelandic: hlæja ("to laugh", from *hlahjanan) – hlægja ("to make laugh", from *hlōgijanan)

Original /*kʷ/
No attested examples in one language, but compare:
Gothic þreihan ("to press", from *þrinhwanan) – German drängen ("to push", from *þrangwijanan)

Original /*s/
English rise (from *rīsanan) – rear (from *raizijanan)
German genesen ("to heal", from *ganesanan) – nähren ("to feed", from *nazjanan)

In other parts of speech

Grammatischer Wechsel originally applied to any pair of etymologically related words that had different accent placement, including also PIE athematic
In the Indo-European languages, thematic stems are stems ending in a theme vowel, a vowel sound that is always present between the stem of the word and the attached ending...

nouns. The alternations in nouns were largely eliminated early on in Germanic, but a few cases exist where parallel forms were still preserved in different Germanic languages (such as English glass and Icelandic gler, an example of the s-z alternation). No attested language, old or modern, shows any alternation in noun paradigms, however.
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