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I was wondering how one might conjugate verbs in early modern English in various tenses. I am aware of the fact that for second person and third person singular specifically, the verb endings are -est and -eth respectively, but once you move away from simple present tense, it seems to get a bit trickier.

I recall reading somewhere that if you want to make a verb past simple, you add did between the noun and the verb. For example,

He ?dideth walk to the store.

As opposed to the modern English,

He walked to the store.

And as opposed to how I might say it:

He ?walkedeth to the store.

Unfortunately, I haven’t learned quite as much of English as others may, but I know enough to suspect that “He dideth walk to the store” might be a different tense entirely from “He walkedeth to the store”, at least in modern English.

I am an aspiring and amateur writer, and there is a character that speaks entirely in Early Modern English, and so the answer to this would be quite helpful.

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Welcome to English.SE! And that's a well-constructed question (although we don't really need the apologies and thanks); have some rep. It might be off-topic. My experience is that it would be "He did walk to the store" rather than *dideth but I'm sure there are other more knowledgeable people... –  Andrew Leach Aug 1 '12 at 11:41
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"Walked", or "walk'd", is perfectly correct Early Modern English. "Walked" occurs in Mucedorus; "walk'd", in Venus and Adonis. Not *"walkedeth", however; unlike -est, -eth is only used in the present tense (it's equivalent to Present-Day English -s). –  ruakh Aug 1 '12 at 11:49
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It is an interesting question, but not, I suspect, one that lends itself to answering here. ‘The Oxford History of English’ has 10 pages on ‘-eth’ and ‘-es’ verb endings in Tudor English alone and the picture is clouded by the number of dialects spoken during the early modern period. –  Barrie England Aug 1 '12 at 11:53
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I made some edits to your question and I removed some information in order to focus the readers on what you are asking rather than on you. You might be interested in the Writers site as well. We have weekly chats on Tuesdays. –  KitFox Aug 1 '12 at 11:58
    
@BarrieEngland You mean -eth and -est, not -es, right? –  tchrist Aug 1 '12 at 11:59
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2 Answers

It is unfortunately common for writers to attempt dialogue in Early Modern English, even though they do not know this language. This typically results in a panoply of howlers: -th and -st added randomly to verbs, thee used as the subject of sentences and thou as the object, mine used before consonants, and vocabulary used in anachronistic senses.

There's really no substitute for reading widely in the language. It's easy to get hold of texts from the period via Project Gutenberg, Google Books, the Internet Archive and so on (editions often modernize spelling but usually leave grammar and vocabulary alone). The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is a useful tool for finding vocabulary that's appropriate to a particular historical period, or if your library lacks this work, then try Google Advanced Book Search by date.

It will pay dividends if you immerse yourself in the language even as you attempt to learn its rules, and so I recommend James Greenwood's Royal English Grammar of 1737, which says (page 60):

In Engliſh there is no Change at all made of the Verbs; except in

The Second Perſon Singular of the Preſent Tenſe, and in the Second Perſon Singular of the Preter Tenſe, which Perſons are diſtinguiſhed by the Addition of eſt; as, thou burneſt, thou readeſt, thou burned'ſt, thou loved'ſt. So likewiſe

In the Third Perſon of the Preſent Tenſe, an Alteration is made by adding the ending eth, or s, (or es if the Pronunciation requires it;) as, he burneth or burns, he readeth or reads. In all the other Perſons the Word is the ſame; as, I burn, we burn, ye burn, they burn. So, I burned, he burned, we burned, ye burned, they burned, &c.

If the Preſent Tenſe ends in e, the ſt is added inſtead of eſt, in the Second Perſon, and th inſtead of eth in the Third Perſon; as, I love, thou loveſt, he loveth.

Both your examples contain solecisms:

*He dideth walk to the store.

Use "he did walk". [For example: 1687  The Compleat Office of the Holy Week 249  Noe was a a juſt and perfect man in his generations: He did walk with God.]

Also, store meaning "a place where merchandise is kept for sale" is, according to the OED, an American usage first attested in 1731, so may not be appropriate for your period. Try shop instead.

*He walkedeth to the store.

Use "he walked". [For example: 1608  J. Donne ΒΙΑΘΑΝΑΤΟΣ (1648) 169  expoſing himſelfe to certaine danger when he walked upon the water.]

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(Greenwood is too late to be truly Early Modern English himself, but I couldn't find anything suitable from any earlier. He does cover EME grammar; and getting used to the style and orthography will be helpful to the original poster before seeking out earlier works.) –  Gareth Rees Aug 1 '12 at 16:30
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*advice for the -est, -'st, -'th, and the -eth suffixes: conjugation *

Verb Conjugation of to have

  1. I have/had
  2. Thou hast
  3. He/she, hath
  4. We have/had
  5. Ye have/had
  6. They have/had

you have to look at the context of the verb in this case. Here is the quote from an unpublished book that I've been writing.

Thou hast followed me from marteus's house. He hath told me to help thou to finish this here quest.

Using the conjugations for to have as much as you can WILL make your life SO MUCH EASIER!

Verb conjugations of to be

  1. I am/was
  2. Thou art/wert
  3. He/she, it is/was
  4. We are/were
  5. Ye are/were
  6. They are/were

There is only one area of conjugation where it is different from our everyday speech. The second person you (thou art)is the present tense, while (thou wert) is the past.

I am not going to do another full-length conjugation list. this time I am only going to show you the areas where the words change a little bit. These conjugations are for the verb to do.

  • Thou dust/did'st
  • He/she, it does/did'th

    Remember that most of the conjugations are the same. Try to use the verbs to have and to be as much as you can.

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Welcome to ELU. This answer appears comprehensive, but would benefit from corroboration as it contains several errors. He hath told me to help thee. Do begets dost not dust. And did'th doesn't exist either. Do read Gareth Rees's answer. –  Andrew Leach Oct 6 '13 at 8:49
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