Is there a rule prescribing the absence of the -eth third person ending in late middle English ?

In the King James Bible, there are many verses which contain verbs in the third person without the -eth a the end, for example :

Psalm 7:2 Lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver.

Is there a particular reason for this ? Would "Lest he teareth" have been correct ?

(I've been thinking that maybe it was a subjunctive, that wouldn't take the ending or something of the sort)

  • 3
    The King James Version is actually Early Modern English rather than Late Middle English. (I mean, there's no single universally-accepted date for the line between LME and EModE, but I think the KJV is quite comfortably inside the latter.)
    – ruakh
    Aug 25, 2013 at 7:19

1 Answer 1


You’re right. In that sentence the plain form of the verb, tear, performs a subjunctive role to express a hypothetical meaning.

  • 1
    +1. Even in Present-Day English, lest takes the subjunctive, at least in the U.S.; for example, so far this month, The New York Times has had "lest the happy couple think [...]", "lest any detail leak out and inflame [...]", "lest the wealth of [...] be seen to [...]", and "lest anyone think [...]".
    – ruakh
    Aug 25, 2013 at 7:14
  • It does, but, as you hint, the subjunctive seems to remain more prevalent in American English than in British English, where lest itself is confined mainly to formal contexts. Aug 25, 2013 at 7:22

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