Can anyone tell me, or direct me to a site where it would have a list of, irregular verbs in Early Modern English? I understand verbs such as "to be" or "to have", but how many more are there, and what are they?

I wonder this because I conjugate "can", and I know that it is "thou canst", but for some reason "he/she/it canneth" sounds really odd to me.

  • List questions tend to be judged as not constructive because all the answers are equally valid. Please read the FAQ for more information. Oct 9, 2012 at 12:42
  • 1
    This does not seem like a bad list question. For any given well-understood language there is likely to be a definitive list of irregular verbs with a reputable source to back it up. This is quite different from asking, say, for a list of ways of expressing some idea, which is open ended and impossible to provide a reputable source for.
    – MetaEd
    Oct 10, 2012 at 18:55

2 Answers 2


I can’t find a list of all irregular Early Modern English verbs, but Sandved’s appendix to his Introduction to Chaucerian English provides a list for Middle English. (Maybe try Algeo and Pyles The Origins and Development of the English Language.)

The nub of the question, though, concerns modal verbs. Even in Anglo-Saxon (Old English), these did not take -eth in the third singular. So, compare ic gā (I go) and hē gǣð (he goes), or ic secge (I say) and hē segð (he says), with ic/hē cann (I/he can), or ic/hē mæg (I/he may). This syncretism between 1sg and 3sg was not restricted to modals (‘know’ and ‘own’ did it too), but it survived in the modals into Middle and Early Modern English, hence, your baulking at “(s)he canneth”.

  • Ah, thank you! That link was very interesting. I like the fact that all the verbs end in -e, similar to Spanish, in which verbs end in -ar, -er, or -ir (and I prefer Spanish). I think it was my passion for Spanish that made me think can was conjugated "canneth", similar to how poder is "puede" in the third person. Oct 9, 2012 at 2:03

There was never a *canneth; the modals work differently. Only second person singular had a distinct inflection, like thou shalt versus he shall.

You should go to OED and look at each verb for its historical forms. For example, for can, it has:

a. 1st and 3rd sing. can /kæn/, /kən/, /k(ə)n/.
Forms: 1-4 cann, con, conn, 1- can, (4-5 conne, canne; also kan, etc.).

b. 2nd sing. canst /kænst/.
Forms: 1-4 const, 1- canst, (4-5 konst, kanst, 6 canest, 6-7 cannest), northern 3- can, kan.

c. plural can.
Forms: 1-2 cunnon (cunne-), 2-5 cunnen, (4-5 kunnen), 3-5 cunne, 4-5 connen, conne, 4-5 south. kunneþ, conneþ, 3- north. con, can, (kan), 5- can.

Whereas for buy, it has things like:

Forms: 1 bycʒan, -can, (bicʒan), 2-5 buggen, biggen, bugge, bigge, 4 byȝe, 4-5 bygge(n, begge(n), 5 byche. Also 3 biȝen, 3-7 buye, 3-5 bien, 3-6 bie, 4-5 byen, 4-6 bye, by, (4 byi, biy, bii, bij, bi, byȝe, biȝe, byye, 4-5 be, 5 byin, -yn), 5 beye(n, bey, 6-7 buie, 7- buy; 3rd sing. 1 byȝ(e)þ, 2 bihð, 3 bu(e)ð, 4 (Ayenb.) bayþ, buyeþ, 5 bieth.

Imper. 1 byʒe, 3 bu(e), 4 bye, by, pl. 1 bycʒað.

Pa. t. 1-3 bohte, (2-3 bouchte), 3-4 bouhte, 3-5 boȝte, bouȝte, (3 bochte), 4 boȝt, (bohut), 4-5 bouȝt, boght, boughte, (5 bout), 5- bought, Sc. bocht, (6 bowth).

Pa. pple. 1 (ʒe)boht, 2 iboht, 3 boht, 3-4 bohut, (i-, y-)bouȝt, 3-4, 7 boght, 3-5 boȝt, 4 yboht, bowght, (bout), 4-5 boghte, boȝte, (y-)bouȝte, (5 ybouȝht), 5-6 boughte, (6 bouht, bowte, beyght), 5- bought, Sc. bocht.

And where the numbers are referring to century numbers, so 3 means the 1200s. I’m not sure where you would cut it off for what you mean by Early Modern English.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.