I'd like to know what verb and which inflectional form abǽde is in the sentence below. The passage is from one of Ælfric's homilies. A translation is available online, but it doesn't look literal enough for me to trust.

Þa wearð him geswutelod þæt he æt Gode abǽde, þæt on ælces geares ymbryne, ymbe his ðrowung-tíde, seo sǽ seofan dagas drígne grund þam folce gegearcige, þæt hí binnan ðam fyrste his halgan lichaman gesecan magon.

My confusion derives largely from the fact that there are several verbs in Old English with inflectional forms resembling this one, and Old English lacked spelling standardization.

1 Answer 1


The verb abǽde is the third person singular present subjunctive inflection of the weak verb abǽdan, which you will also find variously spelled a-bǽdan,abǣdan, a-bǣdan, abaedan, a-baedan. It is constructed from a- + bǽdan.

As an Old English Class 1 weak verb, its inflectional morphology is reasonably straightforward. And although abǽde can also be the first person singular present indicative, that is not its use here. This instance you cite is the subjunctive one.

Bosworth glosses the verb into both English and Latin as meaning things such as:

To restrain, repel, compel; avertere, repellere, cogere, exigere

Bosworth provides an example sentence that also uses the the third person singular present subjunctive form you asked about:

  • Is fira ǽnig, ðe deáþ abǽde
    is there any man, who can restrain death?

Based on the Latin glosses of cogere and exigere, I imagine that it would not be unreasonable to translate the use in your passage as meaning obtain or get, although I would say that using demand or compel might be too strongly put, though.

The translation provided at the asker’s link reads this way, where they use obtain:

Then was manifested to them that they should obtain from God, that in the course of every year, at the time of his passion, the sea for seven days should prepare dry ground for the people, that they within that time might seek his holy body.

  • Thanks. Why is it in the subjunctive, you think? Because it refers to the future and they didn't have modal verbs back then? Or because it's indirect speech? These ancient subjunctive usages seem a bit...counterintuitive.
    – blokeman
    Commented Jun 13 at 15:23
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    @blokeman It’s no different from sentences such as The idea that he get this from God came to him in a dream. This sort of subjunctive use descends from Proto Indo-European, and it’s still extant in many child languages. In the Bosworth citation, it’s asking whether there’s anyone who (can/may/should) restrain death, so it’s just like the normal Spanish present subjunctive you use for know in ¿Hay alguien que lo sepa? meaning “Is there anybody who knows (=may/should/can know) it?” where know obligatorily ʜᴀs to be in subjunctive sepa instead of indicative sabe.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 13 at 15:35
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    I think the verb infinitive form is abiddan, to beseech. "...that they should beseech God..." or "that they should ask|seek from God that ...."
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 13 at 22:31
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    @TimR Perhaps so; notice how Bosworth also translates that verb as obtain in some cases here: Ðá sendon hý tuá heora ǽrendracan to Rómánum æfter friðe; and hit abiddan ne mihtan he represents as “Then they sent their ambassadors twice to Rome for peace; and could not obtain it.” // Abiddan is another weak verb with an abǽde form, unlike biddan which is strong class 5. The various bidding verbs do share certain inflectional forms and senses between abǽdan, abiddan, and others besides.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 13 at 23:38
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    abǽde doesn't need to be translated as "obtain" here. The case for that is not as strong as it is with the ambassadors who were unable to sue for peace. þæt...seo sǽ seofan dagas drígne grund þam folce gegearcige (subjunctive, "that the sea ... make ready") refers to what they wish to have happen and þæt hí...his halgan lichaman gesecan magon (modal, "that they might seek out his holy body") refers to their intention.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 14 at 10:16

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