Go (verb)

The verb "to go" is irregular, and apart from "be" is the only suppletive verb in the English language.

Principal parts

The principal parts of the word are "go, went, gone". Otherwise the modern English verb conjugates regularly. The irregularity of the principal parts results from the fact that they derive from two or possibly three different Indo-European roots.

The preterite (or 'simple past tense') is in no way etymologically related to "go", for "went" comes from "wendan" in Old English, which is also the source of "wend". Old English "wendan" and "gān" (the latter of which means "go") did share semantic similarities, and their similar meanings can be seen in the fact that the sentence "I'm wending my way home", means "I'm going home."

Theories concerning the origin of "gone" are discussed below.

Origin of "ēode"

Old English didn't have the preterite "went" in any form, instead using the word "ēode", a word which has not left any trace in modern English in any form. When one looks at "ēode", in all its conjugated forms, it is not surprising to see all the –"d"'s, for these are the familiar Germanic dental suffixes, establishing "ēode" as a preterite. The root itself, "ēo", came from the unattested Proto-Germanic *"ijjôm". The Gothic form of this root is "iddja", but this form hasn't produced any other attested root words in the other Germanic languages. *"Ijjôm" was itself a past tense form of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root *"yâ" ("go"). Specifically, this root was either imperfect or aorist. (The aorist tense expressed momentary action in the past, while the imperfect, continual action in the past). *"Yâ" itself seems to have come from a PIE form *"ei", "î", and if this is correct, it would establish a link between the Old English Preterite for "go" and the Latin "īre" ("go", pres inf.) (which is simply the "î" from *"ei", "î" followed by a standard Latin infinitive ending, –re). The OED does not discuss this, but the 4th Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary does in its appendix of PIE stems, drawing heavily on Julius Pokorny's "Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch" (page 293). ("īre" is the source of many English words, words as disparate as "introit", "preterite", and "ambition").

Development of a new preterite

Returning to the etymology of "go", our now-familiar "ēode" became, in ME, variously "ȝede", "yede", and "yode". By the 15th century in southern England, "wende" ("wend") had become synonymous with "go", but its infinitive and present tense forms had ceased to be in frequent use. With a waning, morphing preterite tense ("yode"), "go" was ripe to receive a new preterite—the preterite of "wende", the familiar "went". In Scotland and in the dialects of northern England, "yede" was also replaced, but by "gaed", which was produced by adding a regular dental suffix to the regional variant of "go". "Went" made it into standard English because southern England was to become the politically, culturally, and economically central region of England in modern British history. However, a writer of no less importance than Spencer used "yede" to mean "go" in some instances, with its preterite form of "yode", but this was dialectical.

Etymology of "wend"

"Wend" (the source of "go"'s current preterite) came from "wendan". "Wendan" is thought, on the basis of numerous Germanic cognates, (particularly Gothic "wandjan"), to have come from the PIE root *"wand". This root would be the preterite stem of "windan". The relationship between "windan" and "wendan" needs to be briefly addressed.

Relationship between "windan" and "wendan"

The original form from which we get "went" is "windan", which had "wendan" as a preterite stem, which in turn gave us "went". "Windan" is not surprisingly the source of the modern verb "wind" (whose preterite and past participle is "wound"). The original preterite of "windan" was *"wand"-, and "windan" had a causative form, "wendan" (meaning "to cause to wind", or "to cause to become wound"). So, "went" is derived from "wendan", which is itself derived from "windan". Let us now investigate the etymology of "windan".

=Origins of "windan"= The "Oxford English Dictionary"'s entry for "wand" simply states that words like "wend", "wind", "wand", and "wander" all have a common PIE root, and that this root is related to the idea of turning. (Note that "wand" originally meant a supple switch, not a stiff rod, and is related to the word from which "whip" is derived.) The most important IE root (found in Pokorny 3. *"er-" 1152.) is treated in one of the "American Heritage Dictionary"'s etymological indices under *"wer-2". Though this root also carries with it the idea of turning, none of its English descendants are the words for which we are looking. Many turning-related words do come from *"wer-2" (which Pokorny calls er-). For instance, we have "wrist", "wreath", "writhe", (all of which involve turning), "wring", "wrench", and "worm" are only the most obvious descendants of this root. So, all we can say is that "wind" is derived from a similar PIE root to *"wer-2".

The root *"w-" presupposed turning or motion, and was probably used both transitively and intransitively. Though originally "wend" meant to cause to "wind" (and the winding often being done in an intransitive sense), due to the similarity of these two words, they have been confused for at least a thousand years, and have thus influenced each other's developments. For much of their histories, wend and wind have had the sense of going, and thus it is not surprising that wend eventually came to have the sense of "go". Winds past tense verb is winded.

=Origins of the infinitive= "*Ghê-" is the PIE root from which "go" comes. It had the sense of "To release, let go; to be released; to go" (but in the middle voice). From "*ghê", comes Old English "gân" (to go) and German "gehen" (which is "relatively" regular, compared to English "go"). Though the 1st person present indicative for "go" in Old English was "gá", aside from an unsurprising shift from an a to an o, there has been little change in the infinitive form of this word for its entire history. It is rare for such a common word to undergo so few changes over such a long history.

Origins of the past participle

"Gone" is closely related to the now-obsolete verb, "gang". Gang means "to walk" or "to go", (Scots: I'll gang nae mair tae yon hoose!) and is possibly the source of the past participles "gone" and German "gegangen" (which also means "gone"). According to this theory, the preterit of a form of "gang" eventually became past participles in English, German, and other related languages. The question arises of the relationship between "gai-", the form responsible for present forms, and "gang-". The OED describes three main theories:

*The two have no etymological connection, but have become similar in form because of their similar meanings.
*"Gang-" is a nasalized reduplication of "gai-".
*The shorter "gai-" was created from "gang-" by analogy of "stai-" from "stand-" (the latter two relate to the verb "to stand").Others have proposed a link between the Germanic forms and similar words in other Indo-European languages, but such theories have not attained general acceptance by the linguistic community.

ummary of the main Proto-Indo-European roots

Thus, we see that "go" (historically, anyway) is derived from at least 3 Proto-Indo-European roots: *"ghê" (from which we get "go", and possibly "gone"), *"ei", "î", the source of "ēode", and a root beginning in *"w-" from which we eventually get "went", through "windan" and then "wendan". We use three of the derivatives of these roots today, "go", "gone" and "went".


* [http://www.etymonline.com/ The Online Etymology Dictionary]
*"The Oxford English Dictionary"
*The "Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch"
*The American Heritage Dictionary's PIE roots index.

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