Introduction to Old Church Slavonic Conjugation

Feb 4, 2015 by

conjugationWhile nominal parts-of-speech, such as nouns and adjectives, decline, verbs conjugate. Each verb has a number of different forms, both tensed and non-tensed. There are three tenses in OCS: present, imperfect, and aorist. Note that there is no (simple) future tense, nor a unified “past tense”. Non-tensed verb forms include: infinitive, supine (which we won’t deal with for now), imperative, substantive (aka deverbal noun), and five types of participles: present active, present passive, past active, past passive, and resultative. There are also several complex tenses.

Any given verb in an Old Church Slavonic (OCS) text follows the following formula, where parentheses indicate an optional element:

(prefix) + root + ending

The root is the morpheme that carries the main lexical meaning of the verb. The set of optional prefixes includes: vъ-, vъz-, do-, za-, iz-, mimo-, na-, nadъ-, nizъ-, o(b)-, ot(ъ)-, po-, podъ-, pri-, pro-, prě-, prědъ-, raz-, sъ- and u-. They add additional shades of meaning, as in nesǫtъ ‘carry’, vъ-nesǫtъ ‘carry in’, iz‑nesǫtъ ‘carry out’, etc.

The prefixes (if present) and the root together form a stem. In some verbs, such as ‘carry’, one invariable stem is found in all forms: infinitive nes-ti, 1st person singular present tense nes-ǫ, 3rd person plural present tense nes‑ǫtъ, imperfect nes-ěaxъ, aorist nes-oxъ, past active participle nes-ъ, resultative participle nes-lъ. Some other verbs have two stems: dělaj-ǫtъ ‘they do’ vs. děla-ti ‘to do’; plač-ǫtъ ‘they weep’ vs. plaka-ti ‘to weep’. Still other verbs have three stems: vidě-ti ‘to see’ vs. vižd-ǫ ‘I see’ vs. vid-ętъ ‘they see’, or dvignǫti ‘to move’ vs. dvign-etъ ‘he moves’ vs. dvig-oxъ ‘I moved’.

Regular verbs are those whose forms are expected from its basic stem, found in either the infinitive or the 3rd person plural present tense. With most verbs, the basic stem is the longer of the two:

moli-ti ‘to beg’ vs. mol-ętъ ‘they beg’ à basic stem moli-

sěja-ti ‘to sow’ vs. sěj-ǫtъ ‘they sow’ à basic stem sěja-

děla-ti ‘to do’ vs. dělaj-ǫtъ ‘they do’ à basic stem dělaj-

With other verbs with multiple stems, the stem that allows us to predict the most different forms is considered the basic one (see Lunt 2001: 82 for details).

Based on how the basic stem ends, regular verbs can be divided into the following conjugational classes:

1. i-verbs: prosi-ti ‘to beg’, či-ti ‘to torment’

2. ě-verbs: mьně-ti ‘think’ and ša-verbs: slyša-ti ‘to hear’*

3. ja-verbs: děja-ti ‘to do’

4. ova-verbs: milova-ti ‘to have mercy’

5. Ca-verbs: glagola-ti ‘to speak’, vęza-ti ‘to tie’

6. nǫ-verbs: rinǫ-ti ‘to push’, dvignǫ-ti ‘to move’

7. C-verbs: nes-ǫtъ ‘they carry’, rek-ǫtъ ‘they say’

8. aj-verbs: dělaj-ǫtъ ‘they do’ and ěj-verbs: uměj-ǫtъ ‘they know how to’

9. j-verbs: bьj-ǫtъ ‘they beat’, kryj-ǫtъ ‘they cover’

For the samples of typical forms for each class, see Table on p. 86 in Lunt (2001).

Irregular verbs are those with exceptional forms that can’t be predicted from the root and the endings. Irregular verbs are often those that are most frequent in the language. For example, the list of the five most common verbs that have irregular present tense (more on the regular formation of which in the next post) includes dati ‘give’, ěsti ‘eat’, věděti ‘know’, iměti ‘have’, and byti ‘be’ (see Lunt 2001: 97 for details).


*The –ša in these verbs comes historically from -x+ě, hence their connection to the ě-verbs




Lunt, Horace G. (2001) Old Church Slavonic Grammar. Mouton de Gruyter.


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